Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Communication is overrated?!

Whether building a new product, exchanging love and affection, having our day-to-day issues solved or generally pushing towards goals we have within a complex social ecosystem, communication becomes the most essential component that contributes to the success. Based on my experience as Product Owner, demands are coming from many different areas, issues happen to pop up randomly that impact and get impacted by many different fields, thus the interests and expectations of stakeholders do change because of changes to the product.

Product development is not the only or the most important focus many people care about, however it gives the most tangible and frequent view of how communication does impact outcomes and what we can do to make it better. No surprise Product Managers & Product Owners are spending (if not, then they should spend) tremendous amount of time on communicating ideas, plans, roadmaps, vision, releases, issues and tasks to multiple types of stakeholders and those communications should be customized based on the interest of each stakeholder cluster.

Given the importance of communication, many people tend to talk to people directly, via call usually. In organisations, it is more visible. Actually in private conversations technological possibilities opened a new door for short messages (abbrv of wrds or using emojis ✍️), whereas in corporate world people tend to set up more meetings to discuss things in a call rather than over a written communication). Not sure if there is any study about it, but it is definitely an interesting comparison to make. I’d assume that in our private communications we are less afraid about not communicating enough, but it’s just a rough assumption.

When my boss checked my calendar today, he wrote this exact sentence: “Your calendar is a mess.” Indeed it is. I start working around 7am usually and my first meetings usually start around 9am and continue until 4pm, sometimes with no breaks. Unhealthiness of such a working style is probably another content material I will write one day about, but it gives me the feeling that people want to be communicated about stuff that we build and how it impacts them. However, in most cases I add blockers with the “busy” status so that my calendar has some breathing room for me to do actual work of prepping between meetings or supporting stakeholders in issues where the dev team does not have time to support. It makes my calendar seem to be more messed in the eyes of meeting requestors.

I believe it shows the inefficiency of the communication strategy (or the culture) we have, which is common across most of the organisations. It’s quite reasonable and easy to detect. With the amount of audience or message increasing, the scalability becomes an issue when you try to respond each topic or audience individually. Thus, setting up more meetings stops to be a way when we cross the eight hours work day. Having persistently more than that is unhealthy, if not illegal.

Having a structured and complete documentation seems to be the key for scalability. A good documentation helps to have a repetitive communication possibility that helps people to refer to without recording or remembering about what was told (i.e. the vision that needs to stick to people’s minds). Moreover, written words helps us as well to see if the topic is completely understood by ourselves as well. If we cannot explain it, then we do not understand it. Simplicity is the buzzword for a great communication.

Once we have a good documentation base, we usually use in person meetings to understand the actual, and usually hidden, needs or messages people would like to give to us. Being able to effectively listen, as well as send the right message in the right format to people, requires a dedicated reflection and development. There are multiple methods, frameworks and best practices one can find online on how to improve the speaking and listening skills, thus I won’t write anything on it.

I am more of an extrovert person and I like to listen to people and understand their opinions, thoughts or messages they want to transmit. Moreover, within my role as Product Owner I have the task of coordinating and communicating the product development to all relevant stakeholders. In recent months, especially after the COVID related Home Office situation, the communication became a bottleneck for the development and for dedicating my focus on other important tasks. We are pushing now for a more efficient documentation so that we are always up-to-date on what we want to communicate and spend time in meetings only for the topics that require brainstorming, research or understanding stakeholders’ pains. Reflecting, understanding the problems and developing solutions are all based upon communicating. How to do it is the only thing that changes based on the setup. How do you approach it?!

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