For years I noticed the difficulty to extract decent information from developers and craftsmen about their work. Developers clearly lack the skill or the taste for documentation. It extends to the specifications, which also provides an occasion to notice bad performance.
To work this around, specialized project managers have to fill this role, but it can create a gap between developers ownership and the final result. Sometimes luck creates the inspiration and developers produce a decent amount of documentation. But honestly, this is pure luck, and not a rule.
I found a way to mitigate this issue, that I began to experiment some time ago at work. It’s based on a recorded interaction between a project person and a person of the craft.
Here are the rules:
- the project person organizes interviews with stakeholders from all specialties including developers, business people, operations people, sometimes users, the more diverse population possible. But it can also be done for no reason for sharing a certain kind of knowledge with an expert.
- interviews take place by written interactive communication in a chat, in a way that enables logging (irc, slack, whatever)
- it lasts 20 minutes more or less, but the format can extend to hours if the need is felt
- once the interview is finished, the interviewer cleans up the logs, removes out of topic details, fixes typoes, removes elements that are purely belonging to the chat way of communication
- the cleaned log is reviewed by the interviewee for consensual agreement on its publication
- the log can then be added to whatever project space is dedicated to the topic at hand (documentation, specification annexes, study, paper)
There are various beneficial side effects to this endeavor:
- actors have a better feeling of engagement in the project or topic at hand
- it creates a bond between actors, facilitates future exchanges
- it gives an equal chance for everyone to speak, even the shy ones, because the 1 to 1 context is much less frightening. In a meeting, there are people that never speak. Are they stupid? they are not!
- it creates content that can be shared with other actors so that they have a better chance to understand the point of views of other parties.
- it creates a useful reference for the project, a raw material which can be annexed and can be used for summaries. It also creates more content for an eventual search engine if the publication space has one.
- there is less risk to cite someone out of context because the full context is provided.
- it is much easier to organize interviews or hold them on the fly than setup meetings.
- there is no feeling of loss of time like in a meeting: the time dedicated is intense and very interactive, there is no waste.
I had the occasion to try that technique in a context where internal communication is not optimal, for knowledge sharing at first, then for exploring options on a new project and set up specifications. I have been happy to notice that this formula creates pretty good output and generates a nice feeling in all parties involved.
Certainly more study will come on this approach. It’s a lot of fun.