.. or how agile manifesto has put a stigma on writing, and how this stigma backlashes on the culture of learning.
In one of my previous articles I've explored the roots of agile movement, and the mindset that guided the founding fathers of agile manifesto. The manifesto had this as one of the principles: "The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation." In the environment that existed 10+ years ago, when developers wanted to break free of the documentation associated with bureaucratic procedures, it seemed very reasonable to introduce and to follow that principle. It turned out, however, that the ardent followers rushed to the other extreme, and any other writing than that of code, or of user stories has rather been regarded as waste. No doubt about it, face-to-face conversations rock within a development team, and this principle is very appropriate in this context. But here's the catch: if a principle is copy-pasted to a group of similar but still different situations, this might result in some negative side effects.
That's exactly what happened to writing. With this inherited stigma of bureaucracy and waste,writing things down might look like an optional topping on an ice-cream. Why write, if everything can be discussed? I want to tackle such attitudes in agile teams and highlight tremendous benefits that the culture of writing brings with it. I am not talking about group chats, or problem messages, or technical documentation. What I mean is writing to express a thought, or an opinion, or to share the thinking behind some decision with the rest of the team in a logically coherent piece of text.
If keeping a library at a softdev company and reading is a #1 way to broaden horizons and balance technical competence with the other sciences related to software development, writing is #2. Talks and discussions are only #3. Why is writing so uniquely rewarding? On the one hand, it comes across as a tool that helps to hone logical thinking and express ideas with clarity. Speaking in a discussion as in a meeting is a spontaneous communication, an unprocessed feed of thoughts, that lacks the fine polish that is required to make a point. In contrast, lawyers are trained to have an excellent command of spoken rhetoric — the art of building a logical discourse to convince others. It's the essence of their profession.
IT people do not seem to be that sharp with rhetoric skills, unfortunately, and they "owe" this to the technical focus of their education. I've written more on that in the article The Origins of Big Data Trend. Writing will fill this gap; the more someone writes, the more fit they become for speaking. Somehow, most people believe that the reverse is true: first comes speaking (and they do talk a lot), and then writing. It's not like that. Being a good writer comes prior to being a good speaker, so if someone likes to talk but cannot write, might be that this person wastes everyone else's time in meetings (unless they use the services of speech writers, which is unlikely).
With thoughts carved in the written form, people get better at sharing what they have to say, and eventually become better speakers. We also become better thinkers, because we start writing with one mindset, and then shift to another one in the process. Writing helps turn on the lights that highlight a problem from many perspectives, which is more likely to result in an efficient solution. When thoughts exist only in someone's head, they are ethereal and scattered. Once neatly stacked, either on screen or on paper, they acquire discipline.
Now, suppose someone is aware of all the treasures that writing brings with it, and wants to champion this culture in their company. How can writing be practiced, in which form, does it have to be pushed on each and everyone? Of course, not. Some people in your team might not be ready to write yet.
We need time to accumulate the critical mass of knowledge that will want to find an outlet. There's one tip as to how to define who is ready for writing, and who is not. Many use social sharing these days, so if someone in your team tweets links related to a problem at work, this person might be ready to venture out and share thoughts in writing. Such people need to be encouraged to write; throwing links will not take them far in expressing their own thoughts and ideas. There's one other important thing. If writing is a part of company's culture, then writers will need their peers as readers. Posting to an internal company blog comes first, then there can be a public blog. Posts can include logical discourse pieces that explain how this or that technical or strategic challenge was resolved or can be resolved; stories that software developers usually share in forums; essays and insights about company culture, what can be improved, what's hot, etc. Sky is the limit. From the learning perspective, it doesn't really matter what people write about. What matters is how they write and how their thoughts and ideas resonate with readers.