September 1, 2003 spout

Communication Is All

It’s amazing to me the  number of problems that can be solved or avoided completely with communication. For example, the prevailing attitude of the day is that children should not be let out of an adult’s sight, in spite of an all-time low in the history of violent crime. Towards that end, and since tomorrow is the first day of school, my oldest boy is currently testing the range of our walkie-talkies to see if he and his younger brother can walk to school. The reason? Because I can communicate with him to know that they got to school OK. I need that communication so that I can continue to be paranoid while still letting him walk the half-mile to school.

Here’s another example: Recently at work there was a minor fracas when group A published their planned work based on group B’s input aka *implicit* buy-in, but without group B’s *explicit* buy-in. This made group B unhappy, because they felt that their input wasn’t been taken (even though it was). The solution? Group A set up a regular meeting to communicate on their various projects with group B, making sure to get everyone’s buy-in explicitly.

Here’s another one: My co-author on the VB version of my WinForms book has been working like a dog on his new job and his new baby and the VB port of my book. However, since most of his communications were with the publishing company directly, I didn’t see most of the work that he was doing and, because of our tight schedule, that caused me to worry that we wouldn’t make it. The solution? I asked him about it and he told me of the pile of work he’d done that I didn’t know about. He also volunteered to make sure to cc me on all of his email related to the book.

And here’s my favorite example: For a long, long time, MS was labeled (and is often still labeled) as an evil” because of a perceived uncaring about developer’s hopes and dreams. Ironically, with a software engineer at the helm, all of Microsoft’s decisions are driven by that need to meet the needs of 3rd party developers. The issue was communication, both in letting internal folks make their intentions known to the external folks and in getting the hopes and dreams of external folks into the planning processes of internal folks. It’s my belief that the reason that Adam, Becky, Brad, Brian, Chris, Chris, Don, Duncan, Ed, Eric, Kent, Lutz, Martin, Sara, Scott, Tommy, and tons of other MS employees are not only not reprimanded for our blog posts, but encouraged, is so that our intentions can be known to external folks. And believe me, when someone external puts a substantive comment into their blog and one of the thousands of MS employees finds it, it makes its way into the inboxes of the internal MS employees that use that feedback. This need for bi-directional communication between internal and external folks at MS has driven all kinds of new ways of doing things and you’re going to see a whole lot more of that at the PDC.

I could keep going on for days about problems in my life that are solved with communication and could have been avoided with communication up front. In fact, I’m started to get a feel for it when I realize that my communication could have been better and what problem I’m going to have because it wasn’t. Also, I’ve recently started to try to really concentrate on what my friends and family are saying when they start conversations with me while I’m working. (Previously I would continue working, giving a grunt now and again, as necessary.) This little thing has made a big difference. Of course, lots of folks way smarter than I already know this stuff, but to a geek who only learned how to communicate with other humans relatively recently, this is deep thinking! BTW, don’t tell my sister-in-law with the Master’s degree in communications. We give each other crap all the time on any number of topics and the idea that she knows more about what’s really important in the world would give her all kinds of extra ammunition (which she rarely needs anyway… : )