September 21st, 2022

Project Communication: Tips for Team Leads

Efficient communication plays a crucial role in the development of quality software. It helps us coordinate teams, reduce risks, meet deadlines, and make sure the results are what we expect them to be. In this article, SimbirSoft Head of QA Ekaterina Gulyaeva shares her tips on how to set up efficient communication.

I am part of the QA team at SimbirSoft. Our job is to test the product and ensure that it meets quality requirements at all stages of development. QA specialists can move up the career ladder relatively quickly. It took me just a year to become a mentor, after which I was promoted to QA lead and then to head of QA in Krasnodar in October 2020. Apart from having the right hard skills, a good QA specialist needs to:

  • be a team player;
  • be willing to find a common language with others based on their interests and needs;
  • be able to get their point across.

They also need to be proactive, ask the right questions, and connect with each team member and client on local and international projects alike. In this article, I will share some of my life hacks for establishing efficient dialogue.

Communication is part of the daily grind of any QA lead, team lead, or manager. Below you will find a list of tips that will help you to improve communications in your team.

Most of them you have probably already heard of. Check if you are using them in real life.

Technical Interview

We enter projects at various stages, and project supervisors often hold technical interviews with specialists to assess their knowledge. Such interviews focus on the candidate's technical ability and should be conducted in the presence of a team lead, as they know better than anyone what skills and expertise the team needs.

Still, keep in mind that it is a person you will be working with, not a set of skills and abilities. Your job during a technical interview is to understand what tasks the candidate likes or finds boring/difficult, what they expect from their professional growth, etc.

This way, you will be able to see whether they are interested in the project and share your expectations about its future. This will help you avoid situations where a specialist has the necessary experience and skills but leaves the project early on because the tasks don't fit them.

Project

A Lead is someone who shares their enthusiasm with the entire team and inspires them to keep working on the product to make it even better. This is something to keep in mind when building relationships within the team. If you are not passionate about the project, why should others be?

Day-to-Day Communication

Remote work has become commonplace in many industries, including IT. However, we get enough real-world communication as well. Many of my colleagues work from our company's cozy co-working spaces at least once a week or simply drop by to play board games, exercise, watch a movie, or sing a couple of karaoke songs. But that doesn't mean online communications can't be effective as well. Let me share some of our experience and life hacks with you.

Chats

Most of our dialogue takes place in messengers. Here are some tips on how to make group chats useful so that you don't have to mute them:

1. One message is always better than ten messages in a row. You can make it a rule and add it to the chat description. Make sure to point the rule out to new team members when adding them to the chat — it will also act as a reminder for the rest of the team. If people keep breaking the rule, you may bring it up at a daily meeting and emphasize the advantages of an orderly chat and clearly worded messages.

Text messages are great because they allow you to review what you are about to say, delete any unnecessary information, work on your wording and clarity, etc. As a result, you will be able to get your point across to the team better and not make them waste their time sorting through your messages.

2. If the messenger you are using has comment threads, I encourage you to take advantage of them. This feature prevents important information from getting lost among all the unread messages.

3. Encourage your colleagues to ask questions in the group chat, not in DMs. This way you won't have to answer the same questions over and over again and will save yourself some time by having the entire team see your answers. It is also possible that one of your colleagues will answer the question before you do.

And lastly, make sure people aren't afraid to ask questions for fear of sounding silly. In our company, we say that the only silly question is the unasked question. If people keep asking you the same thing even after you have explained everything, consider adding the answer to the knowledge base, pinning it in the chat, or emailing it to everyone.

Meetings

Daily status meetings and meetings aimed at solving complex problems and tasks take a lot of time. Here are a few things you can do to make sure this time is not wasted.

1. Specify the topic. When scheduling a meeting, make sure everyone knows its goals in advance.

For example, discussing the deadline for a new feature. By informing your team about the topic and goals of the meeting, you give them a chance to prepare and open the necessary task.

2. Limit the number of meeting participants. We all want maximum transparency to keep the entire team up to date with project news. But the larger the project, the more likely this is to result in people spending their entire working day at meetings without having anything to contribute to the conversation.

Things will go much smoother if you choose who will take part in the meeting in advance. To invite people, tag them or send them emails. And to keep things transparent, send a recap of the meeting to the group chat.

3. Moderate the process. If you are the one organizing the meeting, it is your job to keep track of time and make sure everyone sticks to the plan (do not deviate from the topic of the meeting; other issues can be discussed at different meetings).

