In a good Daily Standup (a.k.a. Daily Scrum) teammates convey key information, concisely, in a way that resonates with others. But many individuals suffer from the Curse of Knowledge: They can’t express things in a way that is meaningful to peers because they don’t understand what their peers don’t know. This posts talks about one solution: practice!

In the book “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, the Curse of Knowledge is explained:

“… when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.”

Dan and Chip give the example of a lawyer, in our case it may be BA, DBA, programmer, tester, etc. Here is an example of a programmer speaking:

“I am going to change the code to use DI to specify the service contract by interface so that the injector can select the claims data source at run time, getting the information about what file to use from Config.XML. In this manner we can test various different monthly files.”

Here is a more actionable version that should better resonate with others on the team:

“By tomorrow at this time I will have finished updating our code so that Sandeep and Fiona, or anyone who likes, can try the monthly claims reconciliation process using the old claims files that we saved. The name of the file to process will be specified in the Config.XML setup file our application always uses. For the other programmers, after the standup, I can show how I am using dependency injection to achieve this.”

Good agile teams are not afraid to ask questions at the daily standup, so in some cases team members get better, over time. But, with practice, the Curse of Knowledge can be addressed more rapidly.

  • Each and every day, everyone practices what he or she will say at the standup, with someone else listening and critiquing.
  • Ideally the person critiquing has a different skill set (e.g. programmer and tester, tester and business analyst).
  • By practicing with dissimilar peers, or perhaps a ScrumMaster, team members get used to providing context, eventually overcoming the curse of knowledge!

So, no magic is needed to get rid of this curse, just use practice instead.

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