agile project management class four – communication tools

The Assignment

This week’s lesson involved the class continuing to work in the same groups as the previous two weeks iterating on our exercise two, which was for the traditional PMBOK knowledge area that you are assigned, describe the Agile PM’s activities/processes/concerns in each of the process groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Control, and Closing. Exercise three is to provide the tools and techniques for the knowledge area that an Agile team and PM can use.

The Group Dynamic & Strategy

Again, my group is working with Communication as a knowledge area. Last class, we were only able to present the first slide of the presentation before being abruptly interrupted with a barrage of questions. We didn’t dedicate a lot of time to the project as a group last week because although we had a better idea of what we were supposed to accomplish we still weren’t fully clear of the requirements for the project. Therefore, rather than waste time and effort on producing the wrong deliverable, we would craft the framework of what we thought and then revise it based upon further direction in class.

Although it was inherently frustrating to be on the wrong path yet again, as it turned out our strategy worked well twofold. First, what we produced actually worked out very well in providing the framework for exercise three which put us ahead for the week. Second, it also prompted, along with a number of other groups, for the teacher to provide a more definitive set of requirements as necessitated by our misinterpretations of the deliverable. .

Our method of production for this week’s class had the other team members attempting revisions to which I would provide final feedback and edits.  The initial document changes weren’t that drastic, so for Exercise Two I ended up providing a revised outline that suggested wholesale changes to the deliverable.  Once those were accepted, I made a round of revisions.  For Exercise Three we both took different approaches at the basic revisions that seemed to come to the similar conclusions, so I merged the two and then after a brief discussion I made the final edits to create a singular tone and voice.

Overall, I like my partners. They provide some good insight and offer solid structural suggestions as well as accept feedback and are amenable to suggestions, even those of wholesale changes in the direction of the assignment deliverable. We’ve been relying mostly on email to compare presentation notes and present ideas with some instant messaging in short meetings to clarify points and provide direction for the next steps. Working in this way, I’m not spending more than the allotted two hour home study budget and we’re still producing good iterative works.

Project Learnings

Personally, I am not finding that much different between well executed communication in general in any business arena and that of effective Agile communication.

The same basic principles seem to prevail:

* Right Message
* To the Right Person
* At the Right Time
* Using the Right Medium

What it seems Agile seeks to accommodate for are:

* Lack of definition in requirements or needs
* Compressed deadlines
* Tight budgets and restricted resources

Which, when you think about it, are typical constraints in all business environments. No matter what your industry or product, you’re typically taught from a product management or marketing or organizational management standpoint how to address all three of those with proper communication being a cornerstone. Although some of the tools are different in executing effective communication from an Agile Project Management perspective, the over-arching goal of the tools still remains the same as everywhere else in business, everyone is attempting to be Agile in their own right, even if the term is so overtly focused on technology development.

As noted previously, I’ve drawn from this assignment heavily on my background in OM/OD from my MBA. Organizational communication structures define communication in general, so applying those theories to PM practice seems like a logical parallel and much was made about many of the same needs of organizational level stakeholders as that of Agile teams. The most interesting part of the assignment this time was researching the tools and classifying them by needs, as I discovered a few new ones I’d like to try in a future project.

Presentation Notes:

Exercise Two – Communications in Agile

Overview of Agile Communication:

  • Effectiveness is paramount
    Most projects fail due to poor communication
  • Three guidelines for gauging effectiveness
  1. Timeliness (of delivery)
  2. Relevance (of deliverable)
  3. Efficiency (in the process)
  • Five Keys for garnering effective results (ACHAS)
  1. Adoption / Integration (of system /tool by stakeholders)
  2. Common Ground (such as familiarity)
  3. Honesty / Integrity (of communicator / information communicated)
  4. Adaptability / change acceptance
  5. Simplicity (such as of interactions)

Step 1: Initiating – possible questions to consider:

  • How many stakeholders and stakeholder structure?
–Large numbers of stakeholders, stakeholder hierarchies, etc, can complicate communication and require more planning
–Smaller number of stakeholders may simplify aspects of communication
  • How well do the stakeholders know you; one another; the rest of the team?
–More familiarity can lead to greater informality and more simplicity in communication structure, depending on the existing relationships
–Less familiarity may require more trial and error to determine the most successful communication
  • How willing  are the stakeholders and organizational structure to adopt or adapt to Agile Projects / Communications?
–Greater  acceptance means more freedom in creating and utilizing Agile techniques in communicating and documenting
–Less acceptance can create backlash to the informality, increase misunderstandings and create stakeholder tensions

