Improve your team communication to save a lot of money
Some time ago I installed RescueTime and started tracking how I spend my work time and if I could do any better. One of the things that surprised me, is how much time I spend in ‘Communication’ category. In the past, I’ve spent even 10-15% of the time there, but now I managed to get these numbers to fit between 6-10%. Here is a screen of my report from December – ~10 hours communicating with my clients and other developers.
My hourly rate is 50$, so by improving communication, I managed to save around 250$/month for my clients. However, our emails, calls, and other scheduling still cost 500$. And that doesn’t include the cost of unscheduled interruptions when I get a message in the middle of important work or the time I had to spend researching how to reproduce this bug because of poor description. So the costs are definitely higher.
On top of that most of my communication is for a single developer to client environment. When you have more developers, the communication is much bigger part of the day so the potential savings can be much bigger.
Let’s see what we can do to cut down on these costs and improve our communication channels.
Setup communication channels for different scenarios
Let us start with the basics. Keep your communication channels organized.
Trust me, when I get one bug report through email, two other in a slack channel and last one as an occasional mention near the end of a call – the chances are that I’m going to miss some of them. I’ll also need some extra time to write down the details. So first step to plug the leaks is to setup all the channels and flows for various scenarios that might occur in your project. Here they are:
- Task Board (Trello, Jira, Asana)
asynchronous communication around tasks and bug reports
- Real-time chat or calls (Slack, Skype)
one-to-one conversations between your team members
- Scheduled meetings (Hangouts, Zoom, Skype)
keep your team in sync with current problems and work-plan
- Private communicators (Phone Number, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat)
emergency situations when team members aren’t around. Use it only in case of fire.
Not a big list, right? But have you noticed the lack of email? Let’s just say that email should never be used, it’s evil, it’s over 30 years old and doesn’t add any value. I don’t want to spend too much time arguing on this, so let me just share how does typical conversation look like.
This email has around 10 different things covered. It took me 20 minutes to process it and write the reply. Not to mention all the willpower to keep things in proper context. And when I’ll be working on these items, I’ll still need to get back here to make sure I didn’t miss anything. So, in the end, it costs around 20$ – expensive, right?
Communicate through tasks
If you would need to take away only one thing from this blog post, please take this.
You should keep most of your communication in your task boards.
I work in a remote environment, but this is true for any team setup because no one likes to be interrupted in the middle of important work. Stopping what I’m currently doing to answer some questions and then picking up the work I left is time-consuming. Therefore we should respect each other’s time and communicate through task boards whenever we can. Typical scenarios for this channel are:
- New problem/bug found in the app
- Client feedback around currently build feature
- Developer questions about the task
If you don’t have any system in place or don’t like what you’re currently using I recommend Trello – it’s free, simple to use and a lot of people know it.
Keep your messages short and precise
The other thing that will help you improve your team communication is making your messages and comments precise and short. Task descriptions and comments should be precise – think about what information the other person needs to complete the task and give it to him.
‘The app sometimes crashes on order screen’
‘The app crashes when ordering ItemId=33 for firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s using iPhone 6’
The first one isn’t very helpful and will definitely produce more questions from the developer. The second one is clearly better and will reduce the number of messages to process. Maybe attach email communication you had with the customer, so it’s easier to extract more info.
You should also keep your messages as short as possible so the other person can focus on what’s really important. There’s no need to put elaborate background stories about a particular bug or a feature as they just blur the picture.
It all might sound a bit trivial – but trust me, finding a bug is time-consuming and there were quite a few times when I was looking for a bug in totally wrong place due to a bad communication.
Agree on the chat/call times when everyone is available
By now you hopefully agree with me that interrupting someone’s work is costly and bad for their workflow, but you still need to have an option to discuss things around the tasks, projects, etc. The best solution that works for me is having 2-3 hour communication window when everyone is available and ready for direct communication. The best times for me are around 2:00-5:00 PM. In the morning when I have a fresh mind I can tackle with a lot of brain-heavy work, and in the afternoon I usually work on simpler tasks, so it’s easier for me to handle communication as well. I guess this is another benefit of having your team spread across the globe – for my projects respecting the communication windows is really easy, as most of my clients are 6 hours behind me in the US and it’s the only time we can connect.
Limit the number of meetings and increase their quality
One other leak I often see when I read through other people blogs and twitter accounts are the meetings. No one really likes them and find beneficial, but to my surprise still a lot of teams use it to be in sync. The meetings are the most costly type of communication – just do the math. Having 4×50$ developers chatting for 1 hour costs you something around 250-300$. No, I didn’t miscalculate it – I just added a time required to stop and get back to their work. And the worst part of the meetings that most of the time only 2 people are discussing some stuff which is irrelevant to others just sitting in there. So here are some tips on saving money around meetings:
- Have a clear subject of the meeting and stick to it.
- Invite only people interested in the subject.
- Keep the meetings short – there’s nothing wrong with 15 min call. My personal preference is 15-30 min per meeting.
- Respect other times and don’t be late. All our clocks are synchronized, so 3:00 PM meeting starts at 3:00 PM, not 3:04 PM. Each minute costs.
- Use video to keep everyone focused on the meeting.
- And please make sure all have proper internet connection.
Share emergency contact options
By now we covered all regular communication scenarios in your project, but we need to be prepared for the unexpected. Every once in a while something really bad or important happens and you need to contact your team urgently. For such scenarios make sure you have all possible communicator ids – text messages, emails, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Snapchat – all is good when your server is down and your customers are angry.
But remember, this is an emergency channel, don’t use it too often as it’ll lose its purpose and people will start ignoring it.
Team communication is a big and important part of the project and it takes some time before you’ll get it right. Putting an effort to the process is beneficial and saves a lot of money, in the end, so don’t be afraid to invest time into fixing your communication processes – it might be hard in the beginning, but it’s worth the trouble. The basic rule here is to respect each other’s time – once you put everything in this context all things will be easier.
So let’s sum it up:
- Stop using email with your team
- Communicate through tasks in task boards
- Setup direct communication time windows
- Less and shorter meetings with higher quality
- Setup emergency contact channels
Do you find this helpful and changed something with your team after reading this? If so, please share and let me know how it went.