Project communication: everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask


Technical Articles
Yury Savenecky
3 February 2016
1318

A modern life is unimaginable without communication. Nowadays it is hard to imagine a quality workflow without strong communication; furthermore, a workflow cannot exist without it at all. Proper and competent contact with people solves a number of problems; simultaneously forethought and experience do help to completely avoid them.

Communication issue has a very high priority in our company. Each project starts with conversations and its (project’s) fate depends on the different aspects that may sometimes fall out of attention in common life. Today our Project Manager Yuri Savanecki talks about how to communicate with your clients clearly and effectively in order to avoid huge headaches and bring your project to the new quality level.

Communication types

Yuri says that each person perceives colors in a different way. If we are unique in this stuff, imagine how different our information perception may be. That is why a professional must be able to determine an understandable and transparent communication with a customer.

There are people who need to know the slightest changes in the budget, there are people who want to be completely aware of all the problems. Without any doubts - everyone should be familiar with the release date. Thus, a trustable relationship between company and customer has to be built on such knowledge and even more.

"At the start point of any project, we organize a live visit, where we discuss the technical, functional and communication issues with the client. In addition, we refine information regularity, which has to be submitted to the customer. In fact, clients often do not address this issue, since it is the primary stage and they still do not realize the big picture of the project. Therefore, it is hard to imagine what they do need and what they do not. We specify the requirements, give pieces of advice and draw up the conditions. "

Yuri says that it is unnecessary to discuss every project issue permanently. You may often use some technical tools, for example, dashboards.

"A customer can check out which tasks are ready, which will be done soon, and how many hours are left for implementing. Customers can ask questions immediately and receive answers from our team."

However, Yuri describes dashboards as a passive communication method:

"It is difficult to determine how frequently customers use this tool since all the important questions they ask mostly in letters or in the Jira."

Another important communication method, which was practiced in Freeze Pro Software, is the status report. This is a document with information, which describes the quality problems availability at the current development stage. Here is an example of the recent status report:

"If I am working with the customer for a long time – it’s enough to send him/her the status report once per month. If the project is quite new and I don’t know the customer very well, I provide the status report every week. But, actually, this is not enough, because you don’t know whether your report will be read or not. That is why we also practice live meetings or Skype calls, where we describe the current situation due to the status report that was mentioned before. Thus, you just have to open your document and check all the issues. Now you may be 100% sure that the information is delivered to the client. "

Whether the team needs to get a feedback quickly, such talks may be passed almost every day.

"It gives a lot of possibilities. We provide information; as well, the client can see the demo and the actual result. CFO from the client’s side can also participate in such meetings. If there are some users, they also should be invited. The option works for customer’s development team (if client collaborates with such services). I am sending status reports to everybody, but they are commonly viewed only by PM and TechLead."

In fact, communication in Freeze Pro Software occurs at different levels. Yuri engaged for "project – client” case. Likewise, there are separate meetings for CEOs, developers, etc. For the latter, we should mention the code review meetings.

"If there is also a development team on the client’s side, occasionally we are organizing meetings for the general code inspection. The project manager does not take part in this event; all the power is passed to developers, who are now able to form the list of participants. "

Not everyone knows that, but the invoices also may appear as an integral part of communication.

"We are specifying not only the price in invoices; we put down the detail information about the done job. We are mentioning almost everything: who worked on the specific task and how much time it took this month. Thus, the client sees all the details and in the questionable situations (although such cases have not appeared yet), a customer can clearly see why a little or a lot of money has been spent this month. "

Few tips to avoid communication problems

It seemed that you are out of danger; when you have thought through all aspects of an issue - problems should arise. Eventually, we are faced with them anyway. Therefore, common pitfalls are worth mentioning here. Yuri has 7+ years of experience, and most of the questions he is able to predict. However, at the start of his career, he also used to gain experience and encounter with the interesting cases.

"In the past communication problems would arise because of the invoices. Whether you send the bill, a customer had an issue understanding what he/she was going to pay for. Nowadays we solve it with the primitive method – we are writing out everything to the smallest detail.

In general, transparency is a very important part in collaboration with clients, but often it is absent. The customer does not see what is happening and he/she feels quite confused. To solve this problem, you should organize periodical demo presentations, status reports and meetings, where each team member will be able to tell what is happening on the project, up to each task.

Another problem may occur in untimely information delivery. For example, we may be late finishing the new version of the product. We can inform the customer by email, but he/she may miss to read it. In this case, the solution comes with live meetings, phone calls, SMS. In other words, it is very important not only to submit information. It is also essential to understand whether client accepted it correctly.

In rare cases, clients may be disappointed with the level of proficiency in English. It almost never happens, mainly because our co-workers speak English at a decent level. Otherwise, this problem may be caused by late information submission, neither language knowledge. "

About real-time conversations

Many IT-companies practice business trips for new employees. The basic idea is to introduce the newcomer to the team, get him/her infused into the workflow and establish relations with customers. Freeze Pro Software also practices such trips, but these usually occur at the beginning or at the end of the project.

"We are visiting clients with an entire team. This usually happens at the stage when the contract is signed, and the team who will work on the project is already defined. These people usually go to the customer for a period of up to 2 weeks. During these trips, we meet our clients, we find out the technical, financial and communication requirements. Sometimes we may be asked to do a pilot task to demonstrate how it will be working. "

Quite often customers may come to the development company. Last time they decided to do live testing for our project before the release.

"This is called the final testing. A few weeks ago, customers visited us and we worked together for 2 days. They tested our program from a user perspective. They were not looking for mistakes, they tried to figure out whether the final product was the same as they would like. As a result, we have 45 observation points that they noted during the visit. Together we have identified 5 to 6 points, which should have been implemented quickly before the final release. The rest was left for the new version. Of course, this can be done in Skype mode, though sometimes live communication can be more productive and richer. "

Conclusions

Ability to conduct an active dialogue with the customer - one of the key tasks during any project development. Based on a huge practice, we can confidently assert that all of us should take the initiative, neither waiting for proposals from the customer.

Your team must be full of order, mutual trust and transparency. Always try demonstrating a real project situation to the customer, do not give unrealistic promises. It is better to explain why you may perform something with delay, neither to speak about difficulty at all. It is quite useful to regularly compile a detailed status report. However, do not forget to mention it during the meetings in order to be sure that it will be noticed by a customer.

If a problem occurs on the project, it should be notified as soon as it arises. Again, do not be passive; be sure to suggest a method of solving it. Anyway, defend your team interests. If something goes wrong, then it’s worth to admit the blame for the whole team or the manager directly. However, the ability to admit mistakes characterizes the intelligent and experienced staff. In any case, aim at the prolonged relationship with the customer. Find out his/her long-term plans and goals. Always be in touch with the company. Most importantly, remember that building the trust requires numerous steps. A single error is enough to lose it.

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