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Extending dedicated teams

Efficient Communication Framework: Development

Jan 28, 2019

Efficient communication framework prevents multiple issues in the software development.

Risk management is a vital requirement of software development approach, especially if one considers the fact that 20% of all projects are cancelled before completion and only 30% of the finished projects meet deadlines, budget, and functional requirements. Communication breakdown between the stakeholders is among the top process-related warning signs of project failure, along with a lack of documented requirements and success criteria, inefficient change, and schedule management.

Despite careful planning, change in the course of software development is often inevitable. Resource availability, staff turnover, business environment, competitors’ tactics and regulations changes require transparent and effective communication among the stakeholders. Without an established communication framework, the consensus on the project’s success criteria is lost and the odds of success become low.
Establishing an efficient communication framework for a distributed IT team
 

Communication Obstacles

Having identified communication breakdown as one of the risks during pre-mortem analysis of the project, it is prudent to assess potential obstacles that might arise in the course of the development and prepare accordingly. Experienced project managers identify three critical obstacles at different communication levels: between the client and the IT vendor, between departments, between teams within the department and among distributed team members:

1. Organizational obstacles arise when the client and the IT vendor represent different business approaches and cultures. Conservative enterprises averse to risk are distrustful of forward-thinking companies following agile methodologies. Without communication facilitation, stakeholders with controversial approaches fail to both establish trust and to complete the project.

2. Cultural obstacles emerge in international globally distributed teams. Linguistic barriers, cultural, societal, and religious differences should be accounted for to prevent tension and misunderstandings among stakeholders.

3. Semantic obstacles stem from the use of specialized terminology by stakeholders. Team members specialized in diverse areas assume they possess a common understanding of industry-specific jargon. Incorrect or incomplete communication results from the lack of established notions among the stakeholders and may cause delay, cost overrun, and ultimate failure.

The benefits of the efficient communication framework for IT outsourcing
 

Distributed Team Communication Framework

An international communication approach is a part of a global project management framework. Time zones, linguistic and cultural differences between the distributed team members complicate communication and cause misunderstandings and setbacks. To ensure the team’s efficiency, the right communication strategy should be established, along with preferred techniques, channels, rules, and templates.

Stakeholders and Communication Channels

Stakeholders identification, analysis and management are all important steps in establishing a communication framework. Project managers coordinate them and suggest communication channels that span cultural and geographical borders for key members of the distributed team. A list of stakeholders varies, depending on administrative structure of the client and the IT vendor. The common list of key stakeholders includes top management, project manager, project team members, resource manager, internal or external customers, contractors, and suppliers.

Rules and Templates

Communication rules should be established at the onset of the project. Team leads and project managers identify the preferred communication channels for each type of meeting within local teams and across the whole globally distributed team. To ensure effective documentation of the meetings, decisions, and ideas, documentation templates are created.

Communication Techniques

Information gathering, exchange, and distribution across the members of the globally distributed team can be facilitated by mastering the communication techniques by project managers and stakeholders. Timely distribution of progress reports and project documentation coupled with the use of project management platforms and issue tracking software enables efficient cooperation and rapid pace of development.

Communication Strategy

Stakeholders’ requirements, rules, templates, and techniques form a global communication strategy. It should clearly identify the stakeholders and primary types of information that are created and exchanged. The strategy outlines relationship between stakeholders as well as information types and also identifies the best media and manner for all communication instances.

Structure of the Project Communication Plan

The project’s communication framework should be outlined in a document. The communication plan is developed along with the project plan and meets the unique requirements of a particular project. Three critical parts of the communication plan are:

  • Communication goals. It is a list of objectives that outline the ideal communication outcome to help project managers and team members make right decisions on information exchange.
  • Stakeholder information and preferences. A table that includes stakeholders’ names and roles, preferred communication channels and frequency. For complex projects, extra columns could be added to include the preferred communication style, availability, contact information, and more.
  • Communication types. Each point on this list should identify the frequency, media and format, the engaged stakeholders, communication objectives, and information shared. Daily emails, weekly check-ins and email reports, milestone meetings and daily scrums, as well as any other type of communication used in the project should be included in the list.

 

Effective Communication Media Vs Outsourcing Activities

The media choice depends on the client’s and vendor’s preferences and tools availability, as well as communication expectations and goals. Project managers suggest communication channels of varying symmetry and synchrony depending on the outsourcing activity.

Communication tools and media channels

Asymmetrical communication media ensure directional information transfer from an individual or a team to a large number of recipients. This type of communication channels are used for reports and notifications delivery or information sharing through repositories.

Synchronous tools are preferable for meetings, workshops, brainstorming and feedback sessions, as they enable two-way real-time communication.

Kick-off Meeting

Duration: 4 hours to a week
Number of participants: 10+
Audience: Team members, local coordinators, senior managers
Moderator: Project manager

Face-to-face meetings are good for establishing understanding and informal relationships through team building techniques. Video conferencing is a viable alternative, while audio and web conferences are only suitable for low complexity projects and distributed teams that have prior experience of working together.

Routine Team Meeting

Duration: Up to 2 hours
Number of participants: 5 to 15
Audience: Team members
Moderator: Local coordinator or project manager

For globally distributed teams, web conferencing is the preferred communication media, as it allows synchronous communication and documentation sharing to validate common understanding of the issues under discussion. Face-to-face routine meetings are possible only for local teams. Audio conferences might cause misunderstandings, while video conferencing requires extra preparations and may limit the number of team members participating in the meeting.

The efficiency of real-time communication modes across IT outsourcing activities

The efficiency of communication channels across IT outsourcing activities
 

Strategic and Design Workshop

Duration: 4 hours to a week
Number of participants: 10+
Audience: Team members
Moderator: Local coordinator

Whenever possible, workshops should be held face-to-face. However, for lengthy strategic meetings, video conferencing is the next best choice. Audio and web conferencing is inadvisable for meetings longer than 60 minutes, since participants start losing focus and begin multitasking, reducing the efficiency of communication. Regular breaks (every 90 to 120 minutes) ensure all team members stay sharp and focused on the matters at hand.

Senior Management Meeting

Duration: up to 1 hour
Number of participants: 5 to 10
Audience: Client-side and IT vendor senior managers
Moderator: Project manager

It is advisable to conduct the initial senior management meeting face-to-face to establish a transparent and open relationship between the client and the project manager and team lead. Alternating video and web conferences are recommended for further communication. Video calls uphold the relationship, while web conferencing allows to share and discuss presentations, documents, and graphics. Audio conferences for senior management meetings are not practical since they may lead to miscommunication.

Communication breakdown between the client and the IT vendor increase risks, ruin trust and cause project failures. However, the establishment of an efficient communication framework through implementing right channels, techniques, templates, and rules prevents multiple issues in the course of software development by a globally distributed team.

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