Communicate Clearly

The speed, efficiency and effectiveness of communication is all-important on a software development effort of any significant size.

Consider the following factors:

  1. Signal-to-noise ratio: this is the ratio of useful information to the overall volume of information in a particular communication, or communication channel. Many developers, for example, find their incoming e-mail to have such a low percentage of signal that they abandon it altogether, except when pressed to dredge some particular nugget up out of the sea of dreck that is their inbox.

    So make sure that your team communications are rich with important information, and light on administrivia and management-speak.

  2. Warmth of communication types: As Alistair Cockburn pointed out in his Agile Software Development Chapter 3 excerpt on “Communicating, cooperating teams,” the effectiveness of communication generally increases as the warmth of the communication method increases, where two people working together at a whiteboard is at the warm end, and a number of people exchanging written information via pieces of paper is at the cool end of the spectrum.

    It’s best to use warmer methods for the most critical exchanges of information.

  3. Customer communication: be sure to communicate regularly and proactively with your key project stakeholders, to avoid any surprises or misunderstanding. For more on this topic, see the Pagan Tuna post, “Customer Communication.”

  4. Document formats: Lightweight markup languages such as Markdown and Web content management systems such as wikis offer significant advantages over the usual word processing alternatives. For more on this topic, see the Pagan Tuna post, “Ten Reasons to Ditch Your Word Documents.”

  5. Storage and retrieval of project documents: many projects rely on PowerPoint presentations stored in multiple places, exchanged via e-mail, with no easy way to find the latest version of a particular piece of information when you need it. Instead, try to emulate a site like Wikipedia. For more on this topic, see the Pagan Tuna post, “Lessons We (Should) Have Learned from the Web.”

  6. Effective use of E-mail: this can be an effective means of communication, but it is often used poorly. For more on this topic, see the Pagan Tuna post, “Taming the E–mail Monster.”

Share early and share often.

Next: Consider Alternatives