The Consolidation of Information

June 16, 2011

Chapter 10 – Written Communication

This chapter covered seven different methods for collaborative communication. There are many others available and there will be even more in the future. Every system has specific strengths and weaknesses. You need to choose the best system for each piece of information you want to share with your team. The goal is to establish a unified body of information across all of these systems. This will create a well-managed easy-to-use information source supporting your strong voice in the team. Manage your information improperly and you will just have useless noise.

Every team member is responsible for making these systems work, but these systems are more important to you because you are remote. The written communication mechanisms your team uses will help you stay connected. They are vital to your success as a remote engineer.

The only way to make these systems work together is to consolidate information. Adding new information is easy; even a small team can create an overwhelming amount of information in a very short time. If the knowledge in these systems isn’t managed, then it will become redundant, overly complex, and useless.

Michael Pilato from the Subversion project described this phenomenon when he was discussing wikis:

“The very power that [wikis] give you in being able to quickly create a category of information is the very thing that [causes the problem]… Eventually you can’t find anything because the granularity is ridiculous.”

Create metadata. Every time you create a wiki page, blog posting, or other shared document it needs metadata that describes what is in the document. This can be a short email subject, a descriptive introductory paragraph, or a formal document abstract. Forcing yourself to stick within the boundaries of your stated topic will also make a big improvement to your writing.

Organize in larger groups before smaller ones. When organizing the data of your team you should start with a few large categories. For each system you have to decide what it should be used for. You can drive this discussion within your team. Once you have to decided on the larger categories you can further categorize within each of them.

Create naming conventions. Your team has to decide on naming conventions to govern mailing list subjects, wiki page names, and bug descriptions. You have to push them to standardize. It doesn’t matter what naming convention you choose as long as you stick with it.

Sign your name. Make it really clear what you write. Put your name on your documents in a prominent location. If someone else helped you, put both of your names.

Don’t create redundant information. Before you add any new information you should make sure it isn’t there already. Linking to existing information will enhance that information, but copying it will create redundancies which make the system more difficult to manage.

Continually refine. Following all of these guidelines will help a lot, but your systems will still become disorganized over time. You need to constantly reexamine your categories and documents and make changes to further improve the system.

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