I recently came across a framework for discussing and categorizing the types of messages we see. I present it here to help analyze the way that the community talks about Agile. The hope is that through analysis we can improve the way we deliver our message.
I will give you the framework for analyzing our delivery that I learned. I will explain what it means when a message is hard to understand, or compromised. The hope is by seeing similarities in what we are putting out into the world the community can better self-adjust.
When I say community I include myself. I have been and am guilty of violating the rules set forth by this framework. I am no better than anyone else. In writing this blog, I have had to swallow a large pill and make the decision to change.
Let’s assume that the goal is to deliver a message to an audience. If I examine how understandable our message is on one axis. Then we examine how intact the message is on the second axis.
On our grid interact-ness is Y and understandability is X
So if that message, is Agile then I can diagnose why I am being ineffective in communicating what I want. If either the understandability of what I am saying or content of what I am saying is low, I fail. I need to be able to communicate with the highest approachability if I am to succeed.
That is fine and easy to say, but what do I do if either or both, understandability or intact-ness is low? First you have to be able to recognize when either or both are low. I will give examples and some explanation. I will also give some reasons why something is low, with the hope of guiding you out of that position.
When both understandability and content are low, what you have is noise.
In the lower left quadrant, noise is unable to reach any one.
Noise comes in all forms. With noise we build a wall hiding the fact that there is no real content. Noise can be either ranting with no context to how and why something failed, or it can be cheerleading. Both of these turn people away from the message because it is unapproachable. If someone has concerns or excitement regarding the message you have left them with nowhere to go. All they have is how the delivery left them feeling and a bit of anxiety about its meaning.
I have been guilty of this. I have both complained that too many people call themselves Agile, without clarification as to why they are not Agile. I have also cheered the success I have had with agile techniques without giving context or information about why I had success.
The less concrete what you say is the more likely it is to be noise.
When the content is intact but people are unable to understand and digest it or act on it, it is non-contextual.
In the upper right quadrant, non-contextual exists where people want the information but are unable to reach it.
Here you preserve the message by framing it into a single context. There is only one way the message can exist is within your context. If you ever find yourself talking in absolutes you are being non-contextual. This does not mean that you compromise what you are saying only you need to frame it in representation of the audience’s context.
In the lower right quadrant accommodating allows everyone to hear what ever message they want to hear.
When the understandability, and ability to act, are high but without the meaning or original message that is accommodating.
Accommodating starts with a message, but allows it to be adaptable to whatever interpretation the audience may have. Each person interacting with the message changes it to fit their needs. Nothing actually changes except the meaning of the message.
Here you lose your intent. Context is mistaken for reality and presumed to be the truth rather than a commonality upon which to build communications. I have been guilty of saying that everything is a suggestion without giving context to how you evaluate what is needed.
So far I have only talked about the negative. There is one part of the graph that actually signifies success. If I can communicate such that I deliver the most of the content I was intending while making it understandable then the message is transformational.
In the upper right quadrant transformational reaches everyone and preserves the message.
In order for a message to be transformational, it has to be able to reach its audience and be complete. That means describing it, and explaining it with the context not only considered but understood. You can only deliver a message to someone you understand. Once you understand your audience you can help them to understand you.
We can take the way we deliver a message, Agile in this case, and analyze it to understand if it can be effective. We can also examine messages we hear and put out into the world to see how effective they are.
We examine the message by how much content there is, and how understandable it is. We can classify our communication. Noise is neither understandable nor does it actually inform. Non-contextual messages keep the context but reduce understandability by ignoring context. Accommodating messages are very clear but lose content by allowing others to change the meaning.
Only when we keep the message intact, and clearly deliver it from an understanding position do we become transformational.
We desire to be in the upper right quadrant.
When we talk about Agile, we are talking about transformation. We are trying to bring an industry build on the mistreatment of people and failing processes to a point of success for all. We are trying to build human systems to automate the world, drive business, and generate money.
We cannot do this if the industry does not understand us. It becomes harder if bad experiences make it so they don’t want to understand us. We need to change the way we approach this, we need to be more efficient in what we say and how we say it.
So now what? Now we retrospect and learn. We categorize our successes and failures into these four groups and attempt to capitalize the good.
Before we speak, judge, or advise; take a moment and reflect. Move those conversations to the first quadrant. Focus on the individuals’ beliefs and knowledge. Try to capture their context and drive the lessons through them. Let’s transform the world!