Grapevines and Agile make great Wine…

I couldn’t resist the title.

By this point in most of your careers you have been exposed to the grapevine exercise. This exercise is geared to show you how one thought through many control points gets distorted and misrepresented. I believe this is true for the majority of conversations out side of work but if leveraged properly can add tremendous benefit to an organization.

Keith Davis did a study of the grapevine in 1953.  Keith Davis stated

“the grapevine is a natural part of a company’s total communication system…it is a significant force within the work group, helping to build teamwork motivate people, and create corporate identity.”

This type of discussion medium is prevalent and natural to the greater society. Just think about what happens in your homes.

In most homes there isn’t a plan written down for how to do the budget, there isn’t a process on how discussions at the dinner table will be deliberated. There are guidelines but these guidelines are mutually agreed upon in open discussion. In most homes these types of forums are left open and honest, focus is on content then exactness.

Organically barriers are established but periodically they are revisited (usually by teenagers) to test their validity.  The content however is “I heard…”, “Did you know…”, “Today at work…”.  Nothing of empirical substance but enough to spark decisions in the house hold.  If we are wrong we readjust and go on.

Some of us however need more control in order to FEEL safe. Some of us feel that the more we pursue exactness the better our decisions will be. Issues arise when this personality type forces others to fall in line with this thought process.

Several heavy weight methodologies have attempted to control discussion and thought through various bureaucratic mechanism. While some have the perception of control, few if any, have ever been able to achieve this.

The Agile Manifesto tells us that we should value Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. 

So with this philosophical mindset we must propagate fluid communication and document or create processes around communication when “absolutely necessary.”

Take a moment and evaluate “absolutely necessary,” this implies that you have exhausted all low friction practices to promote communication. Then and only then do you investigate a tool or a process to govern communication.

If you do come up with a process or tool please take the time to put in place some type of 6 week reevaluation period to determine if whatever avenue you are pursuing is proving to beneficial and not wasteful.

How does this have anything to do with the grapevine paradox? Well, you have to remember that people are people, rather then trying to change their innate ability to communicate openly, embrace it!

I would venture to argue that the majority of individual you interact with daily would welcome open communication over documentation.  There are the few that do  so if your organization is composed of this type of individual you must respect their needs and give them what they need to be successful. But weigh it in contrast to the majority.

Take the grapevine paradox and embrace it by facilitating open communication such as daily stand-ups, fishbowl discussions, innovation games, collaborative retrospectives and development lab architectural discussions. The emphasis is on the openness which breeds transparency.

Let us not forget that People communicating successful to accomplish a common goal are what determine project success not charts or graphs but people.

Simple in concept but often overlooked.

Matrix Resource Management and Agile