Atern principle 7 – Communicate continuously and clearly

What is the common thread in the following list of oft-cited causes of project failure?

* Unclear goals and objectives
* Poorly explained requirements
* Lack of user involvement
* Scope creep

Yep – poor communication. It is not the sole root cause of project failures of course, but good, open, honest communication can solve so many of a project’s problems.

Traditional project management methods emphasise communication by documentation – possibly the least effective form of communication known to man. Scott Ambler and Alistair Cockburn (say Coe-burn), have both shown that communication is most effective when conducted face-to-face, while detailed documentation was shown in a 2008 survey to be ineffective (see

For this reason, the agile manifesto starts by emphasising “Individuals and Interactions over Process and Tools”. By interactions, we mean communication. Good agile teams talk about everything. And they do it frequently and together; as a team.

So how does this DSDM Atern principle manifest itself?

By starting off a project with a clear (and ideally well-presented) Vision and a credible, viable business case, the team should all be aware of what they are aiming for and what is really important. This can help drive the requirements-gathering process to best effect.

By including stakeholder roles in the development team, requirements are easily clarified as and when needed. User stories are deliberately kept concise in order to ensure that requirements are not documented in detail, necessitating conversations between those who ask for the requirement and those delivering the solution.

By emphasising the use of modelling and prototyping to clarify understanding and ensure that the solution evolves in the direction the business needs.

With facilitated workshops, the time a team invests in gathering requirements, estimating, planning, designing or problem solving is most effective. Agile workshops are more than “just another meeting”; they often replace days of time spent documenting and reviewing.

By including the entire solution development team in daily stand-up meetings, everyone is kept informed of progress, priorities, risks and issues on a daily basis.

By frequently demonstrating the evolving solution to the wider business community, all interested parties are engaged, involved and kept informed of progress so that they can ensure the solution meets their needs.


While Atern – and all agile methods – are designed to encourage communication, there are still challenges. We have all seen those people who tend to say very little in meetings, those who would rather not “make waves”, and those who are out to further their own agendas.

So generating a one-team culture is vital. Workshops and stand-ups must involve everyone appropriate. That means everyone should be encouraged to participate actively.

All talk should revolve around “we” rather than “he”, “she” or “they”.

Talk openly about the cause of the problem, rather than who caused it.

Agile is all about the people. Value your individuals and get them to interact effectively and you will have a much greater chance of success.

About aterny

Agile enthusiast and evangelist, DSDM practitioner, trainer and coach. Specialist in Agile project and programme management, governance and organisational transformation
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