The Three E's in Managing Software Development

Posted by Katie Blatherwick on November 30, 2015

At some point the astute project manager will recognize the importance of The Three E’s with regards to managing software development. The three E’s are: empathy, expectation, and exhibit
 
Today, I'll be focusing on the first of the three E’s: Empathy.

Defining Empathy

More than the need to simply feel heard, your clients must actually be heard. Understanding your clients establishes the foundation on which you build a healthy rapport. Success depends on your ability to understand your client’s perspective and vision.

Tip #1: Look at the software development endeavor from your client’s viewpoint.

In the client-consultant relationship, we must constantly keep in mind that our client is investing a large chunk of change for something that essentially has no resale value. Unlike investing a million dollars in the purchase of a home, which is expected to increase in value, investing a million dollars in an e-commerce website is fundamentally an expense. Though it may be a channel by which revenue is generated, the website itself does not appreciate in value.
 
Truly empathizing with the risk associated with such a huge investment is critical for a project manager. We all know that investments are risky, and when you recognize the burden of your client’s risk, then you are more equipped to advocate for their vision and build a long lasting relationship as a result.

Tip #2: Employ methods conducive to clear communication.

In our fast-paced world of software development, we often lack the means to host face-to-face meetings. Collaboration software like join.me and gotomeeting.com, while nice tools to bridge the gap, still lack that key missing element of body language. A disconnectedness innately hangs in conversations, in the form of long pauses or mistakenly talking over one another.
 
When a project manager puts in the time to lead the group with an agreed-upon format and with a clear and visible agenda, the intrinsic pain points begin to trickle away. By removing inherent obstacles from collaboration tools, the ability to focus on client communication suddenly becomes uncomplicated and effortless.
 


Here are my tested and true tips for project managers to lead successful client meetings:
 
Prior to the meeting:

  • Always put in the time to draft an agenda prior to the meeting and distribute the agenda to attendees.
  • Request feedback about the agenda prior to the meeting. Oftentimes, any responses received in advance can help properly guide the focus of the meeting and make for a more efficient use of everyone's time.

During the meeting:

  • As the first order of business, be sure to quickly review the agenda and make any necessary adjustments prior to diving in. This step is key to showing empathy that every attendee’s review counts, as it is important to remember that not all attendees may have the time to review the agenda beforehand. Remember, It’s never too late for me to hear someone’s feedback, especially if that feedback saves everyone a lot of time discussing the wrong topic.
  • If discussions diverge from the meeting topics, as they so often tend to do, simply jot down the one-off topic and offer to tack it onto the end of the meeting if time permits. In Scrum methodology, this is called “putting it in the parking lot.”  However, if time does not permit discussing these parking lot topics, turn each remaining topic into a new Action Item for follow-up (more on this below).
  • Use a consistent convention or template for meeting minutes and stick to it. Introducing predictable patterns creates a level of efficiency in some of the more tedious portions of our daily lives, so find a format for recording meeting minutes that you can reliably reuse. Meeting minutes are often referenced or reread when a disconnect occurs at some point after the meeting. Your familiarity with the format of the meeting minutes will increase your efficiency by allowing you to find your answers quickly.
  • Record Action Items under a clear "Action Items" list. This should be part of any meeting minute template. Each item in the list must include all the details that are necessary to successfully track it. Next to each item, define which team member is responsible for it, along with a deadline.

After the meeting:

  • Copy and paste your Action Items list into the body of a follow-up email to all attendees.
  • Always distribute meeting minutes to attendees as an attachment to an email, rather than the body of the email itself. Including meeting minutes in the email body can feel overwhelming, and additionally may detract attendees from properly reviewing the Action Item list.

Empathy for your clients through clear communication can only make your client relationships stronger. Once you truly hold empathy for a client's vision, you can then embark on a relationship that promotes growth and longevity.
 
In my next post, I'll cover how to expand on this relationship and make it truly flourish, through proper use of the next of The Three E’s: expectation.


Katie Blatherwick
Katie Blatherwick has spearheaded dozens of Website and Web application projects for BlueModus from concept to launch and everything in between. She uses her rich experience in business process development and analytics, technology, and SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) management to ensure that her clients' projects launch smoothly. Katie holds a bachelor degree in Management of Information Systems from the University of Colorado.