Recently I’ve been wrestling with the concept of transparency, and its value in business. To be clear – by transparency, I mean the internal flow of information. This article will be a high-level overview of the whole thing. Expect details on specific topics in the future. To keep my sanity, I will stay away from HR-related stuff.
What is transparency?
First, let me explain what I mean by transparency. For a person with the information – it’s making the information available. For others, it’s the ability to obtain that information with relative ease. If Sally is a project manager, she is transparent if willing stakeholders know at any point what’s the project status. However, if she does not say the project is late because of the quality issues, she is not transparent.
By being transparent, we avoid surprises.
In Mythical Man-Month, Fred Brooks talks about the overhead of communication. As a company expands the overhead grows. Where there were people, there are teams. And in place of teams, there are divisions. Each employee has his own goals. The company has its objectives too.
A company has its own goals too. A transparent company has a clearly articulated vision, mission, and objectives. A company is not being transparent when it ignores its vision and values for the sake of profit maximization.
Why should we be transparent?
When we are transparent, we enable our peers to optimize their work. A team can properly prioritize work for multiple clients. A manager can provide better feedback to her people. When a business is transparent, it’s easy to keep the product roadmap up to date.
Overall, the completed work is better.
When we are not transparent, it’s easy to misunderstand requirements and their relative importance. Back when I was a developer, I wasn’t sure what to do when someone asks me to do something without providing me the reasoning behind it. If I accept work, I might be wasting time on low-value work. If I reject it, I am not sure what are the consequences of the rejection. Or even if I acted like a professional.
How can we be transparent?
Everything starts with C-suite. As a leader, you are the driver of the change. If you are not transparent, you cannot expect your employees. The time of “do what I say, not what I do” is long past. You do it by having an articulate plan going forward, written and available. By reflecting all decisions against that plan. You are accountable for it.
Managers and other business leaders should be accountable for being transparent in their area of work. They should be clear about risks through a risk management process. The requirements should be complete and allow for no misunderstanding.
Developers should be transparent between themselves through code review, standups. Teams are transparent through having a proper functional specification, point of contact persons, and goals.
Transparency should go both top-down and bottom-up. Top-down transparency is when your business objectives guide plans for specific initiatives. Bottom-up transparency is when risks detected in the implementation are considered when determining whether to negotiate a delay in milestone.
When our sales team says we have an increase in booking, it’s bragging. Without that information, a team won’t correctly plan in the inflow of bugs or feature requests.
Finally, lessons learned. Self-reflection is for both individuals and teams. PMI says it’s an integral part of the project management practice. Agile development has retrospectives, where team members talk about what they did right and wrong. You should do it!
What about information overload?
Information overload is the real danger. Too many reports from random people will clog our e-mail. Having an extensive process publicly available on every little thing can make searching for the information hard. Having weekly sync meetings with everyone and their cat kills productivity.
Be pragmatic. Remember that you are available to answer and elaborate, if needed. Give enough detail for the most common stuff.
Be consistent, on personal and company level. If everyone is transparent in its way, it’s less effective. Depending on your company size, create processes that streamline transparency. At the same time, don’t go overboard – or people won’t do it.
Through this article, I have set the stage and explained what transparency is. I provided reasons why and how we can be more transparent. Finally, I have addressed a risk – information overload.
I know I talked a lot but said a little. I hope this article will intrigue you to think about the value of transparency. Try to visualize the information flows within your organization. Try understanding how to improve the inefficiencies.