5 Tips for Better Communication Within Distributed Software Development Teams

Jul 16, 2014

We all know that communication is key for any project. But for distributed software development teams communication is not something that comes naturally: an offshore programmer can’t just go next door to ask the teammates a question, and it’s not enough for the coders to gather in a meeting room to start a daily meetup. The lack of communication can slow down the work or lead to mistakes that could have been avoided, even if you manage a distributed team of dedicated developers, who work exclusively on your project.

Of course, you can’t totally remove this communication barrier, but some practices will help to minimize it.

Here are some useful tips for facilitating communication within your distributed software development team.

1. Use technology to compensate for the lack of face-to-face communication

Emails are too slow a way to reach your team members, but fortunately, there are much more advanced tools that will help you collaborate with your dedicated developers. Instant messages, chats, and free calls via web applications are the most widely used, but don’t neglect other interactive tools:

  • video conference tools
  • presence-based apps
  • web-based meeting managers
  • survey apps
  • process and document management applications.

We use the same Project Management, time management and communication tools for in-house and remote developers. Even if our internal developers work from home for a few days or work from a different office, they are still able to use all of these tools. We use Trello for project management and we use a time tracking system called Harvest, which allows us to charge our clients accurately. Further to these, we use Jira and Git, Beanstalk app, Office 365, Google Docs, and Skype. Stafford Sumner, Founder & CEO of Jarrang

2. Use visualization for better understanding

In a real life meeting, you can visualize your ideas by using notes, schemes, and boards, which are not physically available for distributed software development teams. But visualization is still crucial for better understanding and collaboration. You can solve that issue with interactive task boards and more advanced tools like online virtual rooms, which give a sense of co-presence to some extent.

3. Don’t ignore the quality of sound

Clear sound is another important component of successful communication, so you need to make sure the quality of audio is sufficient for every team member. A good idea is to invest in a quality headset instead of using built-in speakers and mics, and avoid wireless VoIPs to ensure a stable connection. Using text chat as a backup will be helpful in case you have an unexpected sound issue.

Google Study Says Informal Communication Boosts Team Productivity

4. Minimize the language barriers

All members of your team will certainly speak a common language to a certain extent, but poor vocabulary or heavy accents are a big communication problem for distributed software development teams. To minimize that effect, you can choose a speaker with the strongest language skills to lead the meeting. Also, a good recommendation for native and advanced speakers of the language is to avoid culture-specific idioms and slang that other developers may misunderstand.

5. Keep records of your meetings

It’s useful to record the audio from your meetings, as well as keep screenshots of the visuals. In this way, the team members who couldn’t be present will easily stay informed, and participants will have a chance to revise the conversation in case they forgot something or need clarifications.

Distributed software development teams of dedicated developers can be as effective as in-house teams of coders that work side-by-side. The key to that is the management: with effective communication practices, you can remove the boundaries that the distance sets.

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