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Effective Communication in Software Development: the Client’s Guide

Learn the communication challenges you may face during custom software development and how you can avoid them to get your project delivered in time.

Effective communication in software development is essential for project delivery, which is why you might want to know how to establish comfortable and effective communication with your vendor to foster a successful delivery of your product. A failure to capture the client’s needs and translate them into a fully functional end-product will have a detrimental effect on the overall success of the project. There can be many reasons for misunderstanding between you and your vendor, and today we are going to take a look at some of the most prominent issues and suggest solutions to deal with those issues.

Communication and its failures make up for a complex multidisciplinary topic and we are going to focus exclusively on the communication problems in software development between business partners who strive to achieve the same goal. We are going to break different problems down one by one and offer solutions to these challenges. 

Different Way of Thinking

Each person is different in more than one way, and those differences become more apparent the more distance you put between these people. Different cultures and backgrounds influence our perception of the world around us and our way of thinking, and we can hardly do anything about it. This does not mean you cannot improve the quality of communication between people.

The background and the culture are defining factors in the way people communicate and cooperate – the more differences there are, the harder it would be for these people to find common ground. The more you communicate with people, the closer you become and the easier it gets to find a common ground, but when it comes to custom software development projects, you don’t have the time to do that. You need your development team to understand you and your requirements straight away.

Solution

The best way to address the problem of cultural incompatibility is to partner with developers that come from the same or similar culture as you. If you are planning to outsource your software development project, you will probably work with people from a different country, which is where you must take cultural matching into consideration. 

The best idea here is to opt for a partner based in the country nearby or the country that is culturally similar to the country you come from. For instance, US-based companies often partner with developers from Canada and Mexico.

Language Barrier

Well, this one is obvious – you cannot communicate with people who do not understand what you are saying. Though it is common among software developers worldwide to speak English, the level of language proficiency would vary depending on the country as well as on the specifics of your potential vendor. Your vendor might have great communication skills in their native language and be a real expert in software development, but it would not matter if they cannot speak proper English.

Solution

This is simple – first, you’ve got to look for development companies based in English-speaking regions. Canada and Mexico are some of the best destinations to look for the people who match your company culturally and these are the places that are most likely to have more English-speaking developers. 

Secondly, once you've narrowed your search down, you should talk to the vendors’ representatives and find out whether they speak proper English. You should talk to the people you are going to hire beforehand and figure out whether they can sustain a meaningful conversation in English. 

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Number of Communicators

If you gather a party and ask every attendant to bring a certain item along, chances are, one or more of them will forget to bring their requested item. The same thing happens here, the more people you involve in the development process, the higher the chance of error is. Communication breakdown becomes more likely with a growing number of people, which is why complex organizational structures that involve dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of people tend to experience a large percentage of human error. 

If you need your project done fast, you might think you’ll get the desired results faster if you involve several vendors, each working on a separate part of the project. That might be a viable strategy in case you are working on industrial projects that involve several large-scale software solutions. Hiring a couple of vendors to take care of different aspects of the large project might be reasonable but it is still better to work with a single vendor.

Solution

The best solution here is to work with a single software development company, so you would not have to coordinate the cooperation between several teams. If you work with a single vendor, you’ll be communicating your vision to the project manager, and they will then communicate your vision to the team – such a pipeline is quite convenient and does not have lots of moving parts, which is exactly what you want. The fewer communicators you have, the better. You can even talk directly to the developers to eliminate the middle-man. 

Communication Quality and Quantity

The quality of communication is defined by how well your message and your vision have been transmitted to the developers. If you are not sure how to communicate with software developers, the simple answer is – consistently. Inconsistent communication, mixed messages, unclear vision, and uncertainty lead to confusion, and a confused team is more likely to perform poorly. 

You should also maintain more or less frequent communication with your dedicated team. Leaving your developers on their own for months is not the best idea. The optimal frequency of communication is once a week, that’s what most project managers would recommend. Losing touch with your team might lead to errors, delivery delays, and a failure to deliver a proper product.

