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Visibility & Status in an Agile Environment

As organizations and teams work towards becoming more Agile, the nature of communication and reporting must change. In successful Agile environments, information must be readily available and visible in order to support working relationships and decision-making.

How are visibility and status communicated differently?

Visibility provides transparency into the development process. It is the ability to see progress at any point and determine the distance to completion of a goal. Visibility provides status of not only the progress of the project, but the product itself.

In an Agile environment, visibility is not only privy to key stakeholders, but also end users as they engage in a continuous cycle of feedback, acceptance testing, and iteration demos. Insight into the development process enables “Responding to change over following a plan” (Agile Manifesto) and is inherent to most Agile frameworks, like Scrum, Kanban, etc.

Communication in an Agile environment should be consistent, not limited to a scheduled status report or meeting. Further, as Joseph Flahiff notes in Integrating Agile into a Waterfall World, we must “constantly communicate the boundary between the project and the product” so that we ensure value is clear and we remain focused on the “delivery of the project, within the context of the product.”

What information is important in communicating status?

Well, it depends. What information is needed to support the team? What information will convey the team’s internal, or external, impacts or dependencies? Most importantly, what information will drive management / executive decisions, including the project schedule, time to market, etc.?

Central to Agile adoption is identifying what information is key for both team and executive decision-making as well as conveying it in an Agile format. An ongoing challenge is that executives are used to seeing project and product status via traditional artifacts (i.e. weekly or monthly status reports, etc.) and often waste time trying to define how to communicate status. Ian Knox says, “Instead, executives need to learn how to interpret project status from an Agile team rather than impose reporting requirements that are not consistent with Agile.” Communication status should focus more on the progress of a working product increment, or software. Rigby, et. al further state that executives should “practice Agile at the top” by creating an environment that focuses on improving productivity and morale, empowering others, identifying how to overcome common challenges, in addition to recognizing and stopping behaviors that impede Agile teams.

At the project level, status should revolve around the prioritization of tasks and quick resolve of impediments. The use of Scrum ceremonies can support consistent communication and transparency of day-to-day activities through standups, iteration demos, iteration reviews, and even visibility tools. Beyond that, status becomes more transparent as executives focus on removing functional silos, prioritizing backlog items, establishing and coordinating Agile teams elsewhere in the organization to address the highest priorities, and systematically eliminating barriers to their success (Rigby, et al).

What tools can I use to support visibility and transparency?

Remember, Agile is a mindset - it is not a process or tool. Attitudes, business processes, and approaches to projects, and products, must change first. Most importantly, C-suite executives should encourage the adoption process, keep the pace [for the organization], and identify management activities that can be supported through Agile adoption (Rigby, et al). Further, managers and executives should provide timely feedback and business decisions, and ensure appropriate removal of team impediments.

With these supporting changes in place, Agile teams can incorporate a working board, using a whiteboard with post-it notes or index cards to convey status. Teams can also use virtual tracking or visibility tools such as JIRA, Rally, VersionOne, etc. to display their working boards in electronic format. While working boards should be updated as their status changes, communication regarding progress is guaranteed during standups, iteration demos and reviews (Scrum). Whether on a specific wall, or in a room, or even a shared link, the team’s progress is visible and transparent to all.

Good Reads

These are good references for understanding the visibility and status in an Agile environment: