Imagine a mega-project like Airbus building a new double-decker jet. This is 15 years in the future, so the jet is supersonic. It flies above the stratosphere, zipping from London to New York in 1 hour. A manufacturing project like this requires a solid communication strategy, especially as parts are built all over the world by people who speak different languages. You know what can go wrong in this Tower of Babel: the wings fall off or the engines quit and the jet drifts off into deep space, never to return.
The same disaster can strike a software development project. Here are some ideas for how to improve communications to lower costs, speed up delivery, and reduce errors.
The email blizzard. Everyone knows what that is. Some of us get so many emails that they get lost in the shuffle. They either don’t get read or people don’t read them to the end. Gmail is bad, because it groups messages by subject line, so it is difficult to see all the messages in the email thread. You could consider using social network software instead. (We don’t mean Facebook or Twitter.) This way people can post messages to one another as updates to their profile. Lithium sells software that lets companies build internal social media networks.
Project toolsAnother way is to look at the top-down approach to project management. Traditionally companies type tasks into Microsoft Project, assign a responsible party, then the project manager follows up with the developers to track status. A better way is to put task management into the hands of the developers as well as the project manager. You can do this with the tool Asana. With that people log into a web page and see tasks assigned only to them. When they cannot complete a task because of open issues, they either assign the task to someone else or create a task to address the issue. Or they can type the “at” symbol “@” to send an email message to one specific person.
Video and instant message is more important today than the telephone. Skype of course is one way to have a video conference. But to add more than one person to the conference you need the professional version. Another alternative is to use Google+ Hangout. It allows many people and is free.
WikiWiki. Programmers and everyone else like to use Wikipedia, because it is a constantly-updated source of detailed and usually accurate information on practically any topic. Some managers believe programmers should document procedures and share knowledge by making notes in an internal Wiki. But getting programmers to write anything is like getting Sisyphus to push a boulder up a hill. So as appealing as this idea might be, it is not really worth the trouble, because only a few programmers will buy into it.
These are only a couple of ideas of how to improve communications among developers. With new tools coming online all the time this is a continuously evolving process.
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