Web Project Communication: Take the time to explain why
Miranda Singler • 7/18/2016
How do you build trust and communications with your web development team? Let’s explore this through a simple restaurant metaphor:
You go to a restaurant, place your order, and chat with your friends as you wait. You wait, and then you wait some more. Pretty soon you start to get hungry and irritated. You’re about ready to walk out the door, when the server miraculously appears with your food. You eventually enjoy your meal, but feel irritated and confused about why you had to wait so long.
Here’s another scenario:
You go to a restaurant (same place), and after you’ve placed your order, the server returns promptly to inform you that they are short on staff and your food might take a little longer than expected. The server asks if you want an appetizer or some bread while you wait. You gladly take some bread, and the server continually checks back to make sure you’re doing ok. The food arrives, and you enjoy your meal and the overall experience.
So what’s so different about these two scenarios? The answer is simple – the second waiter took the time to explain why. It’s a seemingly simple thing, but it can make a big difference when you’re in a restaurant. And the same thing is true when you’re creating a website.
Here are a few simple ways to explain why during your next web project:
For Developers – Use descriptive commit messages and code comments
As a developer, you may be working with a different kind of server (pun intended), but clear communication is just as important in your situation. One way to facilitate the development process is to make descriptive commit messages (assuming you’re using version control). This means explaining why you made changes to your code, and identifying what fixes or features this adds to the project. For instance, a descriptive commit message might be something like “this fixes all bugs for the template” versus a non-descriptive message like “this adds a new class to line 42”. You can also add descriptive comments to the code to help your team and your future-self understand how you built your code.
For more guidelines on using descriptive commit messages, Michael Ernst from the University of Washington has some good guidelines to follow, and Jake Rocheleau provides some tips on commenting in code.
For Designers – Talk through design choices and explain them to clients
As a designer, you’ve probably made some clear decisions for the layout, color schemes, and fonts of the website. These design decisions may seem intuitive and obvious to you, but unless you take the time to explain and discuss these decisions with your team and your client, how do you know that they’ll be on board? By taking the time to explain, not only do you help them understand the reasons for the design decisions, but you also help to build trust, and invite them to understand a process which may otherwise seem foreign or unfamiliar, especially if you’re working with a new client or team member.
So what are some ways you can explain your design? You can annotate your wireframes, present and discuss designs in-person (not over email), or even talk through ideas over the phone. Vitaly Friedman and Dan Mall provide some good ideas for explaining designs and getting clients involved in the process.
For Project Managers – Explain schedule changes and team roles
At the start of the project, get your team together and have an open discussion about the project, who’s doing what, and the time frame. Explain why your team has been tasked with this project and make sure each person understands their role and the impact of their work for the customer
When there is a change to the project schedule, explain (to your team and client) why the change happened and if this change will affect the project schedule down the line. Communicating changes to your team early-on is also crucial to manage costs and delays, and reduce misunderstandings. (Again, think back to the restaurant setting). By taking the time to explain why, you can build trust amongst your team and with the client. Building trust leads to better understanding, more collaboration, and a closer-knit team.
Explaining why is really about trust and clear communication. When you take the time to explain why, you make sure that you and your team are in sync, which reduces uncertainty and miscommunications. No matter what role you play in the project, taking the time to explain why is always a good idea.
Additional resources for improving communications during your next web project: