Product Management: It’s all about communication


For larger part of my contribution as an engineer I have been an individual contributor. And straight out of engineering I got a team of my own about 18 months ago. Looking back in time now, this GIF explains exactly how I feel about the period. Not that that I was dumb but that I was so involved in what I was doing that I usually forget to see zoomed out picture. But that’s not it, there is other side of this story as well.

In such short stint of working with the team I have learned many things about how things are in my head and how they actually are. Most important thing that I learnt is that:

Developers can only be as good as their managers are.

What I mean is, that a developer cannot build things better than what is communicated to them. The kid in the GIF did exactly what was communicated to him and that’s what developers do as well. And the worst part of it is that coach is wrong and in my case I was. If I am going to do shoddy job at communicating the problem, the work that will be delivered will be equivalently shoddy and with no fault of the programmer. It simply is not the programmer’s job to interpret what is being communicated, everything that has to be said has to be in absolute terms.

It is easy(relatively) to keep everyone on same page when a team is small and as the number of people grow the communication starts to become jittery, information loss happens. This law is valid for all kinds of communication be it digital communication or man-to-man. I have an equation which can tell how well informed a person is who is n communicating points away from the origin of the communication:

Effectiveness ∝ (language skills of speaker x listener’s grasping skill) ^ n

Here, both language skills of speaker and listener’s grasping skill are in the range of 0 to 1 which means the effectiveness of the communication is always going to be lower than understanding of the person who is trying to communicate. Hence, the person who understands the best is the one who is initiating the communication process and the first loss of information also happens at this point. Human brains stores information in complex form. A narration in the head can comprise of words, pictures, emotions/feeling and moments. Hence, when a person tries to translate the information in the form of words there is a loss of information.

Coming back to the point. If a developer in the team is producing things which is not what is expected, it is only because they have not been communicated well. In order to improve the effectiveness of the communication, it has to be done over and over. The number of times it is repeated, better the understanding of the situation is in listener’s head. Why? Because every time the communication happens our brain automatically improvises on what is to be communicated and add more things to it, the tiny details that we forget or neglect otherwise. A good way to experiment with this idea is to play Pictionary.

This is important for both team members and team lead. Effort has to be made from both directions. I hope this post helps you in being a better team player! 🙂

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