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Five Rules to Improve Communication and Transparency

It’s very important to deliver the value that the users are looking for, instead of delivering something that may fulfill all requirements but not be useful. Therefore, quality requires transparent communication.

Transparency for me is very much about honesty, not hiding anything, and to be clear in your communication about how the situation actually is. Not as somebody wishes it to be.

If you’re not transparent, it reduces the effectiveness of your communication because it muddles the waters. You make the wrong decisions if you don’t know what your situation is. For instance, if you don’t know that the quality in a specific area is lower than it should be, you can’t take action to improve it. If you don’t communicate with the stakeholders or business experts enough, you don’t understand their way of looking at things and that means that you are delivering something that isn’t usable.

Transparent honest communication is one tool that you can use to reduce some risks in projects. In this blog post, I give you five rules that helped me improve communication and transparency.

Transparent and honest communication requires courage and empathy

The first rule is that transparent honest communication requires courage and empathy. If you don’t have both the courage and the empathy to understand other people, you cannot communicate honestly.

You need empathy to understand the other person’s situation and options. Knowing what’s important to them and what impact the news will have. Understand how that person is going to take the news and react to it.

Give the information in a way that they will understand and apply to what’s important to them. Because a product owner may not care if they can go live two weeks sooner, the stakeholder who thinks I can get two more weeks’ revenue into my bottom line is going to see that differently.

You need to understand that sometimes, even if the quality is bad, you have to deliver because there may be, for instance, laws and regulations that require us to deliver at a specific time. Or there is something else that makes it impossible to delay the delivery. It’s important to have empathy to see that things aren’t black and white, so you can help solve the problem, but not hide it.

In short, you need empathy, because understanding the view of others is necessary to be transparent and communicate well.

You also need courage, because, if you’re afraid of how other people are going to react when you are communicating openly and honestly, you’d never dare to say anything, so you need to have the courage to know that it’s important to communicate the truth and not try to hide it.

Tell the consequence of the facts, not just the facts

The second rule is to tell the consequence of the facts, not just the facts because it’s hard to understand what the facts mean without the context. For instance, if you say you haven’t been able to test this functionality because you have had a blocking bug. It means nothing for a stakeholder or product owner, so it just goes through their head, and they don’t know what to do with the information. So, you need to say that it means that there may be a serious bug that can stop the business from performing this functionality or business process. You can also add the probability of bugs in the parts you haven’t tested. Of course, this means that you need to understand the business, otherwise you can’t talk about the consequences.

Give the information in the correct order

To give the information in the correct order is the third rule.

Start with the most important information and use visual aids because it’s much easier to understand information with visual aids that help with an understanding of what you are trying to communicate. Instead of starting with details, such as the number of found bugs, you start with how the situation is and then you can explain why you say the situation is as it is.

In other words, start with the conclusion. If you go into too much detail at first, they don’t hear what you’re trying to say.

Bad news rot

Bad news rot is the fourth rule.

It’s like when you have some food, and it doesn’t taste good. If you leave it up on the counter and just wait. It’s going to rot and smell worse and worse. The longer you wait until you deal with it, the harder it will be to do something about it.

The bad news is the same.

So as soon as you know you’ve got bad news, just tell them, because the longer you wait, the harder it will be to do something about it.

It’s easier if you have transparent communication all the way through because it’s not such a shock. If you don’t communicate the bad news when you see you have a problem, it will be as if everything is wonderful and then suddenly everything is terrible. A gradual descent into the bad news makes it easier to understand. It’s uncommon to have a situation that suddenly goes from green to red. But it’s quite common for stakeholders to get their information as if that was true.

When you talk about the problem as soon as you see the trend, you can get the message across a lot sooner with a lot less stress to everybody. You can actually do something about it when you notice the trend, but if you wait, your options are limited. The longer you wait, the fewer actions you have left.

So, remember, the longer you wait to tell the bad news, the worse they stink.

When you don’t know something, just say so

The last rule is when you don’t know something, just say so. Too often when you’re asked a question, you want to be as helpful as possible and answer what you think, even if you don’t know. In that case, it must be clear that it’s a guess. Perhaps a well-informed guess, but not necessarily the correct answer. So, even if it can be hard sometimes to acknowledge you don’t have the answer, just say so. Nobody can know everything.


Transparent honest communications are necessary to deliver quality. For that, you need empathy and courage. You need to tell the consequence of the facts, not just the facts. Give the information in the right order and back it up with visual aids to get the message through. The longer you hold off on telling the bad news, the worse it’s going to smell. And when you don’t know, be honest about it. Just say so.

Those are five good principles to improve communication and transparency.

What do you think? Do you have additional principles you want to share? Please, comment. I’d love to have your feedback.

  • Juha Vaitilo
    Juha Vaitilo
    CSO, Quality Engineering & Testing Practice Leader
    +358 40 550 0734