4. Recap the meeting. Don't forget to recap the meeting: sum up the issues you have discussed, the decisions you have made, the deadlines, and the people responsible.

Depending on the topic of the meeting, you may post the recap in the group chat, add it to the knowledge base, send it to everyone via email, etc.

1+1 Meetings

A team lead must always stay in touch with their team, and not just to get status updates from them. It is equally important to monitor the team's mood. If one of your colleagues is annoyed or upset, this will affect their work.

The job of a team lead is to find out what is wrong and see if they can fix it. You need to make sure that everyone has a task they can manage and that there are no conflicts within the team. It gets trickier if a personal problem is involved. Still, even then you should empathize with your colleagues and show that you care about their problems and don't see them as just a cog in a machine or a resource.

I suggest turning on webcams during calls. This way, you will not only hear the other person but also see their emotions, facial expressions, and gestures. This will make it easier to read their mood and establish a more personal connection. And don't forget that the other person can see you. If you are viewing tasks in a task tracker or answering questions in another chat, they will notice it and get the impression that the conversation isn't important to you, so try not to get distracted.

Retrospective

This is a very big topic. In this article, we will focus on praise. This can be done not only during retrospectives. Make sure to celebrate everyone's contributions. For example, the phrase “Thanks for your great work during the sprint, everyone. We'd have never released the feature in time if not for you“ sounds okay, but it feels too generic.

It is good practice for a team lead to take note of everyone's achievements and contributions during sprints and to mention them during retrospectives.

Communicating with Other Teams and Departments

If your team has questions about analytics, development, QA, or other things, it is your job as a team lead to set up 'communication bridges' and make sure they know who to contact.

Let each team have a member whose task is to advise colleagues from other departments or systems. This way, not a single question will be left unanswered, and people will not have to bombard their colleagues with DMs to try and find something out.

Assigning Tasks

Clear and simple tasks are the dream of most employees, and a team lead can make this dream a reality by using a task tracker, even if it's 'just' for writing a script for a demo, doing a documentation review, reorganizing a database, testing a new tool, etc.

By adding tasks to the task tracker, you make sure that the team will not forget about them and will know exactly what to do. But for this magic to work, it is not enough just to name the task. Every task should include a brief description, a deadline, the name of the responsible employee, and additional information — for example, a link to the knowledge base section that needs to be restructured.

Business Clients

Your clients are busy people, and they only have so much time to communicate with you. Always prepare for a conversation with a client in advance and put together a list of questions and information they may request.

When suggesting a new idea, let the client know how it will benefit them. Don't describe what you want to do and how much time and people you will need, just tell them about the benefits and results. For example, “This feature will allow users to do this and that.“ Highlight the benefits first, and discuss the details later. This way, the client will pay more attention to you, meaning they will be more likely to accept your proposal.

It is also important to show the client that you are interested in their business. In addition to technical and organizational topics, be sure to ask about their users and business processes. This will help them to see you not only as a technical specialist but also as a person who wants to make a valuable contribution to their business.

Keep in mind that they may not be aware of the specifics of your work. If you use complex terms and concepts, they may fail to understand you and choose to talk to one of your colleagues next time. When people do not understand each other, communication becomes less effective, making it harder to achieve the desired result.

If you have met all of the client's expectations and they are happy, you can congratulate yourself on a job well done. However, if there is something they don't like, it is vital not to run away from the problem, start making excuses, or insist that you did everything right. There are three things you need to do in this situation:

  • understand what the client doesn't like and what caused a negative reaction;
  • identify what you can do to fix it as quickly as possible;
  • discuss what you should do to prevent anything similar from happening in the future. For example, if the client had different features and results in mind, it is necessary to understand why. Maybe project requirements weren't clear enough or weren't reviewed by the client?

Summing up, building communications is like creating an app or performing some other work task — it is also part of your job and something you get better at over time. The more you do it, the better you will be at it. To develop your communication skills, you need to take the initiative and tackle any task that will allow you to improve them head-on.

For example, our QA team takes part in a lot of internal and external events, each time performing in front of a different audience. And it works. Over time, you start feeling less awkward and begin to find the right words automatically. And remember, practice makes perfect. If you keep at it long enough, you will eventually learn to communicate your thoughts clearly and efficiently.

*****

Learn more about the development processes in IT from our article: How to Make an MVP App That Everyone Will Love

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