Thursday, August 13, 2009

Connect Your Thinking Dots

Good Communication Helps!!
In a typical software development house where teams are not co-located importance of clear communication becomes vital. Due to not so effective communication productivity drops, building trust gets tougher, morale of the team affects, and so many other negative things happen. As a part of distributed team, where I lead the Indian team of software engineers, I observed few patterns.

  • We find it tough to explain complex ideas. We avoid speaking out at first place. Resulting in unexpressed ideas. Moreover, once we have agreed to somebody else’s idea, may be not so great, it becomes even harder to introduce our thoughts at later stage.
  • No planning is perfect and despite having all the work items planned few tasks arises out of discussions in team meetings. I observe a pattern here, most of the time these unplanned task are urgent in nature, believe me, and manager wants to finish it ASAP. Manager asks developer to squeeze this task in his schedule. Agile or No Agile, now its developer’s turn to speak out……c’mon speak it up.….please…….but for him articulating his concerns is bigger problem then spending nights in the office. He commits! You know the story afterward, missing deadlines, poor quality, hate for manager, and list is endless.
  • Apart from the side effects mentioned in above point one another thing also happens. I give you a hint. This ‘Another’ thing is very crucial for any team. Yes, you guessed it right, degree of Trust level decreases. If engineer is able to deliver after slogging he will blame his manager for burning him. Otherwise if he misses the date manager looses his faith in him.
I struggled with this problem for a while and finally decided to do something about it. It took a while to convince my team that this problem is more about formalizing their thoughts rather than having a command over a particular language. I tried the approach listed below. There is nothing new. Even then it worked well for me.
  • Form a group, at team or organization level. This group will meet once a week.
  • Group members will come prepared with a topic, which they will speak in front of group. Preferred topic should be non technical and imaginative in nature.
  • There can be a time limit on duration a person is going to speak. Also number of speakers can also be limited if your group size is big.
  • Now the tough part. There should be evaluator/s, which will help individuals with their suggestions.
  • Here I am not recommending giving Voice accent training to engineers. My recommendation is to create a platform to help left brain creatures to build up a good mix of right brain prowess.
As with any other initiative the success of this one too will depend upon the enthusiasm of the group members. Moreover there will be lots of other burning issues, which we needs to firefight for. As this task is important but not urgent it qualifies for the Second Quadrant of Stephen Covey’s four quadrants system explained in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Quadrant two is the one where true and lasting happiness resides and we should give attention to that. Right now, I can’t give you a model to calculate ROI but as you go along you will reap the benefits.


  1. Welcome to blogging :) and wish you a very successful blog !!!

    You bring out good points that people generally assume, or take for granted in an Agile context - perhaps it is the social context or a generally young workforce or something else, but we need to recognize the people issues in Indian context. Indian workplace is very different from many other workplaces, and no process can succeed if we don't factor-in people dynamics more so here than anywhere else. In most teams, the manager is still seen as the legendary father-figure, and I very much doubt if such teams or individuals could really work as a self-organizing teams if left to themselves. In my view, a manager has a lot to do in terms of grooming the teams to come to a sage where they could play a bigger, more involved role.


  2. As already said manager has to play a vital role to involve all members in his team. He has to bind a group of people and all the people having different attitudes and expectations.

    1)Foremost thing is trust and communication. Communication creates trust and vice-versa and this process goes on. Pointing different people in team meetings can help them in brain-storming. Appreciation also enhances confidence in the mind of speaker. Wiki can be promoted to discuss further ideas.

    2) As we are dealing with Indian workforce, we need to know that Indian people try to create social/personal groups within the team which leads to group-ism within team itself. Informal groups who are assigned specific task should be bounded tight but social/personal groups should be avoided at the most priority. They try to create differentiation in the team and team losses direction for all the group tasks and goal of team as a whole.

    3)Also informal groups created within the team should be motivated enough such that they realize that all their efforts will lead to performance which will be rewarded.

    4)Planning is definitely required for group task. And it is not easy that all members will get time together. So we can try to go for individual presentation for 5 mins only, on any topic – non-technical- but preferable related to the team (As in behavioral sense).

    5)No evaluation is required for this exercise. This is just to remove the haziness to talk in a group. Discussion further for 15 mins can be a good feedback for the speaker.

    6)This is for sure that this activity comes in the second quadrant of Stephen Covey’s four quadrants, but to be on safer side so that it doesn’t become the urgent task we have to plan it well. By making it an individual task it will need only 20 mins to prepare for 5 mins topic. So it actually needs total one hour of speaker and only 20-25 mins of other team members to participate in the discussion. We can have this activity half an hour before the lunch where we can continue the discussion further if required.

    As per my experience I feel there is lot of need to promote job involvement in the team. People are generally concerned with the task assigned to them and some who try to involve get too much involved in everything that they are unable to concentrate. We need to balance this level between all the members.

  3. I agree that effective communication will definitely improve team's productivity and that will eventually boost confidence among the team members.
    There's another view to the title of the blog, how often do we see people managing their personal and professional lives in a better way. Why,I say this is because people do tend to take their job not too seriously/do not have vision to reach up to some ladder. At this point the Manager has the full capacity to wake up his team and then its the team's responsiblity how serious they implement suggestions offered, rest if you are more involved in groupism then surely as differnt people have different opinions, you can ascertain what the outcome will be.
    In a way concentrating more on communication or more elaborately on one's own overall personality will definitely answer every anxiety or correct your thought process.
    Software development will always be unpredictable in the sense that there will be always tight deadlines, therefore there may be chances that end product may not be what it was expected to do or the processes/technologies may change (mind it CHANGE which is not easy to bring in).
    At last the team's maturity should increase per day basis and that can be seen on day to day meetings, discussions and forums anywhere....

  4. Good post. I don't think I have ever seen such good comments too.

  5. It's a great idea or I must say a great thought, to grab an opprtunity to groom in team,organization and at interpersonal level as well.
    I wish to be the part of it.
    you ought to start it again asap.
    Best Wishes for the wonderful work.

  6. That was very insigtful Prateek.

    7 Habits is definitely a good read for anybody who wants to have a better handle on their own path to whatever it is they want to accomplish.

  7. Regular Communication is a good way to share ideas, views and thoughts among each other. Also, it brings people closer. It is also one of the best way to improve the communication skills and to remove hazziness.
    In a distributed environment where communication plays a vital role to understand, co-ordinate and completion of a task, good communication is must.
    Gr8 post as usual...........