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Communication Skills

A senior developer in my former team was not only a very good developer, he also took the time to coach new members and explain the problems and architectures. He ensured that they asked questions and understand the problem and solution. This way new team members not only became much faster productive, but also in sync with the team goals and the solution profited from that fact. Problems were openly discussed, issues raised in time and caught before they hit the customer.

That's basically what a BPX needs to acquire: communication skills. Being able to describe a complex system in structured way, being able to abstract and view that from different angles and distances (from high level to deep detail), and being able to formulate and phrase a problem in the language that your target audience understands and accepts. Especially latter requirement leads often to misunderstanding and prejudices about attitudes of people.

There are multiple ways of how you can acquire communication skills:

  • Structure your problem (solutions and other problems become much clearer)
  • Describe it for different audiences (have you ever described what you do to your grandparents?)
  • Grab every opportunity to describe it (You cannot become a piano virtuoso without practicing)

The easiest way to learn about structure is looking at how news reporters are doing it. The basic questions that each news reporter has to answer are:

  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Who was involved?

The basic questions that BPXs, developers, architects etc. have to answer are:

  • What's the current situation?
  • What's the problem with that?
  • What are ways to solve the problem?
  • What are problems with those solutions?
  • Who needs to do what until when?

If you cannot structure your problem or project in such a way, then either something is wrong with your problem or project, or something is wrong with your communication skills.
Once you structured your problem/project, try to describe it for audiences with different levels of expertise. An extreme example that I always imagine: How would I explain it to my grandmother? How would I explain it to my child? How would I explain it to my banker?

Do not make the mistake to prejudice them being "dumb". They are not, they just have other information than you and see the problem (if they see a problem) from their point of view and with their experiences. In fact it might turn out that you are the dumb one, having seen the problem to narrow or having seen a problem, where there is none, but missed the other, much more urgent problems.
There are many ways to improve on your communication skills. Here is a list of organizations or recommendations that help you:

  • Join a Toastmasters club
  • Take presentation classes
  • Grab every opportunity to speak publicly (and listen carefully)
  • ...