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How to improve communication in software development projects?

Software development is by its very nature a technical field, and as such, most of the time we all tend to focus on the technical aspects. However, an equally important role in any successful software development project comes down to communication. That’s why in this article we will look at how you can improve communication in software development projects. 

There are quite a lot of reasons why software development projects fail – lack of budget, unrealistic expectations or timelines, no market research, etc. But among the top 5, you will surely find poor communication or lack of communication. Failures in projects tend to result more often from communication issues rather than from any actual technical problems.

And the situation has become even more challenging, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. More and more people are working from home and in different time zones. And this adds a layer of complexity to an already challenging situation. 

While there are no silver bullets when it comes to improving communication in software development projects there are some steps you can take. Whether you’re the client or the supplier.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

This is a simple yet effective way to increase your chances of success. There are a lot of situations when something isn’t clearly communicated or correctly understood. Especially when you’re building a software solution from scratch, dealing with an industry you’ve never worked with, or technical terms which might not be your strong suit.

But many people are afraid of asking questions, for fear of looking foolish or appearing to not be in control. So, try to encourage people to ask questions. And you do this by setting the tone. As a client or supplier remember that there are no stupid questions. Don’t belittle people’s questions or appear smug when answering. 

It’s better to have these things ironed out, rather than starting to work on features without having properly understood what it’s about. 

Focus on the issue, not the person

As with anything else in life, mistakes happen in software development projects. But the way you handle them can make or break your project. A bug that made it through production, somebody pushed the wrong git version, a functionality that was incorrectly understood – the list of things that can go astray is long. 

But when they happen, it’s better to look at how they happened rather than who did it. That way you can put procedures in place or change current procedures to make sure it will not happen again. This is much better than just looking for someone to blame.

Another level you can add here is fostering trust. Your attitude when being informed of challenges, delays or mistakes sets the tone for all future communication. If you behave aggressively, people might not be inclined to be as clear and honest in their communication in the future. Which means you might miss out on important information. 

This is not to say people shouldn’t be held accountable, but start this discussion by focusing on how you can use the bad news you are getting to make changes in the way you work so that it doesn’t happen again. 

Choose the proper communication channels

All projects rely on communication to keep everything running smoothly. To make sure that things are properly communicated, on time, and to the right people, you need to agree on which communication channels you will use and for what. Make sure you don’t overdo it. There are plenty of options out there and the temptation is to use the ones which are closest and easiest for you. But this can lead to miscommunication or information not reaching the right people. 

So, focus on choosing a few and establishing what they will be used for and how often. For example, Microsoft Teams may work well for your monthly meeting with the client, but not that well if you want to share user stories or update documentation.

What’s next?

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