Operation Bootstrap

Web Operations, Culture, Security & Startups.

Communication: How to Spread the Word Without Ever Sending Email.

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So far I’ve started things off by taking two months off from any posts – wow – way to kick it into high gear Aaron.

This brings up a good topic – Communication – which I think is something we could all do better. By the way… better does not necessarily mean more often. I’m a verbose guy, I think things out by typing them and so I tend to over-communicate to my peers because I’m comfortable spamming them with every little detail and it helps me be sure I’ve thought things through. I have to consciously control that. On the other hand, I’ve been told I’m a good communicator and if nothing else – people generally know what’s going on in my world. I tend to get frustrated with people who do not communicate like me, which is most people, and so I’ve had to learn to see my communication style as something I do, not necessarily something everyone should do. Most importantly – I’ve learned that there’s a lot of value in keeping these communications out of email, or brief when they are in email.

Why do we communicate? Here are some examples of general goals of bothering to move your fingers or mouth with the intent of communication:

  • Influence a decision – get your opinion out there and lobby for doing things your way (this includes supporting someone else’s opinion that you agree with)

  • Learn about what other people are doing that will impact you

  • Educate others about what your are doing that will impact them

  • Build relationships to enable one of the above (small talk, networking, even kudos fall into this category at times)

  • Document the state of a thing – type it up once for reference by many others

You can probably think of others, but I think those represent the majority. We do these things naturally in our own style. Some people love to chat everyone else up and have a huge network of others who listen to them – others prefer to stay quiet and may voice their opinion to only a few. Everyone needs to maintain their own style – it’s what keeps the workplace and life dynamic – and while getting outside your comfort zone from time to time is something I totally support, it can get exhausting if you are doing it day in and day out. Do what you know – but tune it – here are some ideas.

First – think of the other guy. In an Operations world, people come and go and we are always inheriting someone elses stuff. Think of this question when you make a change or build something – “How is the next guy that looks at this going to know what I am trying to do?”. This single question has helped me immensely in determining how I communicate a change. Try your best to communicate the change as close to where the next person will come in contact with that change as possible. What the heck do I mean by that? Here are some examples:

  • You’ve just written a new perl script that supercedes and old one – you send an email out telling folks not to use the old one. BREAK THE OLD ONE – add a nice note that tells folks, when they run it, that they need to use this other script.

  • You have a system you are working on and you don’t want folks to make changes to it or try to “fix” it, add something to the motd that they see when they login.

  • You are migrating from an old web based system to a new one, you’ve updated all your links but need folks to update bookmarks, add a big red note to the top of the old web page with a link. Don’t use a 302 unless you introduce a delay, that just promotes lazy folks to continue using the old site.

It’s great to send an email with an explanation of what you are doing, but for the majority of folks they either forget about that email, or when they eventually come in contact with your change they are in a hurry because there is some problem and don’t want to go looking for your email. Make it easy for them, make it obvious, make it impossible to miss.

Second – make information available on an opt-in basis. I know this sounds like a scenario where everyone will ignore you but trust me, some people will pay attention if you have information worth sharing. Setup an internal blog and all those verbose ramblings about what you are doing – put them there. If something important comes up, send out an email with a link to your blog – this both promotes the blog, and also makes it more likely folks will read it because they aren’t looking at a big long email (till they click the link, at which point they’re more committed, maybe).

If you aren’t a verbose person, use the blog as a brief journal of what’s going on and what you are doing. If you have an idea and want feedback, fire up a blog post and send an email asking for comments on the blog. This way the people who care contribute and pay attention and the people who don’t aren’t spammed with an endless thread. It promotes more active communication because you know the people involved are only the ones who want to be.

Third – Keep it relevant. Whatever you communicate, don’t go on rambling diatribes. Try to keep the information on point, relevant to the audience, and valuable. If folks have to trudge through pages of useless information to get at a few lines of interesting information they wont – they’ll stop, they’ll miss the point.

Fourth – If you are asking a question and expect an answer, ask that question in the first few lines of your text. Provide background for the question after that, with your opinion and information, etc. Do not go rambling on for 15 paragraphs and expect people to see and respond to the question you asked at the end of the document.

Last – be patient. At the end of the day it’s YOUR opinion and everybody has one. In a group of 10 your opinion is 1/10th of the opinions in the room and everyone should have an equal opportunity to present theirs. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and sometimes you feel like you won, but you actually lost. Remember that with very few exceptions, no single discussion is worth ruining a relationship over.

But for the sake of all of us who have to join your organization later and figure out what the hell you did – please, try to leave some breadcrumbs so we can sort things out.