Regardless of whether you’re a development firm that’s trying to maximize client retention or a lone developer building side projects for a company you used to work for, your success is going to depend on open and fluid communication between clients and developers. Why is communication so vital, and what can you do to improve it?
Your clients and developers are going to have differing primary perspectives, and different skill sets to share with the other party. Clients, for example, know their own brand far better than a developer could, and have a clearer vision of what they’d like the finished product to be.
In contrast, developers understand the practical requirements of dev projects, and will be able to project fairly accurate deadlines or identify limitations that might prevent certain features from being included. Without effective client communication, the developers may fail to capture the complete vision or stray from brand guidelines.
Without effective developer communication, compromises will be impossible, deadlines might be missed, and the final product could wind up inefficiently built.
Keys to Effective Communication
So what can you do to foster mutually beneficial communication?
1. Reduce your meetings to as few participants as possible. Meetings are the ultimate standby in client-developer communication, but they can also be a massive waste of time. Why? A big part of the problem is the number of people. If certain people needn’t be present, but are, they will waste not only their own time, but everyone else’s. Including multiple players on both sides also risks an inability to complete decisions or move the meeting forward. Meetings tend to be more successful when they comprise as few people as possible.
2. Rely on visual voicemail to catch phone calls. You won’t be able to catch every client call, no matter how sharply you keep your eye on the phone. It’s preferable for your developers to have an efficient way to store and play voicemails. The best system for this is visual voicemail, which automatically emails the recipient an audio copy and transcript of incoming voicemails, so they can be reviewed more efficiently.
3. Commit to text-based interactions as primary modes. Phone calls and in-person meetings can be highly effective, but if you want the best long-term working relationships, you should use text-based communication as often as possible. Text interactions are formally documented, so they can be referenced in the future, and they give you more time to think about organizing your message, so it can be interpreted more clearly and effectively.
4. Meet regularly and consistently. That being said, issues are better settled through dialogue. You’ll want to meet regularly and consistently if you hope to identify and correct the issues that inevitably surface on the project proactively. Even if it’s just a check-in to evaluate progress, discussions are worth having.
5. Present clear objectives. From the start of the project, both parties need to state the clear objectives which motivate their requests. If a client requests a new feature, they should explain why they want it; that way, developers can offer an alternative if the feature is not possible or is inefficient. If a developer can’t make a deadline, he or she should explain the holdup, and be ready with alternative options.
6. Summarize communications with action items and takeaways. Meetings and emails can turn hectic over the course of development and discussion. If you can, try to end all such communications with a summary list of action items and/or key takeaways. What are the most important pieces of information in this message? This will help recipients stay organized, and ensure the most crucial portions of your message sink in.
7. Be as proactive as possible. Both parties should be as proactive as possible throughout this process, not reactive. They need to project their needs weeks and months into the future, and identify potential problems or misgivings before they enlarge. The further ahead you can plan, the better.
Client-developer communication is never going to be perfect. These are parties with completely different perspectives, occupations, and in some cases, needs.
But with the above strategies, you can bridge the majority of the gaps between them and open some ongoing lines of communication that will get you closer to a product that works for everyone.