The 12 Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto: Principle Number Six – Promote Face To Face Interaction

Welcome back to our series as we continue to examine the 12 principles underlaying the Agile Manifesto! Our topic for this installment is principle six’s guidance on effective communication. This principle states the following:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”

In this principle, Agile is expressing its opinion about the best means of exchanging information. It’s not suggesting this is the only means of effective communication, but rather, all things considered, face-to-face communication should be prioritized whenever feasible.

Face to face communication has multiple dimensions with which it can convey meaning. These include tone of voice, body language, environmental cues, and facial expression. Limiting or constraining any of those channels reduces the overall information density of the exchange. It’s not that we are incapable of expressing our meaning through other forms of communication. The point is that face-to-face requires less time and effort to do so.

Many people have experienced the pain and frustration of a poorly connected conference call. Trying to discuss complex issues when every fourth word cuts out, someone’s dog is barking, and the volume is too high for one of the participants can have a real effect. It can turn what would otherwise be a 10 minute discussion into 30 minutes and it can cause people to avoid reaching out to remote personnel in order to avoid the associated hassle. All of this slows down the development cycle and reduces the overall sprint velocity.

Again, sometimes circumstances compel us to use certain forms of communication over others. When Agile suggests face-to-face is the best form of communication it’s not suggesting we shun all others. Rather, whenever possible, we should prioritize in-person communication and seek to foster that whenever we can.

David Hubbell
Senior Software Engineer
SPK & Associates

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