We all know the importance of communication. It’s one of the corporate values of many companies. We often hear: “we should communicate more”; “there is no such thing as too much communication”; “we should get better at communication”.

Recently I experienced something that made me think a bit more about the content of what we communicate, especially regarding status updates. Someone drove into the back of my car because his brakes failed. Fortunately no one was hurt and my insurance handled getting my car fixed pretty well. However, it took some time for my car to be fixed. During this time I received regular sms updates from the panel beater as follows:

  • 18 April: Good day. We are waiting on parts for your vehicle and as soon as the status of your repair changes I will inform you.
  • 23 April: Good day. We are busy stripping your vehicle and as soon as the status of your repair changes I will inform you.
  • 25 April: Good day. We are busy panel beating your vehicle and as soon as the status of your repair changes I will inform you.
  • 26 April: Good day. We are busy preparing your vehicle for painting and as soon as the status of your repair changes I will inform you.
  • 2 May: Good day. We are busy assembling your vehicle and as soon as the status of your repair changes I will inform you.
  • 3 May: Good day. Your vehicle is at the auto-electrician and as soon as the status of your repair changes I will inform you.
  • 4 May: Good day. Your will vehicle will be ready at 5pm.

At first glance this looks great, they communicated in detail what they were doing and every couple of days. However let me share 2 pieces of information:

  1. I know nothing about cars and have no idea what order stuff happens to get fixed in and
  2. I was going to Germany on 2 May for 2 weeks.

All I really wanted to know was will my car be ready before I go to Germany or not. As luck would have it, it was ready 2 days after I left and then sat at the panel beaters for 2 weeks gathering dust. What would have been useful would be the following update:

We expected your car to be ready on 15 May, however we are now on step 5 of 8 expect to complete work earlier on 4 May.

It makes me think about when Product Owners or teams communicate to business and say “this story is done”; “that story is done”, and the business have no idea what stories are required for a feature or a release.

I imagine like me what most business stakeholders want to know is:

We planned release Awesome 2.0 with iPad support on 31 October. We have completed half the work, and now expect to release on 7 November, however this is still in time for the Apple Tradeshow on November 15.

What is your communication like? Are you expecting your audience to know about the details of the work you do to make sense of it? What do they actually care about? How can you find out?

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