The communication storm front is a real phenomenon that crops up in all development teams and in all organizations. You need not be the victim of such storms. You, as development manager, have the tools to reduce the power of the storm front and create a team that is ever more effective and efficient.
Regardless of the size of your development organization, everybody has specific roles to play. There are people who handle the day-to-day tasks that make the organization run-developers. There are people who make sure that these tasks fit with the organization's goals-team leads. There are people who define the goals based on their vision for the organization-software development managers.
Look into any development team, no matter how small, and you will find people filling these roles. On the smallest teams, one person may fill multiple roles. As the team grows, these roles become more distinct, and several people are often needed to fill the same role.
In keeping with their roles, software development managers are the ones who attend meetings with the organization's senior managers and officers. They see the organization from the perspective of profit and loss and long-term strategies. They don't always let their developers in on all of the details-nor should they. Software managers tell their team what they need to understand in order to be effective.
But when software managers withhold the wrong information, they inadvertently create an environment that is ripe for disgruntlement. They guide their teams by providing just the information they think the development team needs to get through whatever they, the managers, view as the next step. Unfortunately, this leads to a team fully dependent on the manager to provide all insight into organizational directions. Team members begin to feel like mushrooms-sitting in the dark, with manure occasionally being shoveled on top of them.
They don't see the policies being made; they see only the results. And sometimes those results don't make sense to them.
They feel jerked around. They feel small, as if they don't count enough to be told the really important stuff about the organization. They blame the software manager for this seeming lack of compassion. Meanwhile, the manager feels harassed by the team who keeps asking questions that "have nothing to do" with the work they are currently performing.
I call this gap between management and employees the "communication storm front." Just like a meteorological storm front, there is tremendous energy on either side of the frontal boundary. On one side, software managers are trying to maintain control of their teams in order to keep them moving safely toward the desired goals. On the other side, the teams are frustrated with the lack of information they receive, feeling trapped and unable to make the contributions that make them feel fulfilled. Just like a powerful thunderstorm, the communication storm front has potential for great danger.
As the gap increases, team members lose faith and trust in their software managers. At the same time, software managers feel threatened by team members who are overstepping the bounds of their jobs. The result is discontent, low morale, and high turnover.
The Skills Continuum
"The most difficult things in the world must be done when they are easy; the greatest things in the world must be done while they are small." -Lao-Tzu
When I started programming, too many years ago to consider, I had to learn the basics-programming language syntax, compiling, and debugging. As I became proficient in these building blocks, I was able to develop programs. I understood the basics and began seeing the patterns, concepts, and processes that combined to become a computer program. With more practice, I learned to define patterns and concepts so I could use them again and again. This proficiency resulted in my being asked to lead small development projects. To do this successfully, I had to learn what makes people other than myself tick. (I was actually