We’re a distributed team with distributed clients and stakeholders. How we communicate with each other and our stakeholders is critical to our success as an organisation. Therefore it’s important to be on the same page on this topic, and why we do things the way we do.
Longform discussion and an open, structured workflow
The primary way we communicate with each other and our stakeholders is longform discussion in an open, structured workflow, powered by Discourse.
There is a really important project-management side to this. When you structure your communication through an open workflow, i.e. bug reports, feature requests, categories, tags, and descriptive content in topics, you achieve a number of things that are critical for a system based on remote relationships:
It makes it easier for other people to work-in with you. If you’ve stuck all your planning and work in a Slack chat, or just covered it in a Skype call, all that knowledge is not recorded in a way that’s easy for other people to see and understand. If you want to bring anyone else in you need to go through the same explaination and learning process again.
It makes it easier for stakeholders, in particular clients and users of our plugins, to follow what is happening with the things they care about. Our stakeholders don’t have the opportunity to meet us and build trust in us in individuals through the normal ways people connect with others. All they know about is is what they see in our communications and how we structure our work here on Pavilion.
Moreover, longform online discussion is what our organisation is built around and for. We have to practice what we preach. We have to dogfood.
Discourse will always be our primary way of communicating. Whenever you want to communicate something with other members or our stakeholders your first thought should always be how to do this in an open and structured fashion.
The ‘open’ part of this shouldn’t be skipped over. To achieve the benefits mentioned above, it doesn’t help to stick everything in a private messages. It’s initially easier to do this, i.e. I want to tell someone something, but over time it’s alot harder to manage. Don’t get into the habit of pm’ing.
There’s also a ‘fear’ aspect to being open that needs to be addressed head on. If you don’t know something, or are not sure if you’re right about something, it’s tempting to keep that private. You may feel you don’t want clients, other members, or other stakeholders to know.
In 99% of cases this feeling needs to be resisted. No-one will respect you less for not knowing everything. Clients and stakeholders know the reality of work is that you need to consult, raise quesitons, get some things wrong and overcome your mistakes.
Open source is an integral part of what we do. A key part of the philosophy behind open source is overcoming tyranny of private perfection. The more you share with others, the easier your problems become. See further: The Cathedral and the Bazaar.
The role of chat and video calls
However there are also times when you want more instant communication, partly because you need to think something through with someone else, or you just need touch a number of points that would be laborious to cover via longform text. Or you just want more “human” connection with the other members and to develop the relationships that form an important part of teamwork.
There are three contexts in which more instant communication, i.e. chat or video calls, is called for:
Project collaboration. When you’re trying to figure out how best to work with others on a specific project you sometimes need to just cover a number of points on a call or via chat together
Organisational development. When thinking about how we’re developing Pavilion we often need to:
- cover a number of points at once; and
- convey feelings and motivations that are harder or more laborious to convey in writing.
Personal development. Having a regular one-on-one live chat with a mentor, or just another member, is an important part of personal development. Similar to organisational development, you need that more human connection to:
- convey a number of points at once; and
- convey thoughts and feelings that are harder or more laborious to convey in writing.