Scrum is highly team-centric. In Scrum, communication between the team and Product Owner, communication among Scrum teams as well as communication in a Scrum team all play important parts. For instance, by fostering communication, the Scrum team receives faster feedback. They recognize sooner whether they are on the right track. In other words, they can learn more quickly and incorporate this information into their ongoing work. Additionally, in software outsourcing area, effective communication will especially be of benefit to offshore software team. It helps achieve the nimbleness needed in this rapidly changing environment.
Organizations that use Scrum in software development might utilize these handy tools to foster communication in Scrum team at all Scrum events. The question now is “what is effective communication”. Effective communication is a two-way information sharing process which involves one party sending a message to the receiving party in such a manner that the receiver easily understands the message. When done right, it reduces “noise” between the involving parties. That we could call collaboration.
Here are a few tips to improve the effectiveness of communication in Scrum team.
For general application
Whether it is to obtain information, to learn, or for amusement, how well you listen could create an impact. More than showing that you are listening to what the other person is saying, active listening is actually trying to understand their message. The first step to master this vital skill is self-awareness. Understanding yourself will go a long way towards helping you understand others. We can just understand somebody else if we try to understand ourselves. It is worth noting that working with people always ends up in complexity.
Additionally, you should pay close attention to the person. And try to be patient, not to get distracted or jump to conclusions while the person is still speaking. To acknowledge that you are listening is also encouraged. You can do that by maintaining an open posture, asking additional questions, reflecting back to the person what he/she has said as well as summarizing with your own words.
In Scrum events
This skill is essential for all Scrum roles. It could (and should) be used in Scrum events – at the beginning of Sprint (Sprint Planning) to understand what to do and what is really needed, (Daily Scrum) to figure out together what could be done next that will help get a successful Sprint and reach the Sprint Goal, to inspect the Increment and adapt the Product Backlog if needed (Sprint Review), to inspect the process and flow, identify impediments and create a plan for improvements (Sprint Retrospective).
The Prime Directive also suggests the way we should communicate with each other by giving a statement that helps drive people to a collaborative mindset with a productive tone and a lifted spirit, especially in a Retrospective:
“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.” (Norman L. Kerth, 2001)
In other words, “At the end of a project, everyone knows so much more. Naturally, we will discover decisions and actions we wish we could do-over. This is wisdom to be celebrated, not judgment used to embarrass.”
Structure the conversation to make it clear
The “headline style”
Active listening and respect for each other are two special ingredients that make a good conversation. For a successful debate or presentation, the so-called “headline style” could be used. Similar to how a newspaper headline indicates the topic and summarizes the main content, this “headline speaking and writing style” aims at helping the listeners/readers get the idea fast, giving them an immediate context with a concise use of words. It is better to go with a short summary that states the main message up front and a few supporting points. Keep them clear and clarify often to prevent misunderstandings. Besides delivering a clear understanding, one might want to take a step further and make the audience curious as to what the presentation is about.
“Count” your points
To deliver your points effectively, it is worth structuring your conversation. You might want to “number” your points out loud by saying “Firstly”, “My first point is”. During the conversation, you know where you are and intend to go. Refer back to what has been said and elaborate. Or move to the next points.
A clear structure helps fulfill the purpose of the conversation within the planned time frame. In complex conversation, for instance, in Scrum events, it helps a lot to make notes or doodles of what is being talked about so that we can check if we are on the same page and reference later. Everybody can keep an overview and remember more easily. With the help of pictures and examples, misunderstandings might be reduced.
For Scrum in software development, the Product Owner has the roles to create a clear product vision and communicate it through a product backlog. This tip will come in handy to ensure the entire team understands the common goal.
Here, the Moore’s elevator test could help. Persona canvas or User story mapping can foster more efficient and effective communication. Visualization is also worth mentioning. It helps reduce misunderstandings in product communication because we can get immediate and better feedback on the understanding.
Ask open-ended questions to enhance communication in Scrum team
Open-ended questions encourage discussion. They require more than a simple one-word answer like “Yes” or “No”. You might want to phrase questions in an open-ended way by adding “why”. It helps open conversational choices. This is a way to enquire about the reasoning behind what the Product Owner is saying. This kind of question, which is also called powerful questions, is a good way for the Scrum Master to facilitate the events and support the team as well as remind people of agreements and time boxes.
It is worth noting that though Scrum is lightweight, it is hard to master. This is universally recognized and one should keep this in mind, especially when times get tough. It is understandable if one feels disheartened when experiencing difficulties adopting Scrum. Keep going is the answer. One should also keep learning and getting a positive error culture.
Hopefully, these tips to improve communication in Scrum team will make the ride less bumpy.
About Axon Active
Axon Active is a Swiss-owned and Swiss-managed offshore software development and testing firm. We have used Agile working from our early days to be more adaptable to change and improve our performance. In our 100% English environment, our talented offshore outsourcing teams do their best to deliver better products in fintech, big data, artificial intelligence, and the like to our clients.
Owning hands-on experience in real-world products and the desire to focus on a higher goal beyond ourselves, we offer Scrum and Agile coaching services to enterprises that are looking for an innovative working process and moving to agility. We welcome those who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and embrace advancement.
Norman L. Kerth. (2001). Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews.