Archive for June, 2014

Facing Your Fears: Approaching People For Research

June 30th, 2014 No comments
People calculate that value in their heads when you ask for their time.

When working on a project, have you ever felt that you and the rest of the team were making a lot of decisions based on assumptions? Having to make choices with limited information is not unusual — especially in complex projects or with brand new products.

Phrases like “We think people will use this feature because of X” or “We believe user group Y will switch to this product” become part of the early deliberation on what to develop and how to prioritize. At some point, though, these phrases start to feel like pure guesses and the ground under your feet feels shaky. What can you do about it?

Regardless of your role in the project, one activity in particular will help your whole team build a solid foundation for product strategy and design: that is, approaching potential users for research, such as interviews and usability tests.

Such research is an important aspect of user-centered design. It helps you build products that are rooted in a deep understanding of the target audience. Among other benefits, interviewing potential users helps you achieve the following:

  • more precisely define who the target audience is (and isn’t),
  • face and challenge your assumptions,
  • uncover unmet needs,
  • discover the behaviors and attitudes of potential users firsthand.

You can conduct informal yet valuable user research yourself with practice and with guidance from great sources like Steve Portigal’s Interviewing Users and Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy. One thing that stops a lot of people from trying their hand at research isn’t just lack of experience, but a fear of approaching people and asking for their time. This obstacle is greater than many would care to admit.

The Difficulty Of “Face To Face”

I was teaching an experience design class in high school when it really hit me. Students were engaged in the design process until they were told that they had to request interviews from strangers. The anxiety levels went through the roof! A look of shock covered their faces. Shortly after, two of the students asked to receive a failing grade on the activity rather than have to face strangers (a request that was not granted)!

This was no longer a case of time, opportunities, resources or priorities. The interviews were a part of the class and were considered essential. The students were presented with a clear set of expectations, provided with aid in planning and writing questions, and taken to the location (a college) to conduct the interviews.

When all of the usual obstacles were removed, what was laid bare? A strong fear of approaching strangers, made even stronger by the fact that so many interactions nowadays are done online, rather than face to face. Ask someone to create an online survey and they’re all over it — ask that same person to pose those same questions to a stranger face to face and they’ll freeze up.

One might assume that the problem afflicts only those in high school, but such a deep-seated reaction is felt by many working adults who are suddenly responsible for requesting something from strangers — even when the thing being requested is a relatively low commitment, like 10 minutes for an interview.

Are you at the point in a project when you would benefit from insights gained from face-to-face discussions with potential users but find yourself blocked by a fear of asking? Read on for techniques to help you approach people for research, the first step to gaining the knowledge you need.

“I’m Afraid I’ll Be Bothering People.”

I’m sure you’ve been approached by a stranger at one time or another. The negative occasions stand out the most, when you were annoyed or felt guilty because you didn’t want to say no to a request for money or personal information or a signature.

When a stranger approaches, the person being approached has several concerns at once:

  • “Who is this person?”
  • “Are they trying to scam me?”
  • “Are they going to ask me for money?”
  • “Are they going to ask me to sign something that I don’t agree with?”
  • “Am I going to have to figure out how to get rid of them?”
  • “How long is this going to take?”

Your memories of being approached could make you uncomfortable if you’re the one approaching others.

The good news is that approaching people for interviews can be a lot easier than requesting a donation. If you make it clear quickly that their time is voluntary and that you won’t ask for anything they don’t want to give, then you’ll generally get a positive response. After all, you’re not asking people for money, just for their time and attention. Time is valuable, but its value varies according to the person’s situation at that moment — and you can do certain things to communicate the value of agreeing to your request.

Increase the Value of Participation

Interview requests are accepted when participation is perceived to be as or more valuable than what the person is doing at the time. People calculate that value in their heads when you ask for their time.

People calculate that value in their heads when you ask for their time. (Large version2)

Below are some of the factors that can swing the calculation in your favor.

Find the Right Time

If someone is in a rush to get somewhere, then making your research seem more valuable than their desire to get to their destination will probably be difficult. Someone who is walking briskly, looking tense and not making eye contact is not the ideal candidate.

