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Workplace Transparency in Agile

Transparency and openness are fundamental in Agile. They are key to making informed decisions. While none of us can predict the future, we still need to plan for future possibilities. And we cannot make effective plans without all the information. “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing… Openness […]

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April 27, 2020

Transparency and openness are fundamental in Agile. They are key to making informed decisions. While none of us can predict the future, we still need to plan for future possibilities. And we cannot make effective plans without all the information.

“Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing… Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” – President Obama, 2009

This quote from Barack Obama about transparency isn’t only applicable to government agencies; it is also true for businesses and all types of organizations.

Once I worked on a complicated puzzle with a lama picture on it that ended up having 10 missing pieces. Not knowing I was missing these pieces, it took me forever to put the pieces I did have together. As you may imagine, the outcome was terrible. Likewise, in the workplace, if I tell the customer when their feature will be released, but I don’t know that the development team hit a snag and is behind schedule, the date I give will be wrong. If it was September and my company was having budget issues but decided not to tell any of the employees about it until “after the holidays,” then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to tighten up my purse strings and have less expensive holiday celebrations.

What if there was full transparency across the globe from the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak? Imagine we all had transparent, trustworthy access to information, challenges, plans, statistics, and failures months ago. What would be different now? Would you have made different choices? Would our government have made different choices? Would our employers have made different choices? Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but I can confidently say, if I had open and honest information about the virus five months ago, many of the decisions I made in that period would have been better.

Workplace transparency includes:

It is impossible to create a common understanding among the people in various components of your organization without transparency. For example, the development team may interpret “the ask” differently from what the customer intended, or the business may have unknown assumptions about what will be delivered and when. To develop increments of value, we need to share legitimate facts early and often. We need to hear and discuss multiple perspectives based on those facts, so we can expose and challenge assumptions. We then need to share and build our ideas into plans, develop, test, and adapt.

Transparency is often difficult for many organizations. If you ever shared opposing viewpoints or data that contradicted someone else’s perspectives in the company and were yelled at, ignored, or maybe even reprimanded, you won’t continue being transparent. Your company culture must encourage and reward people who step up and share the “bad news.” Organizations must also use tools and techniques that make work items, timelines, and budget open for all to see. It is hard to yell at data if you don’t agree with what it’s telling you.

Sometimes managers withhold information from employees and/or customers to “protect them.” These leaders often see themselves as the “big brother” who assumes people will panic if they know the truth. Most people are intelligent and are fully-capable of being rational when they hear or see information that is disappointing or scary. They can’t, however, assist in mitigating the consequences of the “bad news” if they don’t know about it.

If you work somewhere that is not open and hides data, start small. Start by sharing the planned work items in a location that everyone has easy access to. This simple practice will begin building trust. Once you create a culture of trust, people at all organizational levels will start being more open and transparent. A healthy level of transparency enables each individual in your organization to make the best possible decisions with the least amount of cost. We need all the pieces we can get in order to achieve the most effective solutions to our workplace puzzles.

Have any other tips for increasing workplace transparency? Drop them here!