Create Free Information Flow
Your success depends on the free flow of information and fast feedback. This applies to users, developers, teams, and your organization as a whole. Information helps you do the right thing, the right way, at the right time. But many factors may block or distort your information flow and create dysfunction.
- You and your staff always seem to be caught by surprises that should have been known about much earlier
- Departments “spin” or hide information to ensure they never look bad or take blame
- Managers spend meeting time squabbling over misunderstandings and assigning scapegoats, shooting any messengers bearing bad news
- Developers waste time and energy due to distorted or missing information, slowing progress
- Developers duplicate and complete unnecessary work due to siloed development from low cooperation
- Users start looking for other options to your products and services
- Developers get reliable information
- Developers make better designs and decisions
- Everyone understands how their work fits in enabling them to create business value
- Teams share experiences, knowledge, and work together instead of creating hand-offs or reinventing the wheel
- Users get the valuable features they really want, when they want them
- There’s no ticketing system (Major Boost)
- Users/stakeholders actively engage in open communication and freely express ideas, suggest changes, and solve problems together (Major Boost)
- Problem solving meetings actually work on problems, not shuffling blame (Significant Boost)
- Teams easily work together (Significant Boost)
- Teams interact by escalating to managers, who then talk to other managers, who then talk to their team (Significant Setback)
- Users/stakeholders “circle the wagons” when an issue gets raised and deflect or place blame on others (Significant Setback)
- Communication only happens via a ticketing system (Disaster)
✓ Critical ❑ Helpful ❑ Experimental
You can observe a lot by watching. - Yogi Berra
Here are some helpful questions as you observe information and how it flows (or not) in your organization?
- Do I observe what I expect to observe?
- I don’t observe things that I don’t expect to?
These questions may reinforce any confirmation bias. Use the following questions and open the door to novelty and innovation:
- Do I expect to observe something but don’t?
- Do I observe something I don’t expect to?
First steps to create this habit:
- Pay attention. Opportunities to observe information flow are everywhere.
- Meetings (at all levels including leadership, coordinating, development team, and users)
- Data from MeasureActualDelivery
- Communication tools such as Slack, Discord, or Teams (especially for remote workers)
- Bug reports / issues
- User retention satisfaction
- See the following section for details on how to evaluate what you’ve observed
- Gather data for 2 - 3 weeks. Try to notice:
- how many times you receive surprising information, and not the good kind
- how teams’ actual delivery rate varies from projected
- does one division/department always have good data even when the rest of the company does not
- the “hot potato” blame game
- do people have the information to answer questions, or do they need to “go find it”
- is information freely offered
- how long does it take requested information to arrive
- how quickly do user complaints get resolved
- how quickly do user suggestions get implemented into new features
Pick one, at most two items to observe. If you try to observe everything, you’ll observe nothing.
- See the explanations below, and review your observations in terms of the Westrum Continuum and topologies.
What Does it Look like?
The Westrum Continuum
A typology of organizational cultures shows how information flow in a company can identify the culture as Pathological, Bureaucratic, or Generative.
Based on the data you observed, what company culture do you have?
- Does information die in your organization?
- Is information used for defensive purposes?
- Do teams and individuals find ways to share new information?
Information flows provide new and relevant data enabling better decision making. Better decisions lead to better software and reduced delivery time. These in turn lead to happier users which in turn creates a better bottom line.
As you look to create and improve information flow you’ll need to CreatePsychologicalSafety as you RemoveProxies to people. As there is no “one size fits all” you’ll want to get your AnswersFromExperiments.
Consider the following ways to push information around your organization.
Information radiators aka Big Visible Charts
Charts on a wall that MeasureActualDelivery allow teams to share their progress. This keeps you informed and allows you to ask questions about how you might assist the team, improving their delivery rate. Computer-generated charts can be useful in remote/hybrid organizations. However, they lack the passive information transfer that charts on a wall provide. If your situation doesn’t support charts on walls, keep the charts easy to find and get to. The more mouse clicks required to view a chart, the less likely anyone will seek it out.
All Hands/Ask Me Anything
An All Hands/Ask Me Anything allows you to share evaluate how information spreads (or not) to those who actually create the value users pay for. Do not make this a “broadcast session” where you share new information. You have other channels for that activity.
Pay attention to the question topics you get. This indicates where information has either not made it to the developers, or the information does not align with the work as actually performed. Note if the question topics relate to:
- Motivation & Self-efficacy
- Learning Culture
- Support & Belonging
Research show these four areas drive developer productivity. (Developer Thriving: The Four Factors That Drive Software Productivity across Industries [Research Report], 2023) They drive productivity both up or down.
Communities of Practice
Create and sponsor Communities of Practice. Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.
Communities of Practice allow information to flow between levels of experience (senior/junior) and different organizational units.
Companies who are remote only or have a hybrid work force need to find ways to create social connections. People who have positive social connections in addition to work interactions perform better. Positive social connections create the following:
- Trust among team members: Trust is essential for effective teamwork, and when employees trust each other, they are more willing to cooperate and rely on one another, leading to higher productivity and more innovative problem-solving.
- Knowledge Sharing and Learning: When employees feel connected and valued, they are more likely to share their expertise, insights, and experiences, leading to a more knowledgeable and innovative workforce.
- Improved Job Satisfaction and Engagement: When individuals have supportive relationships at work, they are more likely to feel motivated and committed to their tasks, leading to improved productivity.
- Reduction in Workplace Stress: When employees have supportive relationships with their colleagues, they are better equipped to cope with job pressures, leading to decreased absenteeism and increased productivity.
Quarterly meetings should be designed to refresh existing connections and create new ones. Activities should cross professional identities (developer, tester, analyst …), organizational boundaries (teams, departments, divisions) and geographic locations.
Connect your users and your developers
Connecting users and developers reduces development time, increases quality, provides more value, and generally makes everyone’s lives easier.
Understanding the “why” behind things is always more helpful and will almost always result in better outcomes. Personally, Developers can reduce time developing products because they have a better understanding of where the software needs to go and can make suggestions on how to get there. They can make informed suggestions and provide viable options that are tolerable/beneficial to the customer because they know the customer.
- You run the adoption experiment, ignore the details, and do nothing
- Your boss shares disappointment in an outcome and you immediately blame others, dodge accountability, and make lame excuses
- Your team members are very reluctant to share bad news
- You focus on improving this habit but did not CreatePsychologicalSafety
How to Fail Spectacularly
- Yell every time something doesn’t go as planned and threaten to fire staff
- Always have a list of mistakes others have done ready so you can use them should you get blamed for anything
- Make sure you keep your team “in line” and that they know what you say goes and they only do what you say and how you say it
- Your personal success is what matters so look good at all costs. Never worry about organization success, only yours
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