Approach people who appear to be one or more of the following:

  • Between tasks
    If you’re asking about a particular activity, go to areas where people tend to be finishing up that activity, and talk to them as soon as they’re done with it. You’ll get a fresh perspective on the whole experience, and they likely won’t be in a rush to get to their next activity. For example, if you want to interview runners, wander the finish line of a race. Look for runners who are cooling down and checking out their swag but not yet heading home.
  • Bored
    Waiting in line, waiting for a bus or waiting for an elevator — if someone seems to be idly swiping their phone or staring off into space, they might actually welcome a distraction.
  • Procrastinating
    Some activities take a long time. The human brain needs a change of focus every now and then, and your research could be just the thing. If your target audience is students, visit a study area. When a student comes up for air, ask for some time. They might need the mental break!

Regardless of whom you approach, give them an idea of how long the interview will take (about 10 minutes, for example), so that they can do the mental math of calculating the value of saying yes.

Be Aware of Body Language

As mentioned, pay attention to the candidate’s body language. Do they seem tense? Are they frowning at their phone? Are they power-walking? They might be late for a meeting, so the timing would be wrong. Someone gazing around or strolling casually is a better bet. People on phones are a bit harder to read because many check their phone when bored or procrastinating — still, their facial expression might tell you whether they’re open to being interrupted for something more interesting.

Your own body language is important, too. Planting yourself in the middle of a person’s path and facing them squarely will come off as aggressive, likely triggering a negative reaction. They might feel like they’d have a hard time getting rid of you if they’re not comfortable with your request.

Being aware of your own body language and the body langauge of others is important.

Approach within clear view, but from the side. Also, try angling your body slightly away from the person. You want to seem engaged but also make them feel like they could end the conversation if desired. This will give them a greater sense of control and increase the likelihood that they’ll give you those precious seconds you need to make your request.

Fostering Interest

The feeling one gets from participating in research can be rewarding in itself. Interest is one positive feeling that leads people to say yes to research, which you can emphasize when approaching strangers.

Mention early on that you’re conducting research, which makes clear that you’re not asking for money and tends to generate interest.

Being approached to participate in research is fairly unusual for most people. The fact that you’re conducting a study might inspire a healthy curiosity. People will often be curious about what topic is being researched, what kinds of questions might be asked, and what they might find out about themselves in answering. The prevalence of quizzes and personality tests online is a good indication of this interest; those researchers are gathering data from the tests, but many of the respondents feel like they are learning about themselves (and potentially others) by considering the questions being asked.

People will often be curious about what topic is being researched, and what they might find out about themselves in answering.3
People will often be curious about what topic is being researched, and what they might find out about themselves in answering. (Image: Personal DNA4) (View large version5)

The person might not be expecting to learn whether they’re a “benevolent inventor” or an ENFP6 by the end of the interview, but they might still find your questions interesting to consider.

Will the interviewees be shown something that others don’t have access to yet, like a new product or campaign? If so, bring that up quickly. It really boosts curiosity!

Furthermore, people might be flattered that you’re interested in their thoughts and opinion. Build on that! If there’s a reason you approached that person, share it. If you’re interviewing people about healthy food choices near a health food store and you stop someone who has just purchased something at the store, you could mention that their interest in health is one reason you approached them. Stick to obvious observations — you don’t want to come across as creepy!

Fostering Goodwill

Donating to a cause feels good, and volunteering time for research is no different. If your efforts are for a worthy result, like making texting easier for the elderly, share that benefit.

Another magic phrase? “I’m a student.” If you are, say so quickly to allay the person’s suspicion about your motive. Your effort on the path of learning will appeal to their goodwill.

If you’re not a student and your topic doesn’t sound particularly socially relevant, people might still be willing to help out if they connect with you. If you’re friendly and enthusiastic about the topic, then they’re more likely to say yes.

To keep the goodwill flowing, express your gratitude for their time and thoughts. Let them know before and after the interview that their time will have a great impact on the success of the research.

Offer Incentives

This one might seem the most obvious: You can increase the value of participation by offering an incentive. A $10 or $20 gift card from a popular vendor like Amazon or Starbucks can incline someone to accept a 15 to 30 minute interview. As the inconvenience to the participant increases, so should the incentive — whether that inconvenience is the length of the interview, the location or the time of day.

The incentive doesn’t have to be monetary. Be creative in what you offer. It could be access to a service that most people don’t have or a fun gadget that’s related to your topic (like a pedometer if the topic is health).

Offering an incentive can be useful, but don’t let it turn into a crutch. The point is to get comfortable with approaching people; associating a cost with that adds pressure that you don’t need. Learning to request participation without an incentive — and learning to increase the perceived value of participation without one — will take the cost out of the equation. Nevertheless, if you’re conducting formal research with a specific audience for a lengthy period of time, offering an incentive is definitely a best practice.

