Monday, February 09, 2009

Cut n Paste to lower communication barriers

At work, we have a weekly newsletter. I used to read it, but I don't anymore. It used to just be in email, and I'd skim some of it as it came by before I deleted it.

Now, it's a document attached to an email. It requires just one more click to see it, and I don't do it. It had some nice information in it -- new hires, birthdays, other company news. Stuff I could read "incidentally". Clicking that link feels like committing to reading the whole document, rather than just skimming over what's already in my box.

I've been thinking about how I can lower barriers when I communicate as well. The easy one is that instead of just mailing a link (which most people won't click on), I paste the whole document into my email.

The same thinking has led to a lot of physical printouts in our office. This strikes some people as funny -- we're a tech company, yet much of our process is documented on giant sticky notes. Yet the results are clear: a giant sticky note next to the fridge communicates much more effectively than email, or a diagram in a folder in Sharepoint.

But what other barriers exist in our group that I'm not aware of? We've worked pretty hard to reduce them: we move desks when we reorganize teams so members can sit together, we aggressively encourage pair programming, our scrum process has its standups, etc.

A better question might be: how do we identify them? I'm not aware of a metric that I can rely on. Things come up in the retrospective, but that's just once every three weeks. Perhaps the real story here is about using all channels of communication.

In my email example, I have only one channel so I need to make sure it's as effective as possible. Even then, I don't really expect everyone to get the information I'm sharing.

When I give presentations, I try to say my point three times, and in three different ways: Once in text, once with a picture, and once verbally. Maybe there's a correlation there when I'm looking to drive change in our office (or just hold us to changes we've already agreed on): A poster, an email, and a verbal reminder during standup.

I'm going to look for things where I'm using only one mode of communication, and either reduce my expectations around that message or increase my modes. (make a poster, send an email, include it in our standups)