Derik Whittaker

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Its all about communication, not processes….!

We live in a world where thoughts and concepts are not getting smaller and simpler but rather they are getting larger and more complicated. Software teams in many cases are no longer all crammed into one room or can be fed by 2 boxes of pizza (which is a large systemic issue in my opinion).  Teams are now spread out over many floors of a building (if your lucky), over many buildings in a city, or in most cases over many times zones spanning the world.

As our teams become larger and the problems we are trying to solve are becoming harder one thing remains paramount to success, communication.  You can put together the greatest group of talent you can find but if the teams do not communicate effectively they are not going to be successful. 

It is funny that I am even having this thought stream because we live in a world where communicating with people has never been easier.  I can turn on my phone and call someone, text someone, IM someone, tweet them or update their wall on facebook….all from the palm of my hand.  However, teams are increasing becoming worse and worse with communication and this is going to be the downfall for projects which otherwise would have been successful.

What is funny (or sad I guess) is that of all the problems we attempt to solve every day this is by far one of the simplest and easiest and requires almost NO real effort.  The problem is people are either inherently lazy and do not want to expend the energy to communicate or are guarding this information because they feel it provides them a source of power or security.  By being either lazy or secretive what they are really doing is signing their own death certificate for that project.

Software teams (all teams really, but you get the idea) need to make it their #1 priority to ensure that all information, useful or not is communicated to the ENTIRE team at ALL TIMES.   But how do they do this?

By:

  • Communicate to the ENTIRE team at one time, do not allow the trickle down theory to rule your team.
  • Communicate EVERYTHING even if you are not sure how important it is
  • Communicate CLEARLY and CONCISLY important decisions and dates
  • Communicate in person when at all possible, don’t relay on email or discussion boards (this is difficult w/ distributed teams but make it work)
  • Do not create paragraphs of information where bullet points will work better

Just a few of my thoughts.....

Till next time,


Posted 05-18-2011 2:34 AM by Derik Whittaker
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Comments

Steve Py wrote re: Its all about communication, not processes….!
on 05-18-2011 11:49 PM

Huge, remote development teams should be the exception, not the norm for business system development. The larger the team is the more difficult communication can be, and the less relevant every piece of information will be to every single member. If you try and relay every detail in face-to-face meetings you will end up with time-wasting sessions where individuals only benefit from 15-20% of the content of a sit-down.

IMO communication is important, but making information accessible easily and accurately is the key. (No lengthy documents, sitting on some remote network share, that age like stale bread.) Personally my goals in software teams is ensure that knowledge is shared by at least two people, and that members are approachable for knowledge sharing.

IgorM wrote re: Its all about communication, not processes….!
on 05-22-2011 12:24 PM

I do agree that the communication is the main factor of the success.

I lead large dev teams across multiple time zones and countries. I do feel that the communication is a large barrier to make things move quick and fast. I have about 2-3 hours of overlap with my teams and during that time I need to get a feel of the teams progress, next tasks and impediments that they face.

Next I wear another hat and, as a technical lead and architect, I have to convey my needs for the changes in the current architecture.

Next I wear another hat and, as a trainer, I have to train people to understand the new techniques and technologies that they have to use to address the next step in the process.

How do you think people's mind can absorb all this information during such short period of time. My brain is fried after 2 hours of constant talking, but I have my day just started.

With the current non-face-to-face communication it's becoming a very large challenge to convey your ideas. It takes almost 4 times longer.

Bottom line - I do not see that communicating to the whole team at once make sense in distributed teams. You have different levels of people - some of them get your idea on the fly, the others have no idea what are you talking about. So the first portion of the team - wants to move forward the second left behind. If the second start to ask questions - the first gets bored.

 Currently I imply the trickle down methodology - put very smart people as technical leads and communicate through them.

I'm still looking for better ways and would love to continue the conversation.

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