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Communication trip ups that make or break projects (Part 1)

José Gramaglia

December 31st, 2012

Ten years ago when we first started this business we imagined that any early communication issues would be solved once people mastered English. Over time, we learned that there are lots of other aspects that influence communication, some easy to improve but often overlooked.  I’ve broken these down into the following categories:

  • People aspects
  • Infrastructure & Tools

These will be posted in a series of blogs.  For each, I’ll describe some of those communication issues, share who owns responsibility, and recommend ways to be successful:

  • Feedback (Recipient): It’s not uncommon to see meetings where enthusiastic Product Owners describe new functionality without stopping periodically to check everyone’s understanding and to get feedback.   I’ve seen examples where the Product Owner talked for an entire hour without being interrupted.  Two things may have been happening here.  Everyone completely understood and was onboard with the requirements needed.  Or, and this is likely the case, people had questions but didn’t ask them.  I would say then that that 75% of that meeting was a waste of time. Interaction is important.

Recommendation: The recipient, the person whose receiving the information needs to confirm his/her understanding and offer feedback even if it’s to answer, “OK, got it!”   This is especially important when either the speaker or recipient is from another culture or speaks another language. Asking questions may be uncomfortable, but we must manage against those feelings to ensure that we are using time well.

  • Cultural differences (Presenter & Recipient) In today’s global reality, it’s important to consider cultural differences.  Even when grammatically understood, there can still sometimes be cultural barriers to overcome.  For example, Americans are more direct when pointing out improvement areas.  In the Chinese and Indian cultures, people have a tendency always to say “YES” to an authority figure (the client in this case) even if they think differently, and even if they didn’t understand what was said. Does it means that it is impossible to work with them? ABSOLUTELY NOT, it is just that it’s important to be aware of that cultural tendency.  Knowing that upfront, allows you to adjust your communication strategy.

Recommendation: A good strategy for working with team members in different countries is to ask the recipient to paraphrase what s/he has just heard.  That allows you to ensure that everyone has heard the same message and understand how to move forward.

  • Attitude (Presenter) The old adage, “Attitude matters” is true in software development too.  The recommendation here is to conduct meetings consciously and consider that you have people participating remotely.  That means avoid parallel discussion threads.  It’s almost impossible to follow any discussion if more than one person is speaking at the same time.

RecommendationWhen not using video, introduce yourself before expressing an idea, “This is Jose, I think that ….” I will facilitate other to match ideas to names.  Also, moving closer to the microphone before saying something will help to modulate what you are saying, as will speaking slower.


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