#communication #team - 5 mins read

Lean comms: Maximise productivity and collaboration

As product teams continue to grow and evolve, effective communication has become more important than ever. In today’s fast-paced, global economy, traditional forms of communication, such as meetings and email, are no longer sufficient to keep teams on the same page. This is where lean comms comes into play.

Lean comms is a term that refers to the use of various tools and techniques to facilitate effective communication within product teams and their wider organisations. By embracing lean comms, teams can increase their productivity and collaboration, while reducing the amount of time and effort spent on communication.

"We can be brief. And clear. And unambiguous. And interesting. We can communicate in a way that makes the smallest possible demand on busy people’s time and attention." Giles Turnbull, Agile comms handbook (2021)

Key principles

Define what lean comms means to you

The next five sections outline what lean comms means to Hyperact, but of course one size doesn't always fit all. And even if it did, there would still be further effort required to outline the intricacies of your lean comms approach, what it means in your organisation, what tools to use when, how to use those tools etc.

It is of paramount importance to give time to define and communicate your approach here, and for everyone to be seen as responsible for it. Senior leadership should set the standard by their actions. Your peers should call you out if you overuse the @channel tag in Slack. This is the digital equivalent of an office tour for your new starters.

A few shining beacons of how other organisations have tackled this, most of which go way further than just defining their take on lean comms:

Asynchronous communication by default

At the very heart of lean comms is asynchronous communication. Async comms does not require all parties to be present at the same time. This allows team members to communicate and collaborate without the need for face-to-face meetings or real-time discussions.

Our favourite async comms tool is Slack (see my product stack article for further details), and project management tools such as Jira can also help. These tools allow team members to share ideas, provide feedback, and visualise and track work in progress without having to coordinate their schedules.

There is some really good supporting information in GitLab's "How to get started with async" guide and a few interesting thoughts from Basecamp also.

Work in the open

Another key principle of lean comms is transparency. Transparency is the practice of sharing information and updates with the entire team and even the wider organisation. This allows team members to stay informed about the latest developments and to contribute to the decision-making process.

Transparency is particularly important for remote teams, where team members may not have the opportunity to communicate face-to-face on a regular basis. By sharing information and updates through async comms tools, teams can ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals.

Apply brevity

"Official papers are too long and too diffuse. In 1940 I called for brevity. Evidently I must do it again.” Winston Churchill, Official Memo (1951)

In addition to transparency, lean comms also emphasises the importance of keeping things as clear and concise as possible. This means avoiding jargon, using simple language, and being specific and direct in your messages. By communicating in this way, teams can avoid misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is aligned on the tasks and objectives at hand.

Record as you go

For those times when it is necessary to get together synchronously, sessions should be structured around documentation as much as possible. Whether that is updating Jira in a planning session, or somebody drawing up a proposed architecture or a gnarly problem domain in Miro as you tinker away at the sharp edges during discovery conversations.

Not only does this help the attendees to reach outcomes and a consensus faster, it's also creates hugely useful artefacts to reference in follow-up activities, and is a great summary of the conversation and outcomes for anyone who wasn't able to participate.

Establish feedback loops

Like many other aspects of what we do, continuous improvement is also a key element of lean comms. Regular, tight, well-defined feedback loops enable teams to learn and adapt to changing circumstances, and ensure the subject stays fresh in the minds of team members.

Feedback loops can be implemented through a variety of methods, including regular retros or pulse surveys. By incorporating feedback from team members, teams can identify and address issues in a timely manner, resulting in a better product, a more efficient process, and ultimately improved morale and camaraderie.

In summary

Lean comms is a powerful approach that can help product teams and their wider organisations increase their productivity and collaboration. By embracing asynchronous communication, transparency, clear and concise communication, documentation by doing, and feedback loops, teams can make their communication much more productive and satisfying, and more importantly make your organisation a better, more enjoyable place in which to work.