There was an interesting Twitter conversation today that touched on the importance of corporate communication to stakeholders about changes in policies, processes and technology. Although the thread was about Linden Lab's history with the Second Life user community, I noted that communication is almost always a challenge in software projects. Inara Pey asked if I thought communication was somehow harder when software is involved. I decided to answer here.Thoughtful, timely and consistent communication is critical whenever organizations act to change things stakeholders care about. We've all seen what happens when companies try spring changes on employees or customers without first getting them to buy-in: Negative emotions spring up, led by fear and anger; people act out in ways that undermine the change, either through active resistance or passive-aggression; and projects either fail completely or fall far short of their anticipated positive outcomes.
This cycle plays out repeatedly across organizations large and small. I've seen it myself dozens of time. Nevertheless, the people behind such changes are almost always unprepared for the negative response. They're surprised at the resistance (for which they take no responsibility).
To answer Inara's question, software projects pose all of the communication challenges of non-technical projects and add a few significant ones of their own. The main complication is that the technical people delivering the solution don't have a holistic understanding of the user's perspective. They can move through a list of requirements with perfect execution, but end up with an end-product that people hate. So there may be some usability issue that is obvious to an end-user, but invisible to a developer or executive. For instance, the initial design of Second Life Viewer 2 (or was it Viewer 3?) when the menu interface blocked a quarter of the screen.
- Consider the point of view of the people who will be impacted by a change
- Remember that there are probably multiple stakeholder segments with unique needs
- Engage them in the process from the initial decision-making through project completion
- Enlist the active support of people who are influential and respected
- Provide the education and support needed to adapt to the change