Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Valerie McLean believes that people, collaboration and communication can achieve amazing things. Currently spending her days as an agile coach and mum of one.

Let's create a safe, transparent environment

Imagine a world where you could be honest. Honest without fear or blame or negativity. And other people were honest. We could make informed decisions, create higher quality output and be around happier people. Sounds good, right? To achieve this, one of the things we need is transparency.

Transparency, for me, is one of the more important elements in life, never mind within an organisation. Open and honest communications are so important to develop strong and lasting relationships and ultimately be better at everything you do. I think it's often something that is misunderstood and feared. To some, transparency means blame - finding the scapegoat, more rules and more micromanagement. For me it's the opposite. I want to remove the fear and help people feel safe in a transparent environment.

There is a well known saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Here's another: 'Ignorance is bliss'. These two phrases are so closely linked and together they are dangerous. If you live in bliss, how do you know if something is broken? Stepping outwith your comfort zone is hard, so taking the steps to find out what can be improved about your situation can be scary. Removing the layers of padding and assumptions will expose weaknesses that you might not feel ready to face.

Our weaknesses don’t have to be something we fear

Don't be scared of your weaknesses, they are part of life. If you turn your view upside down and view these as opportunities, they are a chance to make things better. To progress and become stronger.

In a business environment, transparency means that organisations can have realistic expectations, informed decisions can be made and better solutions are developed. If the same facts are known to all involved, you can utilise everyone's skills and work together more easily. You should find people have more trust in each other, engage with each other more readily and can build a shared understanding of a common goal.

There are several types of transparency, several layers that can affect an individual in different ways. At an organisational level, openness about strategy, improvements and market situation can be really valuable to staff. At a personal level, being true to yourself and actively looking for your weaknesses can help make you a better person. For a small team working together, there are lots of ways to build that transparency for each other and for wider stakeholders, to improve team morale and performance.

Of course, there is always the risk of a blame game starting when weaknesses are exposed, but if you manage outward and inward relationships in a way that mitigates this, you can help to remove the fear and the need for blame.

I've chosen a few transparency techniques and tools that agile software teams can use:

Burn up charts

Burn up charts at a project level are a great way to share progress and projected completion for projects in a format that the wider stakeholders will understand. The difficulty with them is helping people understand that its not a concrete plan and is based on current understanding. First of all, you need to make sure the information is visible, to everyone.

An example of a basic burn up chart.

An example of a basic burn up chart.

Working from there, externally, you need to set the expectation that these predictions will change, you will see peaks and dips in productivity and changes in the overall scope. Internally, the chart needs to be viewed as a tool to track progress, but also uncover risks, impediments and blockers - and act on them sooner rather than later.

  • Why was velocity down last sprint?
  • Why has the scope suddenly jumped a lot higher?

These questions are not to find blame - to look at the overall bigger picture and work out if you need to revisit some decisions, dates or plans to ensure the most valuable product is still delivered at all times. Regular tweaking of the burn up chart allows you have transparecy of this and make changes before it is too late - but in order for it to work, all parties digesting the information need to be aware and understand what the chart is for.

Reviewing each other's work

There are lots of approaches to peer reviewing, some software teams pair or mob, others have a regular review meeting, others will review when something is complete. I think this is also often misunderstood as a tool. A peer review is exactly that: your peer, your equal looking at the work you have done. Yes, you might find mistakes, but you might find a way to improve the quality of the work or you might learn something new.

We shouldn't be frightened to give or receive feedback. Its a chance to learn, improve team efficiency and create a better quality product overall. Honesty, openness and most of all respect are all key to making the peer review system work and you need to build that foundation to get the best results.

Productivity stats

This is something that strikes fear in people. We know we are all in our working environment for our contracted hours per day, but how much of that is productive? There are so many things that can affect productivity in a team: environment, interruptions, motivation and process can all be factors. Working out how much of your time is productive and what is causing the less productive moments can be an eye opener and help you to create a better working environment as well as a higher quality product.

Again, it's not about blame and bringing in more rules, its about trying to remove the impediments, such as a quieter working space, better meeting times, more efficient processes - even MORE social time may help productivity - giving people the opportunity and space to take a break when they need to clear their heads.

These are just a few areas that you can start building transparency in your team. Help those who are afraid, help those who want to blame and build a bigger picture - you can have a better product, more committed team and happier customers - how excellent!

Give yourself a break, you've learned something!

Self-organising teams aren't just for software.