The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

A Note on Transparency

with 4 comments

InfoQ posted the London 2008 QCon panel on the topic Transparency: A Great Leap Forward or Exposed Artery? The question addressed by this panel is summarized as follows:

Agile propagandists make great claims about the advantages of being transparent about the state of their projects. They claim that this how mature relationships work and that “Honesty is the best policy”. But is this true? Many of us work in dysfunctional organisations where honesty is the best way to get cheated. Surely Transparency is just not pragmatic?

Quite a few interesting facets are highlighted in the discourse between the audience and panelists Kent Beck, Keith Braithwaite, Steve Freeman, Chris Matts and John Nolan. For example:

  • The power of the simple statement “It is what it is.”
  • Is the issue deeper than “just” transparency? For example, is it a matter of values?
  • The harsh reality in the trenches that revolves around transparency. Meaningless statements like “I need it for SOX compliance” have been known to be made.
  • How does one induce organizational change to improve transparency? In particular, how does one do so amidst organizational dysfunction?

I would add one observation to the numerous good points made by the panelists. Ultimately, the most critical form of transparency is with respect to the user. There is no substitute to his/her feedback on an on-going basis. If you need to address transparency as part of your Agile roll-out or evolution, start with transparency to the user. It can be as simple as making the arrangements for some real customers to attend your release planning and bi-weekly demos.

Written by israelgat

April 22, 2009 at 11:01 am

4 Responses

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  1. Thanks for your note about the event. I picked a provocative topic largely so we could get some interesting responses from Kent, but this is also an issue that many of us have to deal with. We have to survive in the organisation long enough to prove our point.

    For example, you’re right about getting to the end user, but I know of one team where the analysts went to some lengths to hide the user’s identity, protecting their own role. Why the management put up with this, I don’t understand, but it’s not the only case.

    Even in the current crisis, there are companies that just don’t seem to be hurting enough to fix their inefficiencies. Either IT isn’t critical to what they do, or they will eventually join the US auto manufacturers and go to the wall. I’m not sure what my response to that should be, except perhaps to look for better alternatives.

    Steve Freeman

    May 3, 2009 at 3:14 pm

  2. I know your feeling, Steve…

    For enterprise software (which is what I usually do) the customer context is of paramount importance. This includes not “only” the technical environment but the business imperatives. For example, log readers are absolutely critical in some industries (for compliance reasons), not so in others. One must fully comprehend such subtelties in order to succeed. Only way for so doing is continuous contact with the real customer.

    I would actually contend that Agile principles are indivisible – they must be applied uniformly to customers, partners and employees. One cannot approach one constituent in a different manner than another constituent.



    May 3, 2009 at 6:04 pm

  3. The Treppenwitz was pretty strong on this one.

    What I’m thinking now is that instead of all that ghastly droning on I did, I should have said “the truth shall make you free”. The only thing to watch out for is that being free, although far superior to the alternative, might not be particularly comfortable.

    Keith Braithwaite

    May 8, 2009 at 4:12 am

  4. I really like your point, Keith. Transparency indeed is one level; truth is another.


    Israel Gat

    May 8, 2009 at 2:22 pm

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