Finding the Right Communication Channels

Just about every organization I have worked with complains of email fatigue. Email queues up in the inbox beyond what is reasonable to maintain, delayed decisions, information stuck in people’s head, meetings, meetings and more meetings as a symptom of information flow issues. Implementation of new tools in an attempt to fix this. In this era of cloud apps it is easy to spin up Slack, Yammer, SharePoint, Confluence and others. Some turn to process and organization changes to deal with information flow. As with any change the key piece to tools or structural changes is ensuring that all participants are bought into the change. When dealing with breakdowns in communication I find it useful to get all of the parties into a room, in person if possible, to come to a decision on the appropriate use of various communication channels. The agenda for these discussions usually fits alongs these lines:

  1. Identify the types of things we communicate about today - prioritization decisions, build status, release status, instructions, design information, etc.
  2. Place the communication types into a quadrant
    • targeted - I need to make a decision, take an action
    • broad - I need to be aware, or I may contribute
    • active - I need to take action right now
    • passive - I can participate when it suits me
  3. Identify types of communcation channels - instant messaging, group chat, mailing lists, email, wiki, product backlog, source control, etc.
  4. Map the types of communication to the channels that are best suited towards them for your team
  5. Identify tools for the communication channel - Wiki > Confluence, Structured Data > SharePoint Lists, Product Backlog > TargetProcess, Release Roadmap > TargetProcess Timeline View, etc.

Leaving tools to the end allows you to be in a position to consider whether the tool is best suited for the job. There will always be a “next big thing” in this era of hype cycles. Slack has been the darling over the past few months as an example of hype. The right tool considers the factors most important to your team and organization (usability, privacy, security). In the same light as a tool’s level of friction surpasses the value they provide, we should allow ourselves to consider alternatives even if they are not considered “the corporate standard”.

As you go through the tool selection exercise be mindful of ways to reduce interruptions. This could mean advising people to configure or disable toast notifications. We want people to find focus in their day and while some tools are appropriate for the communication task, they can also be quite aggressive in wanting to be noticed.

The result of your discussions should be made available in a public manner so new people joining the team, infrequent contributors, and stakeholders can find the best channel to work with. When people engage the wrong channel they can be referred to this page to understand the best options in the future.

I have an example of what that page might look like.