Over-communicate with your global team

By Eoin on 25 September 2014.

Looking back at my Ph.D. research into globally-distributed development of software has reminded me to better communicate with the people who carry out work for our company.

Bitesize Irish Gaelic is a business I’m building. Several contractors are involved in the day-to-day running of the business, in the development of its software, and around creating our products.

My goal is to remove myself from the day-to-day running of the business. Chris Ducker’s “Three lists to freedom” helped me map out a dozen roles that I don’t need to do.

By removing myself from the business, I’m putting in place operating principles and processes that others can execute. Derek Sivers gives a nice account of how he approached this in a principles-based approach.

In all the feeling of “busyness”, our contractors often go two weeks or more without hearing from me. I recognise that that feeling of busyness is a symptom of when I’m not focusing. My communication with them is now more of a priority. They must hear from me.

In my Ph.D. research with the rest of the excellent research team at Lero, I looked in-depth at how two international companies developed their software. My goal was to better understand both the benefits and challenges that arose from globally-distributed software development.

The two companies involved were contrasting in their team structures.

The first of the companies I analysed were location-centric. A software development team for them was a team that sits at one location.

They would take requirements for a 6-month project. They would continue working on that project against agreed interfaces. Their day-to-day software engineering activities did not generally rely on people at other locations.

The second of the companies were a flavour of a “virtual team”. Managers in Ireland directly managed software development activities across multiple continents, including their team in Ireland. Their projects were more short-term and flexible in nature.

The pay-off was that they would need to constantly communicate with their “resources”.

In using freelance contractors to help our small business to run and grow, we’re closer to that second approach of a “virtual team”. Yet my communication with them has been far from constant.

I shouldn’t need to be a bottleneck in the first place. But progress doesn’t magically appear. It takes hard work, even if you’re delegating.

Bitesize Irish Gaelic is run on a set of core operating principles, following Sam Carpenter’s book on systems thinking.

One of our operating principles is to “over-communicate” with our customers. Don’t just reply to an email in three days after you found the information, reply immediately saying you’re getting that information.

I’ve learned that I need to apply that same business principle of “over-communicating” in order to help the people who do work on behalf of our business. It’s not enough to define a project, and then to disappear.

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