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Once and for all, email is not a good medium for communication


And try Alistair Cockburn’s classic article on the effectiveness of various forms of communication:  http://alistair.cockburn.us/crystal/articles/cpanfocisd/characterizingpeopleasnonlinear.html

We’re a little satellite office and we suffer from some occasional communication gaffe’s related to email misunderstandings.  Body language doesn’t come across over email and it’s very easy to offend somebody in an email.  Nothing beats face-to-face communication, but I think you’re better off picking up a phone to discuss anything that could be contentious rather than relying on email. 

We struggled a little bit when our one and only tester was at a different office.  Email is a bad enough, but depending on a bug tracking tool for developer-tester communication is borderline insane.  The clincher for me was the time I stumbled over some hidden tab in the bug tracking website and found a really whiny, passive-agressive comment about the developers not giving the tester enough information.  No phone call with questions or even an IM, just a pissy note hidden away in the bug tool.  Grrrr.

One of my former employer’s had the bright idea to outsource a lot of coding overseas, but keep all of the testing and analysis in Austin.  Let’s see, developers and testers spread out over about 12 hours time zone difference on two continents and only talking through documents and email.  That sounds like a great recipe for total failure.  When I piped up and said “this isn’t going to work” the manager in charge of the offshoring just looked at me funny. 


About Jeremy Miller

Jeremy is the Chief Software Architect at Dovetail Software, the coolest ISV in Austin. Jeremy began his IT career writing "Shadow IT" applications to automate his engineering documentation, then wandered into software development because it looked like more fun. Jeremy is the author of the open source StructureMap tool for Dependency Injection with .Net, StoryTeller for supercharged acceptance testing in .Net, and one of the principal developers behind FubuMVC. Jeremy's thoughts on all things software can be found at The Shade Tree Developer at http://codebetter.com/jeremymiller.
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  • http://www.codebetter.com/blogs/eric.wise ewise

    When managing projects it’s important to realize that every time you have to communicate with anyone else, you just added another bit of complexity and cost to the project.

    When that person isn’t readily available, ie in other offices or different time zones, you just added that much more cost to get things right.

    When the person crosses cultural and language barriers as well it’s about as bad as it can get. Hopefully the “cost savings” of offshoring outweigh the added cost of communication, complexity of explaining the needs, and time spent chasing down someone in a different time zone.

    In my personal experience… very rarely do these “savings” from offshoring pay off.