Have you ever considered how many tools you use to communicate? It can get quite overwhelming if you think about it. Let me name a few for you:
- Microsoft Teams/Slack/Skype
- Business mail/personal mail
Curiously, most of them are written methods, and that’s a trap. Written communication represents no more than 13% of our message, whereas the remaining 87% goes to how we talk and our body language—it’s the most used communication medium. Despite written communication challenges, we face another hurdle: fragmented communication.
When we do several activities in many different mediums; we are everywhere and nowhere simultaneously.
In this post I will walk you through a common trap of communication inside Scrum Teams and offer ideas on how to make it more efficient.
Tag and Forget
After a weekend in the mountains, Ivar came back to work. The first thing he did was clean up his notifications: 83 e-mails, 27 Slack messages, and 13 comments on Figma. His morning was consumed because he was tagged everywhere, and many people needed his input. Ivar was annoyed because he noticed that more topics opened up and almost none closed. He was particularly irritated with ticket VK-1988.
A week earlier, Björn noticed a significant technical debt with the queueing system. The company grew faster than the system was able to support, and now Björn saw that the servers were overloaded, and a potential crash was imminent. To address this issue, he created a ticket and added it directly into the Sprint, “Queue Tech Debt” code VK-1988. Immediately he wrote a comment and tagged Ivar, asking him to incorporate this into the Sprint. When Ivar saw that, he noticed the issue was more critical than he thought and triggered the following thread:
- Monday, 09:37. Ivar tagged Ron, DevOps team lead: “Ron, we need your support with our queue. Can you help Björn with it? Please.” After that, Ivar jumped to another ticket.
- Monday, 16:23. Ron read the comment and didn’t understand. He replied, tagging Elisabet, his most experienced DevOps engineer: “Elisabet, do you know anything about it? Could you help Björn and Ivar with it? Please.”
- Tuesday, 07:21. Elisabet read the message and realized she also didn’t understand the problem; she looked at the server's performance and didn’t find anything wrong. She commented: “Björn, you’ve got 73 queues, and as I see now, everything seems fine. Can you give me more details?”
- Tuesday, 09:03. Björn was annoyed because he thought people were not taking him seriously; he commented: “Elisabet, look at our marketplace queue. There’s something drastically wrong. We need to scale this up urgently, or our integration will crash soon.”
- Tuesday, 13:01. Elisabet still didn’t understand the problem. She wrote: “Björn, could you share a screenshot?”
- Tuesday, 13:23. Björn, getting angry, wrote a private message to Elisabet on MS Teams: “Elisabet, here is the screenshot. Do you see how overloaded our server is?”
- Tuesday, 17:07. Ron decided to follow up on the topic: “Ivar, Björn, we need more details to help you on it.”
- Wednesday, 08:51. Ivar didn’t know that Björn started a talk with Elisabet and would have a day full of meetings, so he wrote a message on the team's daily meeting chat: “Björn, today I’m out due to several meetings. Could you follow up on the queue issue with Elisabet? Please. Ron is waiting for your reply.”
- Wednesday, 08:53. Björn was pissed off with the situation. He wrote an e-mail to everyone, sharing the screenshot of the problem, and tagged Ron. “If our servers crash, we will have a massive financial issue. Can anyone from your team do something about it?”
- Wednesday, 15:42. Ron assigned the ticket to Isacson, a junior support analyst.
- Friday, 13:01. Isacson saw the ticket assigned to him and didn’t understand what was happening; he looked at the comments and decided to close the ticket. He wrote, “No problem identified. Please create another ticket if you experience a similar issue.”
On Monday, Björn was furious and talked to Ivar about the situation.
Björn: “We cannot work like this. I followed the process, created the ticket, and commented on it. And now, four days later, they closed it without solving the problem. Four days and nothing happened.”
Ivar: “I am worried about our collaboration with DevOps. Every Sprint retro, we have the same issues. They take a long time to reply to our tickets and do not solve them. I wonder what we could do differently.”
Björn: “I am frustrated with this situation. When I was in the office, I would just go to their room and talk to anyone, and I would get my problem solved in a matter of minutes. Now, they block their calendar and nobody can book a meeting with them. They are too busy for us.”
Ivar: “Hey Björn, you’ve just named the solution. Creating tickets, writing comments and emails cause more confusion than help. We need to talk to them personally and stop writing. Let’s act as we would in the office.”
Björn: “But how? We’re not in the office, and the guys have no free slot in their calendar.”
Ivar: “That’s the point. If you were in the office, you said you would go there and talk to them. Let’s call them spontaneously and walk them through our problem.”
Björn: “Let me give it a try, and I will let you know.”
Moving Away From Fragmented Communication
Right after the conversation with Ivar, Björn video-called Isacson, who immediately answered.
Isaacson: “Long time, no see. How can I help you, Björn?”
Björn: “Yep, it’s been a while, Isacson. I need your help with our marketplace queue; it’s not scaling up.”
Isacson: “I read the ticket and saw no problem with it. Let me share my screen with you. Just a sec. So, if you look here, we had no peak over the last two weeks. For me, it looks good. Do you mean anything else?
Björn: “Actually, you’re looking at the stock queue. I meant the product information queue. Sorry for missing this part.”
Isacson: “No worries. Let me check.”
After a couple of seconds, Isaacson returned and said, “Oh boy! This one is chaotic. Wait a minute.”
At this moment, Isaacson starts looking at the configuration as Björn silently observes. About two minutes later, it seems Isacson found something.
Björn: “Did you find anything?”
Isacson: “Yep. The configuration was wrong. I’ve just changed it. From now on it will scale up immediately. Anything else?”
Björn: “No, that’s all. Thanks a lot!”
Björn and Ivar could have saved some frustration by calling Isacson earlier. They overlooked one of the Agile values: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. The call lasted less than five minutes, and the problem was fixed.
Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t uncommon. Teams get trapped in their tools. People think that tagging someone in a comment is enough to ensure the person will take care of whatever that issue is.
We need to get back to basics; nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation.
Efficiency isn’t about opening more topics or shifting responsibility. It’s about doing things in a way that makes sense.
Sometimes I wonder, “Am I doing this because it’s easy, or because it’s right?” Taking the easy way may be acceptable in the short term, but it’s often a poor choice moving forward.
Simplicity Is All You Need
Fragmented communication has increased since 2020, and we have fooled ourselves into thinking we are more productive. In reality, we have become more overwhelmed with too many topics opened and too few closed. Here are some attitudes I found helpful to adopt when facing the above scenario:
- Talk to people instead of tagging them in comments
- Don’t let tools drive your interactions
- Focus on doing less
- Serialize instead of parallelizing
“My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things.” - Bill Gates