Agile Principle 7 – Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication

The seventh principle in the Agile manifesto is “Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication”, this is something I truly believe in.

“BUT”, I hear you say, face to face communication isn’t always achievable. The people you want to speak to maybe be in another office or possibly off shore. Video conferencing goes a long way to help this situation but not always. When face to face communication isn’t possible my next choice would normally be the telephone. I encourage you to actively avoid email.

Email can sometimes be a blessing but it is often abused. In many organisations the culture of using email as the primary communication tool is a real curse. How many email s you receive per day? And how many are really useful? I typically get 100+ per day, yet I bet only 10% are worth reading.

How often do you send lengthy emails to people in the same building? It is always best to get up from your desk and actually visit them.

Recently I received an email from someone in the same room. When I asked why they hadn’t just spoken to me they claimed they wanted a record of our conversation. Has corporate blame culture really become so bad that we need written records of all conversations? I really hope not!

I admit that sometimes in a conversation you might actually reach an important maybe even contractual agreement. When this happens I’d still rather have the conversation face to face. Then drop an email later saying “Just to confirm in our discussion we agreed …”.

Face to face communication has multiple advantages;

  • Email (and other written communication) can be misunderstood or simply not read. How often has someone got the wrong end of the stick when you’ve dropped them a quick note?
  • Whilst speaking face to face you can see someone’s reactions and gauge their level of understanding. Something not possible with text. For example, I don’t know if you are enjoying or hating this post!
  • Often in face to face conversations additional information is discussed which would never have come up in the email chain.
  • It can be faster, how often do you send a short email then spend the rest of the day playing message ping pong? Speaking directly to someone helps to cut to the chase.
  • Relationship building, speaking face to face is more personal. I’ve met software developers who always converse via email. This is not healthy. How many of your IT team never actually speak to you?
  • Avoids argument, when was the last time you got an email that annoyed you? I bet you blasted off a sharp reply without hesitation? Speaking directly avoids all this stress.
  • It helps maintain a sensible work life balance, how often have you entered into emails late in the evening? Sometimes a better approach is to speak in the morning. In reality most things can wait until the morning!
  • Health benefits! We all need to get up from our desks more often.

In a fast paced Agile project you simply need a quick response and to be confident that the everyone is on the same page. Short face to face conversations are by far the best approach.

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