Thoughts on the face-to-face Agile Principle

Last post 05:16 pm October 11, 2019
by Laurent Lee
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09:33 am October 8, 2019

“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”

I went to an Agile Training session with my company the other day and we were, in a warm-up activity, asked what's better: Emailing something or verbally communicating with someone?  The answers were varied.  Some argued that speaking to someone in person is faster, allows for questions, etc. Some argued that emailing might be better as there might be personality issues (like confidence), or if you're trying to convey a huge amount of information, something written is a better choice (imagine trying to convey 1000 rows of Excel data in person).

I understand both sides of the argument on this.  

My interpretation is face-to-face doesn't need to mean in person, communicating verbally.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines face-to-face as within sight of each other but with a second definition as in direct contact with. My gut feeling here is that the spirit of the face-to-face communication principle is being direct. That is, rather than for Mark to go to John to request Susan provide data to the Development Team, it's more efficient and effective for Mark to go directly to the Development Team with the data himself whether that be verbally or electronically.  Cut out the middle person, or people.  

I see waste accrue from this all the time at work.  From requesting the admin team to schedule someone else's meeting, requesting access to tools and environments, to providing the Development Team with business requirements from a distant Project Management office, inevitably ends up in 're-work.' 

This point never seems to be addressed when discussing this principle.  Being direct and cutting out the middle person is an important concept to remember and in my opinion, the face-to-face principle is one that best aligns with this concept.  

What are your thoughts?

11:22 am October 8, 2019

“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”

I don't interpret this to mean that one must only have face to face conversation or that one must cut out the middle man in all cases (although I agree that's a much more direct way of communicating).

For me, it's an acknowledgement that yes, the best way to communicate with others is face to face...if you can't do that in a physical space then video chat may be the next best thing. There's people (myself included) that may be more introverted and are typically more comfortable sending an IM or email to someone. This principle serves as a way to remind me I have opportunities to grow and improve relationships with other people. 

To your other point about the middle man...some companies have developed a culture of middle people that increases their lead times and limits their ability to get things done. Much of this could be handled with de-centralized decision making and self organizing teams. I think this falls more closely under the principle 

"Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done."

01:34 pm October 8, 2019

In my opinion, face-to-face communication implies direct communication, whether in-person (best), through video chat (2nd best), or speaking to them via phone call (3rd best).   

I view email communication as perhaps the worst form of communication, because it reinforces the practice of throwing something over the wall, and incurring the (lean) waste of waiting for a reply. 

I also disagree with the reasons stated for preferring to communicate via email.   If there are personality issues, isn't it better to deal with them directly, instead of sweeping them under the rug by communicating via email?   And f there is a lot of data to discuss, why would you want to send it via email for someone to review?   A better option than email is providing a centralized data location of the data to review, and it is preferable to discuss something together (like data) than to ask someone to review it in a silo.

03:27 pm October 8, 2019

I'll agree that face-to-face is an efficient and effective way of conveying information but it is also one of the worst ways of capturing information.  How many times have you been in those conversations, walk away and start working on things only to find out that the 3 people in the conversation didn't actually have the same understanding of what was being agreed upon?  When you drill into how that happened it is because 2 of the 3 of them walked away and were involved in other conversations which helped them to forget exactly what was already agreed. 

There is a reason that communication occurs in many ways and every form of communication has a good reason for existing.  I am one of those people that will send long emails. (Shocking, I know). But those emails usually contain a lot of information that would either require a meeting with a lot of attendees or summarizes a lot of parts of information that are all related and came from many other conversations.  My biggest pet peeve is that most people won't read anything that is longer than a couple of lines of text.  Twitter, text messages, TL;DR have all ruined people's ability to effectively text based communicate.

Please don't take this as my advocating for volumes of documentation.  I feel that there is a need to document some things but the documentation should have a specific purpose.  I really don't like large technical or user manuals because they are never really maintained. Code can be documented well by adding comments so why add an additional manual?  User manuals should be minimal because an application designed by using user feedback will be intuitive to the users and won't need something that explains it all. 

The real key is that communication in all forms is necessary and the form used should be chosen with the purpose in mind.  For example, if you have to communicate to 15 people in multiple time zones and countries to convey an important piece of information will you have face-to-face conversations with all of them?  How do you keep the information you convey consistent, incorporate each person's feedback and then get the updated message to all 15 based on new information?  An email or chatroom chain can do that very effectively, provide a means for everyone to give feedback that all can see and let them do it based on their working hours.

07:03 am October 11, 2019

I agree that one-on-one communication is better, you do not avoid unnecessary problems during communication through mail, any contact is much better than through communication methods.