I can sometimes go weeks, even months, having causal chats with people in workplace, without ever asking their name. Of course there is problem of when you leave it too long to ask, then it feels rude (is that just the English :)). In a way, I think it is very english – and a common problem I see in vitually every english company I have been in. If someone has a problem and doesnt speak up soon enough, the problem can just remain as long as it takes to be discovered. Which can end up months. If there is fundamental flaws in project planning, then nothing is going to go right. In a smaller/medium sized company, things may not get so bad so quick, but in a corporation … wow.
Although corporations have modernised, it is mostly a “look and feel”, none more so demonstrated by the widely loose adoption of Agile. Many corporations felt, or were sold, that Agile meant project teams could self-manage. Sure they can – if they are really being an Agile team. I would have thought assumptions at that levels were highly risky. It just goes to demonstrate there is no substitute for fully engaging the project team with continual verbal communication. And observing same principle with clients and stakeholders. Over-reliance on processes and tools goes against the core ethos of Agile, but for some explicable reason, this is what happened. Perhaps to do with perception of non-IT people – that software is akin to a machine, when you pump in requirements and out pops the software.
We have networked tools for issue reporting, planning and general communication. The social web, though a beautiful thing, created a communication anomaly, and raised people’s expectations of communication through technology. The web is in too early stages to be truly considered a communication tool, on same level as verbal communication. People are not entirely honest online, and more likely to be that way, as the web provides some degree of anonymity. We were not born with a facebook-implant, we are still primitive beings that rely on visual as well as audible communication to get our points across. You can’t avoid the necessity of face-to-face contact with clients – and on a regular basis.
A good example is on the most basic of technology – the telephone. When you are describing a situation to a client, say a problem that a new feature many cause to another feature, you cannot see the other person’s response. They may be agreeing with your every word, but may also have a puzzled look on their face, but do not want to appear ignorant. They might agree to what you say, without entirely understanding it, which is a situation that may backfire on you, later on. If you were there face-to-face, you can register people’s real reactions. In this case, you would inquire what part they didn’t understand – maybe demonstrate it if necessary. Yes, we have video-conferencing, but as you may have noticed yourself, people become self-conscious and try and mask their visual expressions.
Transparency was always going to be a big challenge for traditional business, and it’s reliance on some degrees of subterfuge. In a way, technology gave business even more tools to continue in this vein. Mistakes are a given on IT projects, but they are generally mistakes made, as part of a learning curve that exists on any IT project. Business’s inability to “go Agile”, hampered attempts of Agile implementations, because of the fundamental disparity between business and IT drivers. This problem is still widespread, and will be a while before business modernizes to the extent which IT development has. Communication and transparency – within Agile, you can’t have one without the other.