You sit in a room, together with other developers, product owner, business analysts, management and more. It is a typical planning meeting where you plan the next few steps or a long-term direction. Everyone listens closely what the management has to say, in the end, they pay you, right? While you listen, you realize that this person is about to make a big mistake.
You think “Can you please stop? This is totally wrong!”.
But why are you not actually stopping that person?
Manners maketh Man
You have been educated to be polite and not interrupt others while they are speaking. So you wait and wait and wait. The person proceeds from one topic to the next one and you (and probably everyone else in that room) has forgotten what was so utterly wrong a few moments before. If a meeting is about making plans and decisions and you have a valid point to interrupt, you should, especially if the person who is speaking is known to just continue and does not expect any contribution from others. This happens way too often and leads to projects heading into the wrong direction. Lift your hand, try to get the attention, if you have to stand up to show everyone “I want to say something!”.
Be constructive, never destructive!
Congratulations, you have everyone’s attention now! But what now? Contribute to a discussion, a course of decision, a plan or simply explain your own opinion. But never be destructive! Negative sentences like “I think this is stupid!” or “That is bad!” won’t help you to make change or initiate other thoughts, neither does it provide any help to anyone in the room. Instead of tearing things down, you should help build things up by coming up with alternatives what should be done instead. “How about this method?” is constructive, you propose an alternative to be discussed, maybe ignite a little spark in everyone’s mind to try to look at the topic from a different angle, opening up minds and let people think “out of the box”. Maybe the person who initially made a plan did not think about it, or maybe he or she did but had false assumptions due to previously bad experience.
So, you found the courage to speak up but your contribution has been ignored, your suggestion denied, your alternative declined. Do not get frightened by this! Maybe your opinion was wrong, maybe you could not convince the others. But you decided to have a voice, to express your very own opinion and contribute to a meeting. You showed interest in what the person was saying, in the meeting, in the project. You are part of a team! No matter how big or small the team is, your opinion also counts as much as every other’s, especially in an agile team! All are equal, no matter if developer, product owner or any other stakeholder. Everyone in that team is interested in a successful project and raising concerns belongs to it too.
How to achieve this? Soft Skills!
No matter who you speak to, you have to know how to speak to that person. Is he or she a technical person, another developer, a software architect or is that person not so familiar with technical terms, like a PO, someone from management or simply a user? Communication is always a two-sided channel, you have an input and an output. Being able to find a common language is the key for better understanding. Such (and other) skills are called Soft Skills. Do not underestimate these! Take courses in moderating meetings, how to resolve conflicts or how to hold a presentation. Train these skills in the same manner as developing better coding techniques or learning new technologies, because communication is and will always be key of a successful project!
I recently learned myself to step up to express my thoughts and also disagree with my fellow team member and also management. I did it not to become a “trouble maker” but to point to some issues I saw on some User Stories and our work method in the team itself. After a few discussions, which probably never have taken place without me stepping up, I believe that I did good because the project feels better and we are gaining some velocity in development. I hope I could inspire some of you to also make the move!