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Communication: Simple, but not easy! November 11, 2006

Posted by Matsu in Information Technology, Management.
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Most of us learned to communicate almost before we learned to walk. You might even say it’s so easy even babies can learn to communicate. But, as adults we often don’t perform the simple act of communicating with those around us as often or as well as we should. Why is that? Well, here’s my answer.

It is in fact a simple thing to communicate with a colleague about work. More than ever before, we have greater means and more opportunities to communicate – we have cell phones, SMS, e-mail, instant messaging, fax machines and even snail mail and express mail that can be delivered overnight. So, what’s the problem? Why is it that the single greatest problem with I.T. departments and I.T. professionals is that they don’t communicate? (I should probably point out that this problem is not limited to IT professionals, but they are the focus of this post as that is the chosen field in which I work and I am an I.T. manager.)

On reason we fail to communicate may be we are too busy. Yes, we are all very busy, and getting busier all the time. I don’t buy that we are too busy to communication since communication can make us all more efficient and more effective in our work. But, it does take time and if we don’t do it, we can save an individual (but not a team or department) some time.

Another reason I.T. folk don’t always communicate is because they don’t think it matters. If they are making a change to a system, program, or hardware, they believe that either the interruption will be unnoticed, so end users won’t need to be told, or the change will not adversely affect the system, program, or hardware (which is usually a false assumption). Therefore, there is no reason to tell anyone about what they have done. Big mistake!

By not telling their fellow IT department members they can waste their co-workers’ time as they try to figure out why the system, program, or hardware isn’t working the way it used to, not knowing it had been changed. Also, failing to communicate can waste the time of the end users as they can suffer lost work as a result of the system, program, or hardware change. So, the lesson is that it does matter what IT support staff are doing and everyone should get advanced notice of changes, no matter how minor and no matter how confident that IT professionals are that “nothing will go wrong.” Trust me, the most random and unexpected things happens when you change/upgrade/fix/improve/replace/reboot technology. It rarely goes precisely as expected or predicted.

Another reason IT professionals don’t communicate what they do or changes they are making is because they are not expected to nor is there any consequence for not communicating. I think this last reason is becoming more and more rare as non-technology co-workers in corporations and large institutions are becoming more dependent on technology and less tolerant of unannounced changes and interruptions of that technology.

Before making a change to an existing program, server, network, printer, web site, or system, ask yourself, “Who might be affected by this change if it goes very badly?” Then, based on your answer, notify those people. Almost always, the rest of the group/team responsible for that technology should know, along with the I.T. support staff since they will most likely get the first calls. Then, the team leader/manager should know, and most likely, the I.T. director or top manager should be informed. Then, the end users that have any probability of using and being affected by that technology not working should be given adequate notice. Informing people in advance shows a great deal of respect for their work and their time and if you do it consistently, the I.T. department will gain the trust of end users. By looking out for their interests they will understand when technology fails and you need them to be patient while you scramble to find the problem and fix it. That kind of trust and credibility takes time and consistent communication.

If this kind of communication doesn’t come naturally to your I.T. staff, then they are normal. Clear and consistent communication is hard to do. Most I.T. professionals do not communicate as much as they should. It’s simple to do once, but hard to do consistently as it takes time and a real commitment and self-discipline. But, if you communicate well and do so consistently over time, your fellow I.T. co-workers and end users will appreciate it and the entire organization will run better as a result.

I consider communication “Rule Number One.”

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Comments»

1. DrBacchus - November 12, 2006

Some techies fail to communicate because they know (or feel that they know) that their audience won’t understand, or care, what they have to say. This tends to be arrogant, but supported by a certain amount of fact. Being unwilling to take the time to communicate effectively, because it’s hard, is the cause of may problems after the fact. Folks that are brought into the conversation and have some input, even if that input is “I don’t know enough to have an opinion”, tend to have less resentment at the final outcome.

As I’m discovering on a certain website I run, making a major change without the full buy-in of the community (even when that change is necessitated by crisis) results in endless bickering about whether it was the right thing to do, and can’t we just go back to how it used to be?

I hate it when I learn things the hard way.

2. Sandra - January 9, 2007

Thank you very much for your post, you gave me some missing info i needed for my study

I have bookmarked your site and hope to see more great stuff coming

Bye

Sandra Breekin


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