Secret ingredients to quality software

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Rules to Better Communication - 9 Rules

What we've got here is failure to communicate!
– Cool Hand Luke

So many problems in business come down to a lack of clear and effective communication. Here is a series of communication rules that should give you an edge.

  1. There are many tools used to communicate and collaborate online. The most efficient platforms for chats and calls are:

    We think Yammer could soon be decommissioned to reduce confusion.

    In China:

  2. The de facto approach of communicating via group emails and sharing files via a patchwork of different services is difficult, with the potential for missed messages and files.

    At SSW, we use Microsoft Teams for our company meetings and for our internal communication. Microsoft Teams is designed to provide an easier way for small groups of people to communicate and collaborate.

    Microsoft Teams' winning feature is its tight integration with Office services and Groups, which allows users to seamlessly and securely switch between editing documents, shared dashboards and planners, and group chat, video and voice calls. The simplicity of just setting up a Team and having access to all these shared services — without the need to spend hours configuring them is part of what Microsoft sees as Teams' selling point. Teams integration with email also allows messages sent to a designated Team address to be copied to a conversation in Teams.

    What are the options?

    Zoom – is the leader in modern enterprise video communication, with an easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars across mobile, desktop, and room systems. Zoom Rooms is the original software-based conference room solution used around the world in board, conference, huddle, and training rooms, as well as executive offices and classrooms.

    Microsoft Teams – Microsoft Teams came along and boasted some of the features that Skype for Business offered – predominantly persistent chat, instant messaging, individual and group voice/video calls, and scheduled meetings.

    Skype – an instant messaging app that provides online text messages and video chat services. Users may transmit both text and video messages and may exchange digital documents such as images, text, and video.

    Skype for Business – a solid communication product boasting multiple modalities and the ability to easily switch between them, as well as share a variety of content forms (e.g., desktop, application, whiteboard, poll). skype chat

    Figure: Bad example - Numerous group chats with no group name and therefore no way of tracking previous chats/files

    Teams chat

    Figure: Good example - Figure showing all of the team members. This group chat can be used over and over for project discussions with all data in one place and integrated with SharePoint.

  3. To prevent downtime while waiting for a response from a client, or the topic in an email needs to be discussed immediately, you should always call first before emailing.

    Calling first can save valuable time versus waiting for someone to respond to your email, making you more productive. Calling first also saves time when discussing topics that are easier explained over the phone. (Do you seek clarification via the telephone first?)

    When you need to contact someone, the steps you should take are:

    1. If possible, ping them on IM asking "Can I talk to you"
    2. Call them
    3. If you do not get through, leave a voice message and send an email starting with “As per the voicemail I left for you…"
    4. After talking with the person, follow up with an email that begins with the words "As per our conversation"

    It is very unlikely a client will complain because you contact them too often, but it is likely they will if you only ever email, so do not be afraid of calling first before emailing.

  4. You often need to share links to a file or folder in SharePoint.

    You can select the folder (or file) and click on "Copy link" at the top bar to get the link:

    sharepoint cloud copy folder
    Figure: Getting URL from SharePoint top bar

    You can also right-click the folder/file to copy the link:

    sharepoint right click link
    Figure: Getting URL by right-clicking a file in SharePoint

    On previous versions, you can open the menu on ellipsis link and get it from there:

    sharepoint link
    Figure: Getting URL from SharePoint ellipsis menu

  5. A disproportionate amount of time is spent thinking about whether you got the right answers from the client (or in the software world "Did we get the right specs?"). However, asking the right questions is a very important part of this process.

    Topics:

    • The importance of questions
    • Curiosity based questions
    • Confirmation based questions
    • Asking questions is natural (by kids)
    • Tip 1: Choose the right time/avoid interrupting
    • Tip 2: Avoid waffling by asking v2 questions (avoid v1 questions + setup a backchannel)
    • Tip 3: Ask questions with added value
    • Tip 4: Ask open-ended questions (avoid yes/no questions)
    • Tip 5: Document the answers in the PBI/email as it can help others in the future
    • Upselling - the side value of good questions
    • The Retro

    Tip: This video has timestamps and won't show here. The timestamps are only visible if you play this on the YouTube App or YouTube website.

  6. During meetings, there is a lot of communication between you and the client. It is very hard to keep the entire conversation in your head; hence it is very important you take notes. Notes must be short but descriptive enough so that you can remember what the conversation was all about and what tasks were created during the meeting. It is also very important that you use appropriate tools e.g. Microsoft OneNote, Trello, Microsoft Word, Notepad++ and avoid tools like Notepad.

    The best tool for taking notes will depend on what sort of activity you are doing. If you are making a straightforward document, OneNote will suffice. However, if the activity involves creating a lot of new tasks, it might be worth using Trello to take your notes. Trello allows for the creation of multiple lists (such as "To do", "In progress", and "Done") and has an easy drop and drag interface to reorganise work items as required. It also allows for comments on any item created, and you can tag people so they are associated with items. That way each new task can be created, organised and assigned immediately. You can invite team members and clients to the board so everyone is on the same page with regard to progress and outcomes.

    write notes bad
    Figure: Bad example – Notepad is not a good tool as it cannot recover your content in case of disaster

    write notes good
    Figure: Good example – Notes from the meeting with a client were written in OneNote

    trello for notetaking
    Figure: Good example – Notes from a conversation organising presenters for upcoming user groups. The sessions are listed in month order and the speakers have been tagged in their respective events.