Step 2: Planning – examples of suggested procedures for choosing methods & tools

  • Acceptance, familiarity and few stakeholders
– “Ditto” the previous plans and maintain existing methods / tools
  • Non-acceptance, no familiarity, many stakeholders
–Use existing culturally established communication methods / tools and consider not using an Agile approach.
  • Acceptance, no familiarity, many stakeholders
–Implement a single Agile method or tool at a time to targeted stakeholders over short periods of time with constant evaluation to determine if culture can be changed or familiarity can be established – trial and error to determine feasibility
  • Acceptance, moderate stakeholders, some familiarity
–Experiment with agile method or tool in targeted circumstances and consult with the stakeholders through process to determine what tools or techniques work and how to best incorporate them – trial and error to determine best practice for this circumstance

Step 3: Executing

  • All stakeholders participate informally in communication
  • Team will utilize the planned methods / tools
–If tools work continue to execute with them as planned
–If tools don’t work as planned will adjust accordingly to facilitate communications for the project
  • Project Manager will work with team on implementation and adaption
–If  tools work continue to work with them as planned
–If methods / tools fail in any way, PM will assist in the identification of failure and propose alternative solutions to facilitate future communication until a usable method or tool is reached

Step 4: Monitor & Control

  • Stakeholder expectation and needs are expressed informally throughout the process
  • Team provides in-sprint status updates
–Provides backward looking feedback / assessment on what is working and not
  • Project manager provides performance report
–Provides a forward looking projection / forecast of effectiveness

Step 5: Closing – review of communication practices effectiveness

  • Was communication timely?
–Timeliness provided the right information at the right time reducing delays in critical pass-through and time spent in creation and response
–Ill-timed communication might have led to congestion in the process and added to confusion as well as wasting stakeholder time in creation and delivery
  • Was communication relevant?
–Relevance provided the right information to the right stakeholder in the right way reducing running questions or concerns and the need for re-explanation
–Irrelevant communication might lead to extraneous documentation or excessive communication revisions in order to provide information
  • Was communication efficient?
–Efficiencies were driven by informality in creation and dissemination – It’s not less communication, it’s best devised communication
–Inefficient communication added extra steps in the creation, dissemination and understanding and complicated the overall process.

Selected referenced works

Ambler – “Communication in Agile Software Projects” (http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/communication.htm)

Efimova “Distributed Agile: Communication & Common Ground (http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2010/01/29/distributed-agile-communication-and-common-ground/)

Griffiths “Agile Communication”s (http://www.gantthead.com/article.cfm?ID=257596)

Harvey / Brown – An Experiential Approach to Organizational Development (Pearson, Prentice Hall)

Jones – Organizational Theory, Design & Change (Pearson, Prentice Hall)

Locker – Business and Administrative Communication (Irwin)

Montana / Charon – Management (Barrons)

Wysocki – Effective Project Management – Traditional, Agile, Extreme (Wiley)

Yatzeck “Agile Project Communications Management” (http://pagilista.blogspot.com/2011/04/agile-project-communications-management.html)

Exercise Three – Agile Communication Tools

Choosing the right communication tool or method, you must consider:

  • The scope and parameters of the project
–Deadlines
–Costs
– Availability of tools themselves
–Adoption of methodology / existing culture
  • The makeup of the team
–  Familiarity of team to itself
– Location & availability
– Diversity (knowledgebase / specialization of team)
– Size of stakeholder pool
– Knowledge of tools and methodologies available
  • The desired outcome of the communication and stage of the project
– Brainstorming, Executing, Problem solving Initiatives
– Documentation and Revisions tracking
– Reporting and Forecasting
This provides several ways to breakdown communication tools
1.   Real-time Communication
  • Stakeholders participate all-at-once
  • Emphasis on interaction
  • Facilitated by co-location; some technology can be substituted when necessary
  • Benefits:
– Immediacy in identifying and initially reacting to problems
– Promotes discussion and group problem solving
–Breeds familiarity
– Within and cross-specialty participation
  • Potential Problems:
– Noise / cognitive dissonance / information overload
– Absences disrupting flow
– Inter-personal problems undermining effectiveness
– Lack of preparation or inability information gather for complex problems
– Groupthink
– Reactionary responses

