Creating Communication Tools for Developers

Software_developers_working_computer_thumb800Bill Gates said that “[he will] choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it”.  According to Larry Wall and several others, one of the greatest virtues of a developer is their inherent laziness. Since their early days, SoCast Digital has used this to their advantage.  Sanford Liu, Co-Founder, CTO & AceTech Ontario member, explains “I know it sounds terrible, but I think it’s a great way of thinking about it; programmers develop code so they can do less work in the future. One of my goals when I bring new developers onto the team is to make their work easier and less complicated”.

One of the benefits of being a technology company is that if there isn’t a workflow software out there that suits your needs, you can task your programmers with either developing one that does, or adding to an already existing software.  SoCast has taken that opportunity and combined it with internal in-person meetings between teams for seamless communication within the company.  “I think one of the things developers dislike doing the most is having to report on the projects they are working on,” explains Sanford, “as a result, we’ve built custom reports so that there’s transparency to the developers’ productivity and their work.  Only the executive managers can access these reports and they can do it without having to constantly ask developers to do this manually”.  This innovation has not only freed up some of their developers’ time, it has allowed them to scale without making it too cumbersome for their development team and their managers.  This way the company can see what projects are waiting to be worked on, what’s being fast-tracked, what’s completed, etc. for each team.

Without a similar software, many technology companies struggle with inter-team communications, and this is true for others outside the development team as well.  “You might be lucky and have someone who’s technically minded or has a strong technical background in your client services team or your sales team”, explains Sanford, “but even with someone who’s technically savvy, if they’re not a programmer, then they’re not going to understand a lot of the content that’s coming out of the development team and vice versa as well”.  Without communication between teams, developers will often guess at the feedback the company is receiving from clients.  These estimations often end up being the foundation for key enhancements to the company’s software. Customers will also ask client services what they are launching next, and they either make an assumption or are unable to answer the question altogether.  “By setting up some automated work flows and utilizing the suite of software we’ve now integrated, we’ve made it a lot easier for both teams to get what they want,” says Sanford.  The software also assists in making sure that projects A, B and C are completed by teams X and Y before they proceed to the next stage.  This ensures that the various teams are at the same stage of any given project.

However, Sanford reiterates that the software is not enough.  As noted earlier, the teams have regular meetings to discuss the workflow.  These touch point meetings between various teams are structured in such a way where everyone knows what they are supposed to bring to the meeting and what they are supposed to get out of it.  Sanford admits that they do receive occasional pushback regarding these meetings.  Salespeople could argue that they can better use this time towards closing deals or making calls, and developers could be spending this time coding instead of explaining the new plans to develop.  SoCast has ensured a way to address these concerns: “I think the key to making sure that everyone stays involved and stays engaged is making sure that everyone gets something out of the meeting”, explains Sanford, “So for instance on the sales side, this meeting should help our sales team sell; it should give them more things to discuss with clients and help their monthly commission quota.  Then it’s worthwhile for them to be a part of that meeting”.  In addition, developers can go into a meeting thinking that they have to complete tasks X, Y and Z, but upon hearing the feedback from clients, they only have to complete X and Z.

Sanford emphasizes how critical communication and communication structures are, and how many companies – technology especially – struggle to have it flow between teams.  Success in business is greatly impacted by the ways in which we communicate.