Dodging the Ditches


Check for Mutual Understanding
Make sure your message has been interpreted the way you intended or that you've really understood another's message. Try paraphrasing—restating the other person's ideas in your own words. You can check right then and make any corrections to your understanding. Or try writing down what you believe they said, either as a requirement or as an acceptance test. You and the other person can check the written version to see if it shows you really are on the same page. If you're not, at least you'll have a chance to work toward mutual understanding before writing the code.

The gap between the "bad" road I expected and the "good" road I found myself driving on didn't mar my trip. But had I defined the road as "good" to someone else—the story may have been different. Mismatched definitions in software projects are rarely inconsequential. Whether you are sending or receiving the information, work to make sure that you and the person on the other side of the exchange walk away with the same understanding of what's expected or you may fall into an expectations gap.

About the author

Esther Derby's picture Esther Derby

A regular and Better Software magazine contributor, Esther Derby is one of the rare breed of consultants who blends the technical issues and managerial issues with the people-side issues. She is well known for helping teams grow to new levels of productivity. Project retrospectives and project assessments are two of Esther's key practices that serve as effective tools to start a team's transformation. Recognized as one of the world's leaders in retrospective facilitation, she often receives requests asking her to work with struggling teams. Esther is one of the founders of the AYE Conference. She co-author of Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. She has presented at STAREAST, STARWEST and the Better Software Conference & EXPO. You can read more of Esther's musings on the wonderful world of software at and on her weblog at Her email is

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