#Agile teams avoid all #documentation

One of the myths I have to bust frequently is that agile teams avoid all documentation. That’s just not true. Agile teams value written documentation, but believe that most projects benefit from writing less.

So, agile teams try to shift from documents to discussion. Even so, most teams find that some documentation remains helpful and necessary. So the question becomes, how do you tell which documents are helpful and which are not?

One way is to schedule a documentation-review meeting with the team. Prepare by printing out all the documentation from your current (or a recent but similar) project. For very lengthy documents, feel free to print just the first section or even just the title page. The point of this exercise is to show how much written documentation was produced and, to a lesser degree, to show the proportions in which it was created.

Next, sort the documents into stacks based on type: technical design documents in one pile, requirements documents in another, end user documentation in another, and so on. Then ask the team to sort each stack from the most frequently used on one end of the table to documents that were never used once they written at the other end.

Expect to encounter debate as the team works through this. One team member will insist a document was useful; another will say it wasn’t. Encourage the discussion, steering it whenever possible to help uncover things the team might not otherwise know. Note any documents that were intended for one purpose but used for something different and documents that you thought were essential but were not used at all.

Once the documents are in priority order, discuss which documents are helpful (and should continue to be produced) and which are not (and could be eliminated).

Then, see if you can take it one step further. For each type of document the team has agreed to continue producing, ask the team to brainstorm alternatives that involve talking more and writing less.

Again, I’m not suggesting you eliminate useful or required documentation. The goal is merely to help a team shift from documents to discussions. Taking the steps I’ve just described should help your team do that.

And that will help you succeed with agile,

Mike Cohn

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Quote of the day

“Stop writing and start talking. There’s a grand myth about requirements: If you write them down, users will get exactly what they want. That’s not true. At best, users will get exactly what was written down, which may or may not be anything like what they really want. As such, Scrum teams forego a lengthy, up-front requirements phase and the resulting product specification in favor of a dynamic product backlog.” Mike Cohn, Agile teamwork

Non-violent Communication Part 2

In our first article Non-violent communication we focused on how we do observations in real life, the feelings that we learned to suppress and the needs that we cannot express. We now are going to learn how to express our feelings and needs in a not threathening manner.

Request

Expressing your needs is not enough, you need a concrete and specific request. And as you might have expected, simply requesting your needs is not enough.

The trainers also advised us not to start too big. Start small and grow big. If you already manage sometimes to observe in stead off judge people and situations, you can already be proud of yourself. All wisdom starts with consciousness and being aware what is happening in stead off being overwhelmed by the situation.

Don’t put your jackal masque on, we are not demanding something. Start from yourself, your needs and feelings. Be concrete and realistic (don’t ask the impossible). Leave a choice for the person you address. Let the person repeat what you said and check the person’s feelings.

“I want you to clean up you room right now” will probably not work. A request is made up of different parts:

  • Observation
  • Feelings
  • Needs
  • Action (concrete time, place)

In the example we used in the previous article, we could say:

“When I see the state of your room, I am feeling  sad and angry because the cleaning lady will arrive in one hour. I don’t have time to clean up all the rooms. Would you cleanup your room each week before the cleaning lady arrives at 10?”

Emphatic listening

Now we have expressed our request and hopefully with the expected result, we can go a step further. What if somebody is asking you something?

Being present

Do not interrupt the person. Give her all the space needed and do not prejudice.

Giraffe’s ears

Now we need to put on our giraffe’s ears. Probably we will only hear observations, feelings and needs. And some facts.

Check

Check the feelings and needs from the person. This means that you say you see some feelings and needs with the other. Do you feel … because you need? Dare guessing. And don’t forget to check your own needs and feelings.

Non-violent Communication

Everybody knows the feeling. You are angry about the state of the rooms of your children. You already asked several times to clean up their rooms, but nothing happened. In the end you find yourself yelling to your son or daughter: “Your room is a total mess. You never clean up your room when I ask you. You don’t have the slightest respect for me.” And what was the net result? Indeed, an angry daughter, a frustrated parent and an even dirtier room.

