Saturday, October 4, 2008

Effective communication

To assume an IT Architect role, a candidate must have very good communication skills besides his excellent technical skills. IBM proposes the role of IT Specialist to domain experts having weak communication skills. What type of communication skills?
  • Communicating with Product Managers (PMs) and Business Analysts (BAs) to transform requirements and priorities into architectures and development plans.
  • Communicating with Development teams and Quality Assurance (QA) teams to lead technically the development phases, the continuous quality verification, and the incremental deliveries (alpha, beta, release candidate (RC), release to manufacturer (RTM), fix pack, minor revision, major revision, etc.).
  • Communicating with Executives (execs) to report issues and progresses of ongoing projects, to propose plans consolidating the company mission, to align the company capabilities with the strategic direction.
As a senior developer, dealing with the rest of the development team and with QA people in agile environments helped me to communicate efficiently with my peers.

Later, when I assumed the position of IT Architect in the team developing the Web 2.0 front-end of the Rational Portfolio Manager product1, I acquired a good experience in communicating with PMs and BAs. I especially liked translating business requirements in technological plans. It's really interesting connecting the dots (the devil is in the details).

Now, thanks to my position within Compuware Corp., I have the chance to get in touch with execs and I need to polish my skills there! Most of messages sent to execs should be short:
  • One line to introduce and to get their attention;
  • Few bullet points if there are many actions expected or proposed;
  • Formula of politeness, signature, and phone number.
Due to the amount of solicitation messages they receive, execs pass through their messages quickly. Their attention should be caught immediately in order to have them taking an action. Being brief and dense is usually a good recipe.

Presenting to execs should follow an equivalent pattern: keep it short, be dense, be prepared to any question, propose the next steps if you obtain their blessing. When I have to propose a solution (to fix a problem or to describe a new concept), I like to rely on a few pictures to introduce it. There is usually one picture for the “current” situation and a second one for the “proposed” solution. I found that these pictures really help people to get the essence of the presentation very quickly, sometimes more than 5 or 10 slides with just bullet points would do. I usually have such slides after the pictures, but they are optional and they describe specific points answering possible specific questions. The following image gives an example of my approach2.

By Dan Choam for Guy Kawasaki


My friend Tugdual Grall has posted an article [4] about tools he uses to build quickly UI mockups, for example. I want to mention that I use DabbleBoard [5] to convert my drawings in electronic formats! This is a simple online tool, written in Flex, which listens to mouse movea to decide which shape should be included. Really neat tool!

A+, Dom
  1. Inside and outlook series of articles from various IBM IT Architects (especially Kerry Holley, IBM fellow, in the 8th issue).
  2. The Visual Art by Guy Kawasaki, from a discussion with Dan Roam, author of the book The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures.
  3. Excutive Presentation Tips by Luke Wroblewsky (aka. LukeW), Senior Director of Product Ideation & Design at Yahoo! Inc. and author of the blog Functioning Form.
  4. DabbleBoard and Balsamiq introduction by Tugdual Grall.
  5. DabbleBoard website.
    1. Rational Portfolio Manager is a product in maintenance mode. I joined the team after the development of RPM TeamMember has started (delivered in version 7.1) and helped fixing issues up to the release.
    2. At the time of writing, I do not have picture I can not share any of mine yet :(


    1. Such drawings are "effectively" a powerful pattern to convince people in a hurry.

      BTW, what "A+" means?

    2. Erwan: “A+” is the contraction of “À plus tard”, a piece of French sentence meaning “bye”, “see you soon”. Sometimes appears as “@+”.

      A+, Dom