Cadence as the Engine of Communication

Posted on Thursday, May 9, 2019

DRAFT - Work in Progress

Communication relates to how information is exchanged between two parties. This post explores communication within organisations, argues that communication has broader meaning beyond the written and spoken word, and lays emphasis on the importance of process in establishing healthy communication.

In a broad sense, an organisation must communicate market opportunities to engineering teams and engineering teams must communicate solutions back to the market. Between those two extremes, we have all manner of other communication pathways that need to be active and oiled. Yet so often I have seen these communication pathways being left to establish themselves, with little or no effort invested in their maintenance.

How can this be? I blame the over-application of the “lean” movement, a fashion which has lent credence to an adapt-and-evolve iterative process wherein order and sanity will emerge from the chaos. Process and procedure has been replaced by adhocism and the mantra of self-organisation, lest we stifle the creative juices and sense of self-determination necessary to produce something brilliant.

Communication needs process to be successful, at least in my experience. We need a well designed process in place to bring teams together with a cadence that helps teams share their knowledge without becoming a drain on their time and energy. The challenge is that the industry has realised that the more empowered engineering teams are the better outcomes are for the business. The story of the last 20 years is one of progressive empowerment of the technical centres of an organisation and teams are more connected and more aware than ever before. Developers need to be connected to the vision and direction of the company, to the feedback from customers, to the sales pipeline and customer requirements, and so on. And this is fine, but the demands on teams to both radiate and absorb information can become dibilitating. Add to this support drills, conferences, training and internal knowledge sharing sessions and we can see that our delivery velocity might being to trend towards zero.

Finding a suitable balance between planned work and opportunities for communication is a formiddable task but one that is essential to get right and continuously maintain. And someone needs to own the process and be responsible for its ongoing health (and ownership means).

The process will bring together different teams at a rate that is adequate and sustainable, and those teams will grow comfortable and confident with the expectations of their counterparts. The initial process will need to be adjusted through regular retrospective sessions to identify where back-pressure between teams is started to become insuperable.

But where do we start? As stated the main artery of communication is from engineering teams to the market via the delivery of valuable software, and it is the effectiveness of this upon which the organisation will be ultimately judged. Around this are a set of other communication pathways that also need their scheduled aligned. So it makes sense to decide upon a market release cycle from which everything else will hang.

[1] Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.