Transparency - what does it really mean?

Transparency - what does it really mean?

By reading this blog post you're learn that: transparency is deeply in shoes business, Definition of Done should contain necessary outbound communication, asynchrony is (again) king, publish-subscribe pattern has successful application scenarios out of code as well & habitual transparency can be a side effect of any kind of work.

If I were to create statistics of words most frequently used in my posts, "transparency" would certainly rank high. For a reason. I strongly believe that the transparency is a foundation of every healthy work environment. But what does it really mean? Answering frankly to questions that do pop up? Being ethical while making everyday decisions that affect other people? Preparing daily reports of own actions & activities for future "audit"?

My definition is different.

Transparency is about putting yourself in someone else's boots. Whenever you do something, this particular action should be acompanied by consideration regarding whom it may concern. Once you determine that, you pro-actively publish info:

  • for given audience (if interested/involved parties)
  • shaped accordingly (in terms of scope & level of detail)
  • timely (sometimes post factum is just too late)
  • asynchronously (avoid a meeting spree)
  • in a publish-subscribe way (so message is not forced upon recipients - "pushed" - but can be "pulled" whenever it's needed)

Transparency is not about approvals or formal processes. It's not about prior validation, but eventual posterior inspection.

It's not about ass covering, but giving every interested party information they need to perform their roles & responsibilities. In the most efficient way - actual work is done by people who possess the knowledge (& make it accessible), instead of desperate people who frantically try to dig something out from the organization that passively resists.


Transparency works only if it's pro-active & you understand that following this principle is exactly in the center your interest. Transparency fails if the information you share is highly subjective and / or manually crafted - truly trustworthy information should be a side effect of action that has happened: objective, as close to the facts as possible, but human-readable (reduced to key facts).

OK, this sounds great in theory, but how to apply that in practice? In my case it had always depended on the work environment:

  1. I stubbornly avoid creating any kind of "typical documents" - docx, Google Docs, etc. - by default I put everything I can in knowledge base / Wiki with open access for everyone I co-operate with (ofc some materials remain confidential by definition, but these are usually ones related to sensitive topics like recruitment or personal feedback).

  2. I've almost fully given up on e-mails in internal communication - I favour tools like Slack & I prefer channel-per-topic & channel-per-group-of-interest approach. It means that I participate in MANY channels, but as each of them has a clear purpose, navigating among them is easy (& I can unsubscribe from any I'm not interested in anymore).

  3. Everything what has been published has to be searchable through. Effectively searchable through. Labels, hashtags, custom codes/mnemonics, categorization, paying attention to titles - all these are much more crucial than it may appear. Naming is absolutely crucial.

  4. Perma-sharing my backlog (/board): I do Kanbanize - I don't believe in due dates & deadlines, but I'm a strong zealot of smooth flow of work, continuous grooming, recurring re-prioritization & unconditional essentialism. On the other hand I hate false promises or (equally bad) false hopes due to understatements. How to better prevent them than making own work (& nearest future plans) publicly visible?

  5. In some cases I build a habit or regular sync meetings. Sort of "daily stand-up" equivalents for larger units (especially distributed ones) - these are usually one-way communication (no discussion), just a recap of topics that has happened e.g. during previous week & are important for whole unit. Such meeting has always pre-published agenda & participation is not obligatory (some need it more, some need it less).

Is the gain really worth the fuss? Well, ... there's no fuss. No (additional) significant effort - the hardest challenge to get to this point was building a habit. But that's a different story ...

About Sebastian Gebski

Geek, agilista, blogger, codefella, serial reader. In the daylight - I lead software delivery. #lean #dotnet #webdev #elixir. I speak here for myself only.