We all know their is a better way to communicate and to achieve what you want. The course I followed was given by Frank Geelen and Kirsten De Coninck, both trainers for iLean. It is not new what they say: Matthias Rosenberg nurtured the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) model already in the 60’s. He even used two puppets in his session to distinguish 2 ways of communication: a jackal and a giraffe. The jackal -although I find it an intelligent animal -represents the defensive part in us, which can be aggressive when things don’t work out like we would like. The giraffe with the big ears and heart stands for compassion and willingness to listen to the other.

800px-MarshallRosenberg1990

Nothing new you will say, but most things we already know but we do not act upon it. The wisdom is inside of each of us but is pushed away by the jackal inside. Now what is the NVC model actually?

Observation

On the course we were confronted with some photos: sweets, bodybuilder with sort of diaper, houses in ruins, smoking bearded jazz player, roof terrace on top of an apartment, a gentle woman. On each of them we were allowed to describe what we saw. No one of us simply observed the photos but added feelings, generalisations, prejudices, common truths. True observation although seems very simple however: use your 5 senses and describe what you see, hear, smell, taste or touch.

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“Your room is a total mess. You never clean up your room when I ask you. You don’t have the slightest respect for me.” This is obviously not an observation. A better observation could be:

  • There are some clothes lying on the floor
  • Your bed is not clean
  • I see empty coke cans and dirty plates on your desk

And even “clean” is not an observation, since you will probably have another definition of clean than your son or daughter. Also do not use words like:

  • Always or never (they are in most cases not true)
  • A lot, little, few, big, small …: their definitions may vary per person. Try to be more precise.

Using judgement, blaming the other, interpretation and generalisation will obscure the message you are trying to get true. You will have a two-sided jackal communication or you will start arguing about details. “For me the room is clean” or “I do respect you, mum”.

Feelings

In school and at home we were learned to constrain our feelings. We were thought that if you do what is asked, you will get a reward. If you don’t you will get punished. No wonder that we find it difficult to express our feelings.

True feelings tell us what we feel in the context of our needs: when our needs are met (happy, touched, amazed, proud, thrilled) or not (agitated, angry, scared, frustrated, sad).

We often express our feelings as a judgement towards our self or the others. Guilt, embarrassed, sorry are typical examples. These judgements are pseudo-feelings. “I feel a bad mother” or “I feel manipulated”. Try to express what you really feel and don’t blame the others for what you feel. This again result in a jackal communication.

In stead of saying “I feel that you are sad” you’d better ask “Are you sad?” since the former is your interpretation or even a judgement.

Needs

Again most people are not good in expressing their needs. It sounds a bit selfish to express your needs. But if you don’t you might hope that people know your needs by yelling or screaming or being afraid. But actually people only see your feelings. And some will make their own interpretation of what your needs are based on your expressed feelings. So your needs are not met and you feel frustrated. So it is very important to express your needs.

Everybody will understand needs, since they are universal. Think of the Maslow pyramid but Rosenberg simplified it to 3 levels:

  • Vital (food, water, shelter, air, sleep, movement)
  • Safe (acceptance, honesty, affection, understanding, stability, trust, warmth)
  • Grow (harmony, inspiration, respect, authenticity, humor, joy, choice)

Do not use strategies in stead of needs.If you are using strategies, you include a judgement in what you say and people will become defensive and you leave them no choice. Replace the strategy “You were not there when I needed you” with your needs “I do not want to be alone tonight”. It is difficult to grasp the need under a strategy. In expressing your need of wanting some company, you open the discussion and perhaps another friend’s companion will also do for this evening.

In this session we focused on WHAT NOT TO DO. In the next session, I will try to explain WHAT YOU NEED TO DO to communicate in a non-violent way.