Communicating Deliberately – Smarter Commerce [Delivery] Part Two

This is the second of a three-part blog post series based on a presentation Amanda Conway, Senior Project Manager, Commerce, at Perficient, gave at an Agile Camp in Milwaukee. (Read Part One here.)
Communicating is one of the cornerstones that sets a Project Manager or a Delivery team up for either success or failure. The quality and quantity of the communication may vary from team-to-team, but ultimately there are going to be several key components that help enhance a delivery. The Digital Commerce group at Perficient has a well-established offshore model that is years in the making.  While this model can be very productive it also requires special handling when it comes to communication. In this post, I will be sharing some of the PMO’s thoughts on how to best communicate with a project team that includes offshore team members. We may speak the same language and when we are discussing Magento or InsiteCommerce we have certified developers (48 Magento, 25 Insite) in Nagpur (India) and the US that know the platforms inside and out.  However, when it comes to passing a request from a client to the Project Manager or Solution Architect and then to the offshore team, special care must be given to ensure the team receives the necessary details and most importantly – understands them.
Choose the Right Method
This tip can be applied in almost all facets of doing business in our digital world.  With emails flying out in abundance and a plethora of collaboration tools at your disposal, communicating with remote and even local teams has never been easier or harder. We’ve all done it – replied to an email chain already 40 messages long. While this is communicating, there is a high likelihood it is communicating inefficiently. When communicating deliberately, it is important to think before you send. Is this message best sent over email? Basecamp? Hipchat? Slack? Skype? On the phone? Screensharing?
Choosing the right method of communicating can help your teams understand the requirements more clearly, reduce unnecessary back and forth messaging, and even help build up team morale.  It is especially important to choose the right method when working with an offshore team. Yes, the easiest way is to send an email or update a ticket or user story.  For small changes, that may be appropriate, but even better might be having a discussion over Skype.  For larger changes, we’ve found it to be more successful to have a call and share screens.  This allows the team to review, ask questions that can be answered immediately and ultimately acknowledge that they understand the requirements. While sending a quick email seems so simple the unnecessary back and forth if things are not clear will easily outweigh the minor benefits of sending an email vs. having a phone call.
Create a Communications Plan
The start of every project should include a collaboration between the different team members to identify a proper communication plan. This plan should outline how communications will happen:

  • Who will be sending the communication
  • How often the communications will be sent out
  • What is the expected response time
  • When will meetings be held and at what frequency
  • Will there be interactions with third parties, if so, who is responsible for those interactions?

The creation of this plan, will lead to a better understanding expectations for all team members. From the client’s side, they will know exactly when the status report will be sent out.  The Project Manager will know exactly when there is a project risk coming to fruition.  The development team will know exactly who to contact in the event they need technical guidance.  An established communication built from the start of the project will also ensure that our clients know what to expect and since they are a part of the creation, they can help identify specific changes their business may require.  These clear expectations provide a path for easier communications for the life of the project.
A Picture Says a Thousand Words
This is one of the biggest helpers when it comes to working with an offshore team. If at all possible, take a screenshot, create a design comp, record a video of the user flow, even draw what you are looking for on a whiteboard and take a photo.  If it helps, add an annotation to the image to help call out important areas.  In our Commerce practice, it is common for our teams to take a screen recording walking through different features and functionality in Magento or InsiteCommerce to help identify a problem, provide easier trainings, and give clear visualization on the proper user-flow.  The comprehension of this type of communication is extremely high.  Without an image, the team would take your words and try to visualize the final solution.  In many cases, the write-up may provide enough detail and everyone is on the same page.  However, why risk it?  By creating the image, you are taking away the risky step of asking the team to interpret your words.  Instead, provide the final visual to them and take the guess work out of the equation!
Communication is a Team Effort
Finally when working on communication it is key to remember that it must be a collaborative, team effort. Becoming a team that communicates effectively, is not an easy task and it certainly cannot be dictated by one person.  It requires each team member to understand their role and work to achieve success. If one leg of communication breaks down within the team, all points of communication will be impacted.  It is critical that all team members are bought into the Communication Plan and understand the impacts of deviations.
The overall goal of Communicating Deliberately is to get the most out of your communications and allow the team to be well-informed and work together effectively and efficiently. This is by no means a comprehensive list of how to better communicate with your teams and each team and project is a little different and may need to be handled in a unique way. Hopefully this helps to get you on the right track when starting out a project and working with your teams to make communicate a key strength!
What other communication tips can help guide a project to a more successful outcome?

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