In the middle of 2018 the team was suffering the consequences of my apathetic approach to stakeholder management.

I wrote this while reflecting on my scrabble to work out what was going wrong and why (hint: poor communication).

It’s written with the full benefit of hindsight as an instructional note to my future self, and published here in the hope you also find it useful.

What do comms “cost”?

Communicating effectively with the people who have a vested interest in your project is important. Doing that across your organisation can be expensive.

Effective communication requires a time commitment. As a lean team balancing research with development, it’s easy to feel it’s an overhead.

Carrying out more research calls, and writing more code feels like progress. How much are we willing to pay for comms by taking away from progress?

For those with an interest in our projects, effective communication — their understanding of what we’re doing — is as important as the research & development itself.

Because our progress is easily mitigated by lacklustre comms.

Who to communicate with?

There are three cohorts I must think about when considering the costs incurred for failing to communicate routinely.

The customers, the chiefs and the company. Alliteration helps the memory.

Our customers

Releases are opportunities to engage with our customer. Even a “New update available” message is a communication. However small, it says “someone is working on this product”.

Our research data gives us confidence to invest in the next round of development. Short development cycles create frequent releases. And more micro communications.

What happened last time?

We got enough confidence to embark on a bigger piece of development work. Something valuable that would take several weeks to deliver to customers.

However, our release cycle had been the sole communication method with our customers. We inadvertently entered into a period of radio silence.

When it came time to re-engage with customers about what we’d delivered, they took longer to warm up to those conversations.

Risk to progress: those customers could have chosen to move on entirely.

Our chiefs

The chiefs are the people who pay us to uncover opportunities for new businesses, and products, and features. And they invest in them when we do.

As we carry out research, we immerse ourselves in the detail. We get excited about all the possibilities.

Ideas in their infancy aren’t well-formed. It’s rare that real innovation is easily described with the language of the status quo. They’re difficult to explain.

What happened last time?

We began working on a new project as a reaction to research data that was complex, but identified a great opportunity for a new product.

We did this without first properly communicating the research data to give context and understanding. Because it was hard.

The chiefs don’t have the benefit of immersion. But they still have to understand the opportunity, or the innovation, in order to invest confidently.

Choosing to focus on developing a solution and user base— and less on comms — created a vacuum we had to fill later, in more fraught conditions.

Progress risk: we could’ve lost the trust of those who invest in our projects.

Our company

The company is the machine that’s ready to execute on the new product opportunities we’ve proven.

Having achieved product-market fit, we now have the benefit of dedicated engineering, sales and marketing functions.

What happened last time?

We saw how a new technology could provide an innovative and novel solution to a long-standing customer problem.

We chose to favour technical progress (lines of code) over sharing our new found technical knowledge. Our understanding grew, but it didn’t elsewhere.

If we’d hit the point where we needed to scale, the broader engineering function wouldn’t have been ready to take it on.

It will have needed time to adjust to this new technology.

Progress risk: our engineering colleagues could have rejected the technology outright.

In short

Communicating early and frequently is a price worth paying.

© Jonathan Roberts 2019
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