Examples of Co-location Real-time Communication Tools

  • Whiteboards – interactive, easy to implement changes to, easy to document and distribute with photography, can be used informally or as part of scheduled meetings
  • Paper prototyping & sticky notes – interactive, easy to implement changes to, very easily expanded, easy to document and distribute with photography, can be used informally or as part of scheduled meetings
  • Stand up meetings – regular moderated meetings around specified topics such as status reporting, everyone stands up away from their desk to produce brevity and focus
  • Spontaneous meetings – easy to walk over to a coworkers desk and chat, although it can be distracting when done without discretion
  • Workshops and Sessions – easily coordinated and emphasizes interaction and interpersonal development, addresses a wider range of feedbacks around a single topic matter

Examples of Distance Real-time Communication Tools

  • Instant Messaging & Chat Rooms
–  Interactive, can be used informally or as part of scheduled meetings, easy to save as documentation, can be spontaneous or as part of scheduled meetings
–  Examples can include gChat, AIM, SkypeChat, Addonchat, Yahoo Goups, etc.
  • Voice & Video Conferencing
–Interactive, easy to implement changes to, very easily expanded, somewhat easy to save as documentation through recording, best used when scheduled for larger groups
– Examples include Skype, HearMe, FreeConference, Axicom, gChat, GotoMeeting, etc.
  • Shared Desktop Services
–  Interactive and can be collaborative depending on software, easily documented by taking screenshots or resaving versioned file, can be spontaneous or as part of scheduled meetings, can be combined with IM, Voice or Video services.
–Examples include GotoMeeting, YuuGuu, Teamviewer, Showmydesktop, some shared cloud office suites, etc.
2.  Time-shifted Communication
  • Stakeholders craft, review and revise on their schedule
  • Emphasis details
  • Facilitated technology
  • Benefits:
– allows for time for investigation of solutions, peer-review and response crafting
– Works when real-time is impossible (ie: national/international teams, scheduling conflicts, etc)
– Creates documentation paper trail
– Within and cross-specialty participation
– Can help compensate for some language or interpersonal communication problems
  • Potential Problems:
– Noise / cognitive dissonance / information overload
– Lack of standardization or version control can cause over-rights or extra work
– No immediacy
– Lack of proximity loses physical and verbal cues used for comprehension
Examples of Time-shifted Communication Tools
  • Email
– Easy to use for most users but requires some standardization in formatting, can be close to real time because of mobile email, creates documentation in the communication process
– Examples include Distribution Groups (ie, in MS Outlook, MacMail, etc.) using Reply-All, Listserves (Yahoo eGroups,  Mailman, L-soft, etc.), etc.
  • Contributed Documents
–  Easily edited and updated but requires version control system, centralized documentation usually covering specific usage needs and focused implementation
– Examples can include Wikis, Sharepoint, Google Docs, Basecamp, SVN/Git etc.
  • Document sharing services
– Similar to contributed document suites but more general solutions for information storage
– Examples include Dropbox, shared internal server storage w/VPN access, Amazon EC3 services

3.    Examples of Monitoring & Reporting Tools

  • Contributed PM Tools:
– addresses specific requests in a prioritized / organized manner, creates documentation in the communication process, some include integrated reporting and forecasting elements
– Examples can include Trac, Pivotal Tracker, VersionOne, Basecamp, etc.
  • Ticketing Systems
–  requires moderation but easy to use for most users, addresses specific requests in a prioritized / organized manner, creates documentation in the communication process, usually but not always used as “trouble tickets”
– examples can include TroubleTicketExpress, Zendesk, Capertta, Issuetrack, etc.
  • Custom or Homemade solutions
– Flexible to the specific usage, combines typically familiar programs into unique solutions, may not always be scalable
– Examples can include integrations of MS Office programs like Excel or Outlook, Google Doc and Calendars, etc.

4.  Some Examples Method Based Communication Aids

  • Scrum:
– scrumdesk.com
– seenowdo.com
  • DSDM
– dsdm.org/dsdm-atern/atern-templates & dsdm.org/dsdm-atern/project-in-a-box
  • CAS
– cas.org/products/index.html
  • FDD
–  fddtools.sourceforge.net
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About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny: https://thedmouse.wordpress.com/about-thedmouse/
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2 Responses to agile project management class four – communication tools

  1. Pingback: agile project management class five – tools overview « doormouse’s declarations and personal attributions

  2. Ramya Kneti says:

    Hi,

    Unleash is an integrated solution for managing projects, collaborative Gantt scheduling, real-time reporting, bug tracking / QA, document management etc. The tool is fast, easy and builds on principles of team empowerment, increased communication, transparency, and collaboration.
    http://www.unleashpm.com/

    Thanks & Regards
    http://www.unleashpm.com

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