  7. As businesses become larger and more complex, it's harder for the decision makers to keep up to date with every product change or be in every meeting. Responsibilities for decision making cannot be delegated but gathering the information to make an informed decision can.

    One common tactic is to have a delegate attend the meeting on their behalf and then loop them in at the end, bringing them up to date with an executive summary.

    Here are some tips to doing this effectively:

    1. Ensure the meeting has an agenda

      • it should list the delegate (who is receiving the information)
      • that the last 5mins of the meeting will be used to loop in someone else
    2. Take notes during the meeting
    3. Summarize the info/action items with the other people on the call
    4. Call up the person you want to loop in
    5. Loop them in (done by the delegate)

      • Lead with the main message and action items; for example, "We need to adjust X in product Y" or "We should look into using X on the next project"
      • Include a recommendation where possible
      • Group information around the most important themes
      • It's an executive summary - if you have to recite the meeting, then it isn't a summary. If everything is important, then nothing is important.
      • If the delegate says something incorrect the other attendees of the meeting have a chance to correct them

    With this strategy, the decision maker can get to the important points quickly. They can be told:

    • What's important
    • Why they should care
    • What action needs to be taken
    • What are the choices
    • What decisions have to be made and when
    • What is your position - don't leave out the recommendation

    They know that there is a lot more detail behind what appears to be a one-line summary. If they want more detail, they can drill down or ask for more information.

  8. Do you speak up about unfairness?

    Throughout your career, you might come across a scenario that feels unfair. In these situations, communication is vital for resolving conflict and making all parties feel content with the result. Let's take a look at some scenarios that may be perceived as unfair:

    • Someone might get a promotion when you felt you deserved it more
    • A group of employees might be left out of a public yearly bonus
    • A colleague might be put on a project that someone else is more suited to

    There are 3 perspectives to consider and each has different strategies for maintaining a good working environment.

    Manager

    Managers are human, and sometimes don't make the right decisions.

    • Avoid unfair situations - Steer clear of arbitrary decisions that could be perceived as unfair. For example, if you are going to choose who the best employee is, you better have numbers to back it up.
    • Communicate decisions - By communicating the reasons for every decision you set the right expectations for employees and prevent them from feeling frustrated.
    • Give a heads up - If you know someone might feel a situation is unfair, give them a heads up ahead of time.

    Receiver

    Getting an accolade or present is great but consider your colleagues.

    • Remain humble - You might feel proud of your new accomplishment and that's awesome. However, make sure you don't advertise or boast about it because that may cause resentment among your colleagues and foster a bad working environment.

    Neglected individual

    Missing out on an award can suck. What should you do?

    • Ask questions - Finding out the reasons for decisions will help you understand why it happened. That knowledge will be valuable to you in the future.
    • Speak up - If you feel things are unfair make it known tactfully. If it is bothering you, the longer you wait, the worse it becomes. Speaking up will give the person making the decision a chance to explain or rectify the issue.
    • Be reasonable - Everybody has their day of sunshine. Even if it doesn't totally make sense to you. It would be awesome if you can be genuine and privately send a congrats or even better do it publicly.

      "Always clap for your friends, even if their dreams come true before yours."

    Video: Two Monkeys Were Paid Unequally: Excerpt from Frans de Waal's TED Talk

    Video: Speaking Up about Unfairness - with Adam Cogan and Jean Thirion

  9. Do you find the positive in the decisions?

    Everyone wants a place where people help each other. Unfairness can really impact people in the workplace.

    It all starts with how you approach things, some people are better than others at dealing with unfair situations.

    Lets assume one of these common scenarios:

    • New great project – someone is assigned to it... someone is unhappy
    • New promotion – someone gets it, someone else is unhappy

    These might seem like unfair situations. People don’t want to be unfair... friends don't... bosses don't.

    Here are 10 tips for how you can manage unfairness.

    1. Gotta speak up - See Do you know to speak up?
    2. Happiness is relative - Unhappiness can come from comparisons with others. Instead compare yourself with your day yesterday.
    3. Get one thing in life, lose another - Can't have everything. When you are saying 'Yes' to one thing, you are saying 'No' to another.
    4. The 'Happiness Equation'
      Happiness = Expectations - Reality.
      If you want to be happier, then:

      • Reduce your expectations
      • Increase your reality
    5. Consider luck - Everyone wants to succeed in life. But what causes some of us to be more successful than others? Is it really down to skill and strategy - or something altogether more unpredictable? Sometimes peoples success is simply luck. Read the book "Fooled by Randomness"
    6. Compete with yourself by embracing Scrum – Competing with yourself is the best approach. The same with teams. In software, Scrum is the best way of working as you only compare yourself... or your team with what you did before. Using empirical data is the way to go.
    7. Understand intentions - Try to see yourself in others shoes.
      Understand that people don't want to be unfair. It is common to be assuming the wrong stuff.
    8. Be the 'squeaky wheel'

      "A squeaky wheel gets the most oil."

      Ask questions, and you will understand even better the logic your friend or boss is using. Bonus they now know this is a topic you have interest in... so they'll give you extra information.

    9. Have attainable ambition - You need expectations to be realistic enough to push you, not so much that it makes you unhappy.
      Overly ambitious people are often unhappy... they never get there! Sometimes people find they are never rich or successful enough...
    10. Celebrate other people's wins - Be at peace and in a place where you are pushing each other up, rather than climbing over each other. Everybody gets their days of sunshine. When others achieve a goal, be happy for them, send a nice message, 'like' their posts, etc.

      "Always clap for your friends, even if their dreams come true before yours."

    Do the above and you can have a culture of helping yourself and helping others.

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