Is communication always important?

Conventional wisdom says that communication is the critical for success in just about any aspect of life, be that personal relationships or within teams or corporations. Of course, miscommunication can cause all sorts of problems.

Communication has changed drastically over the past few centuries due to technology. We’ve gone from the ability to speak mostly in person to being able to speak to anyone, anywhere in the world with our devices. Our smartphones have become such a part of us that many people today would rather send a text or use social media to communicate over having an actual conversation.

The pandemic has caused quite a bit of physical separation. With many schools and universities using online learning and many employees working from home, in-person communication is difficult, if not impossible in many situations. In some cases, however, less talking makes people more productive. Unless home responsibilities interfere, working remotely can often allow improved productivity since there are fewer interruptions and noise in the typical “sea of cubicles” found in many work environments. We are in the midst of a big experiment right now, and, it turns out, that remote working is not for everyone, but it does have many benefits for some.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, once said “communication is terrible.” He was actually talking about the amount of communication required to coordinate activities within a large team. Not only does coordination take time, there is often a lot of non-productive communication taking place when groups get large. He came up with the “two pizza rule” that means a team is too big if it can’t be fed by two pizzas. Keeping teams small reminded me of the Mythical Man Month. Adding more developers when a project is late will cause even more delays due to the amount of added coordination.

Even in my own job, by using the right tools and a defining a good process decreased the amount of required communication. When I first began this job three years ago, there were many back-and-forth emails and Slack discussions between myself and an analyst just to get articles published and the Simple Talk newsletter built. Now an email or Slack message about the newsletter is the rare exception. By improving the process, the communication to coordinate is no longer necessary.

Along the same lines, one of the tenets of DevOps is breaking down technical silos to improve communication between development and operational teams. It makes sense that one group should know what the other is up to so that deployments to production are successful. Everyone should be accountable for the success and the goal is to eliminate the old “throw the code over the wall” mentality. Automation can decrease the required amount of communication within a team and improve success.

Is communication always important? Yes, it certainly is, but it can also get in the way of being efficient and productive.


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