Two-way communication fosters team building and strengthens collaboration. But what happens when the communication between you and your software development team becomes a one-way street?

Close-knit agile software development teams know just how critical good communication is in the development process. And not just between each other—it also extends to clients and other external stakeholders. When that communication fails, as it so often does, everyone wastes precious time and energy doing things that aren’t in their best interests.

In fact, a study done by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that inadequate communication can result in:

  • A failure to complete projects in about 45% of cases.
  • Low team member morale in a third of cases.
  • Missed performance goals in one out of four cases.

Which leads us to this conundrum.

We have more ways than ever to communicate with each other. Text, email, Zoom, Slack, phone calls, Skype, and in-person chats are just the teeny-tiny tip of the iceberg. So why is poor communication—or none at all—still among the top 5 reasons software projects fail?

What’s Behind Poor Communication

People often jest that only developers can understand developers, so “normies” shouldn’t be upset when the communications process goes south during the development process. We think that’s a bit of a misnomer, as we’ve worked with plenty of product managers, marketing folks, and product owners who “get it.”

On the other hand, we’ve been at it long enough to know there are software developers who are difficult to communicate with. But that’s something you could say of any profession.

Here’s what we’ve found often happens, particularly with outsourced software development: communications break down, resulting in a product wildly inconsistent with your vision.

Working on any software project requires a predefined plan for effective communication. Sounds straightforward enough, but in truth it’s a tough thing to work on and maintain during a project’s life. That’s because most people’s communication skills reflect what they were taught at an early age. Overcoming problematic approaches to communicating typically takes a lot of work and a change in mindset.

Luckily, keeping the communication channels open and dialogue flowing during the development process can be made a heckuva lot easier by embracing a few principles that help you:

  • Break through language barriers.
  • Communicate your vision.
  • Use the right communication tools.

Since establishing a good communication policy with your software development team is the cornerstone of every successful project, let’s dig in and discover how to put these three tenets into practice.

Breaking Through Language Barriers

Is there such a thing as “developer speak?” Most product managers will tell you yes. Keep in mind, though, that it doesn’t need to be a barrier to effective communication. After all, it’s just as easy to say there’s “sales speak,” “finance speak,” and “marketing speak,” right?

Software projects usually bring together various professionals from varying departments, each with their own way of talking but with a common goal: delivering a great product to the market. It’s a product manager’s job to bridge any dialect gap and make sure that happens. And, more often than not, that means knowing how to decipher developer speak.

Two people communicating about software projects sitting around a table drinking coffee
Tips to Avoid Communication Breakdown

For instance, if you say to a developer, “That’s not difficult to code, right?” you might hear back, “That’s not exactly how agile development works.” What they’re really saying, though, is, “you’re going to have to trust me to determine how hard something is or how long it’s going to take.”

We’re now at the proverbial fork in the road:

1. Does each party get the subtlety of the exchange and keep moving forward?

2. Or do one or both get offended and frustrated?

Unfortunately, a majority of people choose the path most taken (#2) and communications start to go to pieces.

This is where having a product owner in the middle can make things easier, as their role in the agile development process is to translate a product manager’s strategy into actionable tasks and work with agile teams to carry out requirements.

Communicating Your Vision to Software Developers

Now that we know that communicating with developers isn’t typically the same as with other stakeholders, here’s how you can tweak your usual messaging style to efficiently and effectively communicate with your development team and get the product you envision.

  • Know your requirements. If you’re not entirely clear on what you want, don’t expect your developers to fill in the gaps. Good developers will ask a lot of questions. However, as a business owner you know your market better than anyone and it is extremely valuable to be the expert in your space.
  • Put it in writing. No one understands your market or your users like you do. Even simple sketches and wireframes can go a long way in helping developers understand what you want to do and how you want it to look.
  • Educate yourself on the development process. Agile development is fast, but it also requires thorough planning. Since nailing down a good interface structure might be the most crucial part of software design, it can also help to learn how wireframes work and how they can save you time upfront and mitigate adjustments down the road.
  • Learn to crawl before you walk. It’s always best to begin small and make sure a few things work correctly before taking the next step. Everyone changes software once they see it in action. Small wins are more powerful than you might think.
  • Be ready for questions. Your developers will make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions for you over the course of a project’s life. However, they will have questions only you can answer. Making yourself unavailable or avoiding answering because you don’t want to make a misstep can quickly close down the lines of communication.
  • Don’t assume. Avoid saying things like, “that’ll only take a couple hours, right?” Developers hope you’re right, but they also know it could take weeks. Or it might be impractical or technically impossible.

Lastly, you’d be surprised at how many people lose interest in their software projects as time goes by. If you feel yourself reaching this point, redouble your efforts to say involved. And keep communicating with your developers on a regular basis.

Most Effective Communication Tools for Clients and Software Developers

Good communication may be challenging, but today you have more tools than ever designed to help make it simpler.

  • Slack and Google Meet combine the best of live chat and email so people can communicate on and through various devices. You can also create collaborative boards, especially helpful on projects with larger teams.
  • ClickUp puts tasks, docs, goals, and more in one place and is great for keeping everyone on the same page about a project’s various stages.
  • ConceptShare eliminates email chains and helps streamline review and approval processes and workflow automation.

Our countless ways of communicating make matching business and developer communication platforms imperative. Both sides of the aisle should strive to find a method that works best for everyone.

Tips to Avoid Communication Breakdown When Outsourcing Software Developers

Like everything else in life, fixing a communication problem begins with admitting you have one. These quick tips will help keep the lines open over your project’s lifespan:

1. Develop a communication plan at the start. It should set out event and stakeholder-specific protocols as well as communication channels.

2. Decide which communication tool will be used for specific situations. For example, phone calls for urgent matters and Zoom for weekly updates.

3. Build a culture of communication that prioritizes transparency. For instance, no development team is perfect, and it’s important to give it room to improve as the project progresses. The last thing you want is a team that claims up every time there’s an issue for fear of criticism.

Software developers communicating with one another in office environment with laptops.
Most Effective Communication Tools for Clients and Software Developers

4. One of the most powerful and impactful things you can do for your developers is identifying your communication style’s weak points and find ways to fix them.

5. Practice what’s called “deliberate communication,” taking into consideration things like the other person’s communication style, their preferred channel, and the message’s necessity.

What to Expect when Communicating with Zibtek’s Outsourced Software Developers

So many things can go sideways in software development. You can keep things on the straight and narrow by building and maintaining a high-quality communication approach.

We’re committed to providing our clients with superior, consistent communications throughout a project’s lifecycle that ensures needs and expectations are met. Whether your project is big or small, each of our developers and teams reports daily on their activity, and our project and delivery managers ensure you’re kept current with written status updates and are provided access to shared documents and files.

To learn more, reach out to us today.