In one of my previous posts, I contemplated why meetings are exhausting, and uncovered a possible reason for that: people get tired naturally when they try to share too much within too short a time frame. It appears that asynchronous communication in between meetings helps to minimize this drain, so I’ll tell more on how we do it in our company.
In general, this is searching for the most comfortable process of knowledge sharing, which wouldn’t interrupt the personal productive flow of people and at the same time keep them informed just enough of what the others are sharing, in the context of each other’s responsibilities. One of the traditional ways of asynchronous communication are all kinds of comment threads – just like in this blog, if you scroll down a bit. We have the threads of comments built-in into TargetProcess, and they work mostly as status or diagnostic messages, like “changed the code”, “need the design”, “rolled out to production”. For meetings and creative exchanges, something in the middle is needed. Not as slow as email, even not as slow as comments, but something that allows a delayed reaction and powers the dynamic exchange of ideas at the same time. Note, that I’m speaking only about the communication within a team of like-minded people here. Google Groups, Wikis – can you believe it, we even tried CampFire. Michael was tempted by its design, and decided it’s worth a try. It didn’t last long however. Just wasn’t as convenient as .. yes, you guessed it right, the good old Skype.
Whatever we tried, we ended up going back to Skype. Turns out it works best for our purposes, and in our environment. Of course, we’re not using it as an “instant” information machine-gun; people are not required to answer right away. We’ve set up a number of Skype chats. For example, there’s a “TargetProcess Design Folks” chat. The design people use this chat to build the collective taste in UX, they share links, discuss drafts and help each other come up with the UI concepts. I’m pretty sure, not any number of the formal UX meetings will cover the wealth of ideas and references that this Skype roll contains. So, for this creative exchange a Skype chat is a perfect tool. The only concern might be that every task has its due time: time to exchange ideas in the chat, and time to go deep into yourself to come up with your own thing. Fortunately, one can turn off instant notifications for Skype chats, or have the notifications sent out only if a certain word(s) is mentioned.
Among the other Skype chats, there’s one called “Product”. Anything related to TargetProcess as a product can be discussed here. Feedbacks, ideas, improvement suggestions, some of those suggestions can then be added to the backlog and implemented in TargetProcess. Our support and infrastructure team have their chat as well. Unlike the chats about UX or the Product, or the chats for various boards, this one quite often requires an instant reaction.
Skype chats are a good multi-purpose tool indeed. They provide instant notifications to support and infrastructure teams, and at the same time, they work as an optimal async communication tool, when it goes about ideas/knowledge exchange to back up the team thinking. The consistency of this async exchange keeps everyone on the same page when at a meeting, and people are less tired. There’s no way one can stay completely fresh after a meeting, sorry, I wouldn’t commit to a “how-to” here :)
The more I think of it, the more it looks like Skype has the features that an agile team needs to generate ideas from the common pool, to react quickly, and to get into action. It might be that Skype won’t appear that universal for a company less agile than ours. I’m just telling about our experience.