Communication in Software Development: Best Practices From Belitsoft

Here, at Belitsoft offshore software development company, after 10+ years of successful experience in custom software development, we can prove that a good level of communication (between stakeholders/business users and a business analyst, a project manager, developers, testers, and etc.) is about 50-60% of success for a custom software application development.
Sep 12, 2017

For a good level of communication, I mean fully transparent situation for all project team members: each of the team members exactly knows his tasks; each of the team members clearly understands the final aim of software development; each of the team members shares the common responsibility for project development; project team finds easy and quick ways to resolve any critical issue.

Communication in Software Development

Communication Challenges in Global Software Development

  • I faced with some examples when project team coach on customer's side did not understand what was going on the project development before the situation became critical and unresolved without serious loss.
  • I also can list even dozens of examples when a project successfully started at the beginning, became unsuccessful in the middle or at the final circle of the development process, because of changing people who were involved in the project in such stages as planning, development, and implementation the project from Executor and Customer sides. The main issue was that new staff was not able to work on the same approaches which were used by previous people and that caused a lot of problems on the project development circle.

How We Anticipate Challenges With a Communication Plan

We are trying to acquaint each member of a project team on the Executor side and Customer side and aim to communicate directly with appropriate person from the Customer side.

We create a Communication plan and approve it with all team members.

The communication plan:

  • describes roles for all the team members from the both sides – Executor and Customer;
  • covers overlapping hours which will be used for project communication. Overlapping hours will guarantee that the Customer will not be alone in the case when he needs any advice or real help in some emergency situations;
  • lists communication channels (non-verbal and verbal).

Email as a Non-verbal Communication Tool

My personal opinion is that the most important and effective approach in non-verbal communication is using email correspondence together with any mail clients such as Outlook, The Bat, Mozilla Thunderbird and etc. Why are emails are so important in our everyday work, especially in activity mostly connected with manager duties?

I think due to the fact that writing an email can help you to create really structured and logically understandable texts. You can send these texts to a lot of recipients, you can receive their replies and you can save all the texts as email correspondence with all history of your communication with your current clients and potential customers. When you also use any of email clients, you can really get very strong tool which can help you to be very fast on responses, save your previous correspondence in different folders (one for each of your contact) and do not forget about your current tasks, meetings and future plans.

My Main Tips On Email Correspondence Are:

  • Provide really fast response or update for received emails. I use the following rule for this: if I do not have any update within 8 hours, I have to send a message about it and I have to mention when I will have requested an update.
  • Use reminders for emails, which could be updated not earlier than 3 days.
  • Text in email should be quite short, structured and informative. Text should stimulate recipient for some action: response message or solution for current issues.

Someone can tell me that using emails in such a way can create a lot of bureaucracy in communication. This way of bureaucracy will make you more responsible and accurate. 

Skype, Viber, Google Talk and etc. as Non-verbal Communication Tools

Another way to organize non-verbal communication is using some instant messaging clients, such as Skype, Viber, Google Talk and etc. The main advantage of using such way of communication is live and quick converse. Sometimes it really helps people to understand each other, if they spend a couple of minutes to talk and discuss current issues and tasks. The main difference on this way of communication from email correspondence is that you can really save your time and time of your counterpart. You do not need to think a lot about texts and structure of these texts, you can write them as it is and sometimes that really works.

I think that approach of combining email correspondence and instant messengers on non-verbal communication in proportion 70/30 for each of them can increase your chances to be understood and to be heard by a client or your potential customer.

Verbal Forms Of Communication

Verbal forms of communication are also very important, especially for establishing personal contacts, relations and long-term partnership. When you talk with your counterpart by phone or you meet him personally, from a psychological point of view it is much easy to understand each other and solve current issues on the quicker way. It is mostly because you can hear or see real and existing “person”. This fact helps people try to find solutions which will be effective for both sides.

If the project is going to be really huge (at least 8-12 months of development), the idea to make a visit to the Customer side and discover his business will look logically and justifiable. That visit will help to establish a good level of trust and rapport. The return visit from customers’ side will also strengthen the relations. For relations, I mean not only relations between the companies, but relations between people who work in these companies, as relations on the basic human level.

My Main Tips On Verbal Forms Of Communication:

  • You have to prepare agenda or list of questions for discussion, especially if you have “face to face” meeting.
  • You have to create meeting notes after each passed meeting (especially if you talked mostly not about the weather outside but about some current issues) and update your counterpart about the status of executing mentioned points on the meetings notes. It means that you also can request from your counterpart the same obligation for the points which belong to his responsibility.
  • If you use a phone's headset (in case you are using Skype, Viber and etc.) make sure that connection is on the good level, you do not have any outside noise and you can hear each other on the enough level. If you record the meeting please inform about it before the meeting started.
  • On “face to face” meetings please be relaxed and cordial. The best way to attract your partner or customer is to behave on the friendly atmosphere, in spite of the fact that you try to solve very difficult problems, what requires some tough actions from your side.
  • On “face to face” meetings you can speak about the most critical issues and discuss them without any hesitation. Other ways of communication will not provide to you such possibility to be opened to each other. Sometimes that really helps to realize why you have current obstacles and why you were not able to evade the obstacles using email or phone in communication.

For me, the verbal form of communication is really essential. If you use it in a proper way, you will always have a good connection and you will always be “on the same page” with your customers and partners, that means that your working activity will be productive and result oriented.

How We Anticipate Challenges Keeping a Customer Up to Date on Progress

In any case, updates of the project status, any faced issues connected with project requirements, project budget, problems with developers and etc. should be done at least 2-3 times a week – this is very important in software outsourcing as the customer needs to know that you are working on his project but not having fun for customer’s money. Ideally, if you promised something to your Customer and gave the timeline, you have to inform him immediately after timeline passed.

In case your update is not “good news” you have to describe why it happened and a few possible ways on how you can try to solve the issue.

In my practice I realized, that existence of any problem is not so bad if you could propose some ideas how to solve it. The customer really appreciates this approach because he sees the real example how you can help him.

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