Being a Better Manager: Communication

Mon, May 6, 2013 08:17 AM
As I have worked on being a better manager, I have been trying to determine what our strengths and weakness are as a development team. Communication is once place I think we can do a better job.

The problem we have had was how other departments communicated with the development team. The company had been small and now it is large. When the company was small, anyone could talk to anyone. If Bob knows that Tom works on his revenue report, he could just ask him about it. The problem comes when there are 10 Bob’s and 5 Tom’s and people are switching roles in the development team and in other teams. Bob is working on something else and is still coming to Tom with his problems. Tom has no idea how to help him. But, he is a good employee so he tries. He gets distracted from his project and probably does not help Bob all that much in the end. No one is at fault here really. Tom just wants to get his job done. Bob just wants to help a coworker.

When teams start to grow, communication needs to be directed. It’s not some hard and fast rule and people are not punished for talking outside of the chain. However, it helps that when Tom in marketing has a problem, he knows who to talk to every time. By default that is me. It is then my job to know what development resource to tap to solve it. On the other side, the developers have to feel comfortable with telling people “I don’t know. Will you file a ticket or talk to Brian about that?” People are generally helpful. They want to help. I have tried to let people know it is OK to not help if they can’t help or perhaps they are worried about the scope of the problem. I have found that some people click and natural connections will happen. I have no problem with that. There are some people that I expect to reach out to the person they are ultimately writing code for to get feedback. I also stress to them that if the scope of what the person needs changes, we need to talk about it.

From my position, I have to be ready to listen. I want the communication going through me. If I am a jerk, don’t reply to email, or tell people no all day long, that will probably not help me achieve my goals or help the people that need development resources. I have learned to keep a more open mind. I have learned to not say no, but instead say “I don’t think this is a good idea because of these reasons.” And if I think I can modify the idea to something that is workable, I will offer that as an alternative. I feel like this is working well for me and I have been told by others that it is well received.

One place I can not seem to get right is quarterly managers’ meetings. Everyone takes a turn talking about what is going on in their department. When marketing talks, everyone is really interested. Same with financial and sales. When it comes time for me to talk, everyone seems to glass over. I firmly believe it is the content that is the problem. I am going to try a new tactic as recommended by our CEO. Rather than talk about what we did, talk about why we did it. For example, instead of saying we made a change to our code to do X I should talk about the business reasons we spent time on making that change. Instead of “We rolled a new release of the app.” I tell them “Our new app is catching up with the features of the web site.” I am still working on it. Even that still sounds boring to me. The only good news is that technical operations follows me. It is really hard to talk about the fact that we didn’t go down and that we installed new servers sound interesting to non-geeks.

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