What if someone demands transparency from you? What do you do? What does transparency mean?

It can mean that we should keep things in the open, no secrets or that our doings are audited and we can back-trace them every time we need or want to. In other words, saying that there is not enough transparency means that there is not enough trust. Sometimes the word transparency is used masking the desire to know what is going on.

Demanding more transparency smells a lot like green-washed management. Instead of saying “Keep me posted on whatever you do!”, require transparency. I say it is just a management intent in a disguise!

Thus transparency is attached with a bad echo. Especially if the people involved are not co-located or there are no clear backlogs for work. The person demanding transparency wants to gain assurance that everything is going as planned. This leads to micromanagement and reporting.

In other words, there is not enough trust.

Sometimes the word ‘transparency’ is used to replace the word visibility though. Using it this way is in my opinion harmful because it is very easy to confuse with the previously mentioned management-loaded term. Avoid it.

There are at least two ways out of these situations. One is to increase the visibility, especially if people are co-located, to increase communication. The other way is to build up the trust. Trust that the other party is doing her best.

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5 Comments

  1. While I agree w/your analysis, as such, it is sometimes valuable to use a few good tools to communicate architecture, protocols and things of that sort. No-one can remember the details after you’ve talked about them w/everything that is going on and it’s nice to have a reference.

    I used mscgen today at work and liked it a lot. I used to draw diagrams by hand using dia, but this way is just so much better. Updating the source file is just so very, very easy. No more fiddling w/the mouse, just type and generate.

    Another tool I wouldn’t want to live w/o, by the way, is the timeline.

    Coming back to the subject itself, I believe that part of the distrust is just fear of the unknown. I can tell this by the way I feel about things in project. I almost always worry least about the components that I’m working on and the other parts worry me. So it’s just not lack of trust, per se, it is also the fear of the unknown. So adding visibility some way could help the other parties you work w/ and that can be a valuable thing. If you can, just by drawing a few boxes, make others feel more secure, isn’t it worth it?

    I think it is. And I took way too long in our current project to do it. I kind of think that removing the fears of others is part of taking care of the team.

    But still, I know what you’re talking about and don’t disagree.

  2. I agree, tools are needed to certain extent to document. It’s just that the wording means so much. Asking for more visibility and that people leave a document trail when necessary can be said in so many ways. I prefer the nice and unambiguous way that promotes “I trust you” way :-)

  3. here some thoughts I got from this post

    from a practical point of view, specific things of the ongoing developments need to be transparent (visible, observable, inspectable), in the first plane for those responsible of the outcome, the ones that do the actual work.
    not for others.
    still is a great thing that a team can tell to customers, managers or everyone else: “we feel confident, we can be open and you can look and get a sense of what is really going anytime”.

    On the other end when people not responsible of the outcome and not involved in the work *demand* for transparency, the transparency in my opinion should be *reciprocal*.

    for example when the observation provoke in the external observer some feedback (doubts, concerns or satisfaction), it must be shared early and with all the team members together (ideally at the retrospective).

    another example is when an external observer have a meeting about topics that affect or involve the team work or the project, at that meetings should in the first place attend the whole team.
    when this is not the case, the outcome of the meeting should be shared early with the whole team, with the same reciprocal transparency that is demanded to the team.

    I think that one should be able to ask only for as much transparency is ready to reciprocate. this is the same between team members and people outside the team.
    And I think from a practical point of view that when this is not the case, transparency does not work well for the project and this enable other dysfunctional behaviors.

  4. Good points Luca! Especially I like the elaboration that within a team transparency must exist but when an outsider demands it, the communication must happen in both directions.

  5. I agree with your post, sometimes the managers can use “visibility” or “transparency” as the excuse for ask “how many hours have you spent in this task yesterday?” and I don’t think that that was an Agile question, I believe that such degree of control is against the freedom that tech people needs to deliver the best for the project and to grow as professionals.

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