Jez Halford

@jezhalford

The communication spectrum: getting people on your wavelength

Great software comes from great communication

Sometimes you need people to know stuff. Some of it is boring, non-essential and dull. Some of it is fascinating and vital. Consider these two pieces of information:

a. “Alice will be on a course next week, so she won’t be in the office”
b. “Our production environment is down”

Those are very different items of news. One is urgent, possibly requiring the immediate attention of everyone. The other is pretty mundane. Often, we choose email as the best means for delivering both.

I don’t want to bash email. Email is okay. But it isn’t ideal for either of those messages. The point is to recognise that these two pieces of information are very different. Each requires a different approach to delivery.

Televisions and telegrams

A television pumps out information into a room. Sometimes it might catch our eye, but often it fades into the background while we scroll up and down on our phones.

A telegram demands attention. If you’re unfortunate enough to owe someone a lot of money you may still receive a telegram here in the 21st century. Someone will come to your house, verify your name, and put a letter in your hand. That’s an arresting form of communication. It demands attention.

Television and telegrams are very different. They sit near opposite ends of the communication spectrum.

The communication spectrum

There are loads of ways of getting a message to people on your team, and some are more effective than others. Here’s a few suggestions, in increasing order of how much attention they grab.

  • Website
  • Poster
  • Whiteboard
  • Wall-mounted TV screen
  • Email
  • Group instant message
  • Direct instant message
  • Letter
  • Telegram
  • Conference call
  • Phone call
  • Conversation
  • Meeting
  • Yelling across the office

At the top is “website”. This doesn’t grab much attention at all, because someone has to actually think to look at it. But that could be all we need. Consider our first example message —

“Alice will be on a course next week, so she won’t be in the office”

If I don’t ever work with Alice, or don’t know who she is, then I don’t need that information. But if I’m wondering where she is then I can look her up on the internal staff leave website.

Whiteboards also work well for this kind of thing. I’ve previously suggested using a Whiteboard of Truth. It’s a means of sharing key information with your team without bothering them too much.

At the bottom of our spectrum is the potent, yet very disruptive, “yelling across the office”. I’d suggest this is often a reasonable course of action in the event of a major production outage.

Where does your message fit?

Jez Halford is a software development consultant helping teams to deliver better software, more frequently. Visit jezhalford.com to find out more.

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