Solution

Whenever you need to communicate a complex message, you have to make sure you are doing it right; and the most reliable way to do that is to write it. If there’s a lot of details to cover, it is much better to write it all down and send it to the developers in the form of a presentation or email. That way you can be sure all the information you wanted to convey has been received by everyone involved and that there is no place for misinterpretation.

Simply sending an email might not be enough; you must make sure all of your messages are clear and consistent with your vision if you want your end-product to be exactly how you envisioned it. You can also create diagrams for different processes or use project management tools to make it easier for the team to understand what and when they are supposed to achieve.

Frequent communication would be helpful too. If you prefer a hands-on approach, you may want to communicate with your team on a daily basis. This is not imperative, though, as a team of professional developers can work relatively autonomously without constant supervision. Nonetheless, you would surely want to stay in touch just to keep an eye on the development process. 

How to Communicate Your Vision to Developers

Communication is essential for proper project delivery, and you must stay in touch with your team from the very beginning until the end of the development. At the beginning, you set the tone for the entire project: express your requirements, set the deadlines, mention your business goals. That’s why it’s extremely important to establish clear communication at this stage to make sure you and your team are on the same wavelength. During the development stage, regular communication will allow you to hold your finger on the pulse, control the previously set deadlines, and monitor adding required features. You should also keep up with a good tone of communication throughout the very end of your cooperation to ensure everything is properly configured and works correctly right in the way you planned it to during the planning phase.

Know Your Requirements

You need to understand your goals and be specific about your requirements to properly communicate them to the developers. They will not understand your vision if you yourself don’t, which is why you need to have a clear and precise understanding of what your software is going to be. 

A professional team of developers might help you figure all of that out, they will start asking questions, analyze your ideas, pose what-if scenarios, and try to understand your vision through and through. Such a cooperative effort may help you refine your vision and establish stronger and more trusting relationships with your vendor. So, even if you are not quite sure what your software has to look like, you can always consult with the developers and use their knowledge to polish your ideas.

Choose the Right Methodology

What Agile means is that you’ll be able to adjust your plan according to the changing circumstances. For instance, your market trends might shift throughout the development process, and you will have to adapt to those changes quickly. You will then have to communicate the new requirements to the team so that they will be able to implement adequate solutions. This elevates the importance of communication in software development to new heights. 

Once the time comes for you to change the course of development, you need to communicate that change properly and let your team know exactly what happens. Agile development does not excuse you and your team from mapping out a development process in great detail, and you will have to make many important decisions as you create that roadmap.

Do Not Make Assumptions

If you are not a developer yourself and do not have adequate knowledge of the code, do not make any assumptions and do not interfere in the coding process. Given you really trust your team and know they won’t be artificially prolonging the coding process just to shake some coin off of you, just let them do their thing. Sometimes you might think that some minor bug fix would not take that long, and you’ll give your team a deadline based on your assumptions. Chances are, your assumptions are wrong and something you thought would take a couple of hours to do actually takes days if not weeks. 

If you work with a trusty and well-proven vendor, you do not have to worry about them putting in some extra hours of work just to make more money. These people know what they are doing, and if you are not tech-savvy enough to know how certain things are made, just give your team some freedom and let them do their job the way they see fit. Real professionals would always do their job the best they can and as fast as they can.

Be Involved 

Regardless of the communication techniques used in the software development process, the important thing is that you keep talking. To prevent exhaustion and loss of involvement, you should contact your developers on a regular basis. It is not even necessary to organize formal meetings, just show your face and ask how things are going. Keep a positive attitude and show your passion to the team, they will surely feel it and get encouraged by it. Buzzing around every 10 minutes is not the best idea though. Keep the communication simple, engaging, and efficient. 

Conclusion

There are many things to consider when establishing effective communication in software development. To begin with, you should choose the right partner who can guarantee effective cooperation on their side, and this includes cultural matching and language matching. Next, you must opt for frequent and meaningful communication that holds the whole project together.

The quality of the product you develop in many ways depends on the quality of communication between you and your vendor, and both of you need to take steps in the right direction. You cannot expect your product to turn out good if you’d never speak to your developers, which is why you cannot ignore the importance of communication in software development.

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