Hitchhiker's Guide to Software Architecture and Everything Else - by Michael Stal

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ineffective Communication

It might not be that obvious why time management is of high importance especially for software architects. But of course, being a software architect in a mission critical project requires your full attention. However, in a couple of projects I met software architects who were simply overwhelmed by communication requests and finally got stuck in a kind of waste time singularity. Ineffective communication can significantly reduce your productivity. 

Unfortunately, there are many opportunities where your focus on the real important things is easily lost.

  • My favourite are unnecessary meetings (including telephone conferences).  As software architects are caught in the gravitational center of the project they receive a lot of meeting requests, by managers, developers, other engineers. If you are a very communicative and friendly person – and I bet you are – you might be inclined to say “yes, we can” to all those nice invitations. It is often overseen that meetings also require preprocessing and postprocessing activities. Hence, don’t just count the time you’re spending in the meeting room! Consider carefully what type of meeting you are asked to attend. Is it an essential meeting where your participation is absolutely required (class A meeting)? Or more one of those nice-to-have-meetings? Only accept class A meeting invitations! Even for class A meetings ask yourself whether this meeting has the right setting in terms of people invited, time frame, goals, agenda. With other words: is the benefit you obtain larger than the time spent? Sometimes, a small face-to-face meeting offers more value than a large official meeting. And of course, act thoughtfully if you invite to meetings yourself! As an Outlook junkie do not only enter meetings in your calendar but also time slots for your actual work. Mind the fact that other people tend to fill the gaps in your calendar assuming those gaps are indications of idle time. Personally, I also enter slots for my spare time, just in case. Needless to say that you should also consider travel time in this context. Care about meeting netiquette: there is no place for cell phones or notebooks in a meeting – a few exceptions granted.
  • Another critical challenge is e-mail. Communication by e-mail can be very ineffective (but also the most effective means in other situations). Try to reduce corporate spam which consists of all those mails which steal your time for no good reason. Organize your inbox in folders and prioritize mails as soon as it arrives. Process the mail depending on its priority. Read mail only at specific points of time and tell your communication peers about this fact. And do not send unnecessary mail yourself! Before writing an e-mail, always hold on and consider whether you would also have sent an letter containing the same information in the stone age of communication.

At the end, it is the project success that counts. Good results require effective architects with as much productive working time as possible. Productive hours depend on effective communication. It is the quality not the quantity!


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