The art of communicating outside of the IT room

This title aims at describing a situation which occurs often between IT and any other non technical department.

IT people have a reputation of geeks, inapt to communicate with anything else that doesn’t have any flashing lights on it.

It’s not so true, like all legends its exagerate. Still, legends and urban stories come from true histories…

Note, before bashing starts, I’m generalizing. There is of course a lot of competent and very able IT people. This post is for the others.

I have to admit we have a difficult task. We often need to explain to people who has no IT background nor skills, how this is going to work…

My point today is very high level.

This is Mr Bob. He is an accountant, has no IT skills except Excel and the computer looks like black magic to him. Mr Bob do know however how all his numbers plugs into his accounting process.

This is A.J. A.J is a developer. He speaks a very technical language and understand algorithm and boolean logic.

Mr Bob has asked A.J to develop an application which would be able to control some costs at the very beginning of his data entry process.

The requirements has been done smoothly and AJ got it pretty easy. But here is when the problems starts, at test levels.

Mr Bob is facing a black box. He knows what checks has to be done because he asked for it, but when something happens (a minor bug), he is bound to doubts, and fear. This software is going to be on production, crushing numbers into his accounting. This is scary.

As a developer/ DBA / Sys, network Admin, we should strieve to clear out those doubts and fear from the “Users”. We have to understand that standing in front of a black box is really not fun. So, explaining a little bit… Or a little more if required can go a long way into making Mr Bob confident and make the project a success.

These doubts and fears might come out under the form of questions. Challenging the logic in the application or the developer sometimes. But in the end, the real problem is: Mr Bob is scared. So, skip the complexe words that Mr Bob doesn’t understand.

 If AJ has messed up something that is not making it work properly. He should say: “I’m sorry. I did XXX. It was doing YYY in the application. I’ve fixed it by doing ZZZ. Try again it will work”. Use print screen if it makes it easier to explain!

What AJ should not say (as is very often the case): “Oh, I see what it is. It’s fixed now. Can you try again?”

Not being aware of Mr Bob emotions, won’t prevent a project from being done, but being aware of it would make the project much more smooth and ease tensions between the partys.

Here are the qualitys which I think are required to turn a good IT person into an excellent IT person:

1) Empathy (We feel your pain).

2) Ability to explain in simple words.

3) Confidence. (Particularly for DBAs in critical situations. Someone scared to death might call because his database is not working, the whole company is freezed. Keep cool.

Showing confidence and saying very simple things like “I see what it is. Let’s check what’s going on”. Keep the tone very calm. you KNOW what’s going on. You KNOW what you are doing. This would cool the tension straight away and your interlocuter’s face might even change back from blue to normal again.)

The list, I suppose, can go a long way. But then, nobody is superman as well.

If you think there’s another non IT skill which should be in this list, then comment the post.


1 Response to “The art of communicating outside of the IT room”

  1. 1 Suresh Mishra
    April 7, 2008 at 5:38 am

    Right up there Nicolas, and to add to it may be not a separate point but a part of the second one (Ability to explain in simple words). Mr. AJ should & must have the functional knowledge if not complete at least good enough to tell Mr. Bob that whatever is going wrong is how severe & how much Mr. AJ could relate that functional issue with his technical interpretation of it. I am not sure if this is clarifying what I am trying to say but in one statement I’d say that Mr. AJ should be in a position to own that issue as if he was Mr. Bob & not a technical person who has developed an application for him.
    We could add 1 or 2 more qualities but then again they are a part & parcel of the three qualities Nicolas has put up.

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