Effective Communication Skills in Software Engineering

communication software engineering

Clear, concise communication is fundamental to the success of software engineering teams. Although its relevance may not be immediately recognized as a top priority within a discipline largely based around a computational science, it is essential that teams collaborate effectively when striving to achieve superior results.

Effective communication can punctuate the success or failure of a software engineering team, a project, or an entire business operation. Poor communication (or miscommunication) often creates unnecessary expenditures. When solutions and ideas are communicated clearly across all channels, the overall budget will most certainly benefit from a cost-savings standpoint — and everyone can appreciate that!

While this topic is a complex subject that could be examined for a lifetime, here are 3 key reasons why your responsibility to be a good communicator is important:

  • Each software requirement is not an island; individual features function in unison with a multitude of other components being developed by various team members. It is your responsibility to communicate with those individuals in order to ensure that each separate feature works as part of the whole.
  • Your features belong to customers and end users. This often means that your code will primarily be utilized for one reason — to solve a problem for someone else. Your main purpose is to provide them with a solution that adds value and ease to their life so you must communicate clearly and effectively with the customer as well.
  • The features you develop become a catalyst which puts other team members to work (QA Engineers, Infrastructure Team, Account Managers, etc). It is important that they understand what you’ve done, how it is meant to function, how it should be deployed, what problem it solves, and what value it adds. Again, your communication with each of these groups throughout the development cycle is paramount.

There are a multitude of examples in which one will need to work well with others in both a professional and personal manner. Communication is extremely important for long term success in both aspects. Remember, software development is a team activity these days. 

Forget about the mental image of a software engineer working in isolation, listening to music and having limited contact with others while focusing solely on churning out code.

Communication with all stakeholders and colleagues throughout the lifecycle of a project is essential for success.

effective communication

8 tips to become a better communicator in software engineering

  • Good communication does not mean more communication. In many cases, quality over quantity is the key. We all have a variety of communication channels to manage these days and the clearer you can be with less words will often be appreciated by the recipient. You should aim to say fewer things, but without losing the impactful point of the message, and that’s not easy. Your communication should be brief. Think about this, how many key consideration points do you have when purchasing a car? Perhaps 5 to 6. If a salesman gave a sales pitch without interruption for 20 minutes, you’d likely end the conversation before ever making a buying decision. This same principle applies to your day to day work. Be mindful of both the time constraints and the attention span of your audience. Whether it is the QA Engineer in your team, another software developer, the customer or your boss. Some developers feel that writing long, detailed emails will impress their boss, but often it’s quite the opposite. So, be brief!
  • One of the greatest things I’ve learned to do in improving my communication is by writing. Simple in theory, but a bit more difficult to do on a regular basis when the majority of us are multitasking and holding various conversations at once. It requires consistent practice. This can be done by writing to your team and asking them to provide feedback. For example, write deploy notes, installation notes or something specific to help your customer understand a new software feature. Then ask the individual that uses this material to let you know if it helped — or not. This will provide an excellent (and free) communication training exercise.
  • This one you’ve most certainly heard before. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Do not interrupt. Then, prior to adding your own comment to their thoughts, a great technique is to rephrase what you heard with your own words to confirm that you are fully understanding what the other person is attempting to communicate.
  • Ask questions. Not only will you obtain more information, but again it will ensure that you are clearly absorbing the message being conveyed.

Communication is not only what you say, but also how you say it and when you say it. Non-verbal communication can often relay messages that were not intended. With this in mind, be aware of your body language, facial expressions, and the tone of your voice, as well as the words you choose.

  • Being an effective communicator also relies heavily on taking the time to understand customer requirements and directions clearly. One thing that I often do to validate that I’m coding with the correct information, is to read the requirements before I start my work. However, I also read them again during the development phase and read them at the end of each task to confirm that I have completed the work correctly.
  • Learn to “attack the problem but not the person”. Sometimes a team member might have introduced an error in the code which causes a setback in the project. It is important that when you talk with your colleague, that you address the issue, without a personal criticism. If you criticize or attack the person, you risk damaging the ego and shutting down any open-mindedness. This eliminates any chance to move forward with a useful and collaborative solution.
  • Lastly, choose the appropriate communication channel. Take a look at this image for example. There are different channels. Each channel has a ranking of effectiveness and cost. Depending on what you need to say, when you need to say it, and how important it is to avoid communication mistakes you will have a suggested means for the best channel to use. Example: If you need to share critical, time-sensitive information, perhaps it’s best to send an email or record a video and share that today instead of trying to schedule a meeting with everybody involved next week.
Communication

So, with all of this in mind, remember that your responsibility is to reach the intended goals with minimal interference while aiming for the highest possible results. Good communication in software engineering saves us time, reduces errors, maximizes the available budget and creates a better work environment for teams to be successful.

Good luck and be sure to always practice improving your communication techniques!

About the Author

Nicolás Rosello is a certified Scrum Master & Project Manager skilled in leading not only software development teams, but also other Scrum Masters.

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