…but require a shift in the way we think.
For the most part, we get caught up in what we do. For me as an architect, this includes drawing the perfect Architecture diagram, producing another elegant Excel Traceability matrix with all my requirements, and writing perfect user stories.
Deliverables rather than outcomes
These artefacts have a place. But producing those makes us focus on deliverables rather than outcomes and takes us away from what really matters: The conversations with colleagues and other teams that create a shared understanding of the users of our software and the problems we are trying to solve for them.
New ways of working
In a recent engagement, I experimented. No more perfect artefacts; lots of talking. The idea was to test the response of the team and, even more importantly, to see how such an approach would be received by senior management.
Here are the principles I followed, and the results:
Make everything low-fidelity
If you can’t explain it on a whiteboard, it’s too complex. There was nothing we delivered that wasn’t hand-drawn, hand-written or based on a picture. Using markers, stickies and paper we managed to convince the entire team of our solution approach and why it mattered. We also saved a huge amount of time by not having to gold-plate every document and diagram.
Make everything visible
Because we were using low-fidelity artefacts, we were able to put them on display in a public area. As other teams walked past, they would listen in on our conversations. During their coffee breaks, they would look at our work. This in turn sparked off more conversations amongst teams, and we got a great deal of useful feedback. Often, we found out other teams were doing something similar or overlapping, and we could collaborate. We used Yammer to share pictures and quick updates.
Engage people through conversation
Large documents require large amounts of coffee, and laptops provide welcome distraction though email, IM and the web. There’s always something more interesting to do. But conversations engage people, and few resort to multitasking when talking face-to-face about a problem.
Create shared understanding
The most significant outcome of this collaborative and open way of working was that when people were interacting on the spot, they could see where the gaps were and resolve them. These conversations instantly created a real shared understanding amongst the team – something very few documents manage to achieve.
Ensure everyone can make an equal contribution
By using whiteboards and stickies, people were able to contribute as soon as an idea came to them. The result was that everyone felt valued and appreciated. And with ideas out there instantly, for everyone to see, conversations followed naturally – exactly what we wanted. This is in sharp contrast to the practice of using a laptop to capture everything, which creates a queue. Attention goes to those who get there first or shout loudest.
Build team agreement
Teams felt liberated because we had democratised the process by which ideas make it onto the board. They knew everyone had had an equal say, and that they had all participated in the conversations equally. As a result, decisions were agreed on by the whole team and reflected a strong collective intelligence.
Keep it simple.
Keeping it simple makes a lot of sense. It speeds things up, gets people to gel and makes your work visible.