“I’m Afraid Of Rejection.”

Rejection is people’s number one fear when approaching strangers. Hearing no has always been difficult, whether it’s a polite no or an angry no followed by a rant. Either way, it stings. Your response to that sting, though, is what matters. How do you explain the rejection to yourself, and does your explanation help or hurt you?

Martin Seligman, one of the originators of positive psychology, conducted a study in the ’70s that gives insight into the types of mindsets that make people feel helpless. Seligman found that those who exhibit long-term “learned helplessness” tend to view negative events as being personal, pervasive and permanent. In other words, if a person is rejected, they might rationalize that the rejection is a result of their own failing, that everyone else is likely to reject them as well, and that they can do nothing to lessen the likelihood of rejection.

Your mindset is important.
Your mindset is important. (Image: Leathers Milligan7)

When you prepare to approach someone, consider instead that, if they say no, they aren’t really rejecting you, but rather rejecting your request. It’s not personal. Maybe they’re in the middle of something, or maybe they’re just not in the mood to talk. The rejection is fleeting, and the next person might be perfectly happy to participate.

Even knowing this, your first attempt will be the most difficult. Think of it like jumping into a pool: The initial shock is certain, but you’ll quickly get used to the water and will be swimming in no time!

Turn It Into a Game

When my brother was in college, he had a friend — let’s call him Bob — who had been single for a long time. Bob wanted to develop his ability to approach a woman and strike up a conversation, but he constantly froze up because of his fear of rejection.

One night at a lively bar, the two of them decided to make a game of it. If an approach led to a conversation — fantastic! He got 1 point. If the approach led to rejection, he still got 1 point for making the attempt. This turned failure into a small win and encouraged Bob to try and try again. The person with the most points at the end of the night won a free drink from the other. This shifted the focus and value onto the attempt, not the result.

Try this technique with someone who also wants to practice approaching people for research. Award a point for each approach, and reward the winner. Choose a prize that you both value but that doesn’t outweigh the good feeling of a successful approach. Not that you want to be turned down, but it helps to have a reward for plucking up the courage to try.

Variation: Football Rules

If you find the incentive to approach is still not enough, award a field goal (3 points) for every unsuccessful approach and a touchdown (7 points) for each successful one. Because interviews take time, the person who is trailing in points could pull ahead even if they’re mostly getting rejections.

“Only Extroverts Are Good At This.”

Google tells us that an introvert is “a shy, reticent and typically self-centered person.” Not a pretty picture! (An extrovert is defined as “an outgoing, overtly expressive person” — a more positive description, at least in the US).

Introversion has been erroneously associated with characteristics like being “bad with people” or being unsuccessful in approaching others.

In psychology, the field that gave us the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” (thanks to Carl Jung), the definitions are fairly different. The focus is on how people recharge their energy. Introverts tend to recharge by spending time with their own thoughts and feelings; extroverts recharge with external stimulation, such as time with friends or adventures in new destinations.

Jung stated that, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” We all fall somewhere along the continuum. It turns out that some of the most fantastic researchers out there fall almost in the middle (called “ambiverts”). They balance an extrovert’s drive to interact others with an introvert’s skill in observation and reflection.

Daniel Pink explores this in his book To Sell is Human, which summarizes a variety of studies that find no link between high extroversion and major success in sales. (Pink defines sales as “persuading, convincing and influencing others to give up something they’ve got in exchange for what we’ve got” — a broad definition that could include asking someone to give up their time to participate in research.)

There is no link between high extroversion and major success in sales.8
There is no link between high extroversion and major success in sales. (Large version9)

In fact, in the studies Pink cites, such as one by Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania, the highly extroverted — who tend to talk too much and listen too little — performed only slightly better than the highly introverted. Who did the best by far? The ambiverts, who balanced a drive to connect with an ability to observe and inspect.

Ambiverts are good sellers because they balance a drive to connect with an ability to observe and inspect.10
Ambiverts are good sellers because they balance a drive to connect with an ability to observe and inspect. (Large version11)

If you consider yourself an introvert, then you’re probably relieved to hear that you don’t have to swing to the other side of the scale to be successful in interviews. You can use your skill in observation to pay attention to the environment and identify people to approach. You might need to tap into your extroverted side to approach someone, but once the conversation begins, you can call on your skill in observing and listening intently. With practice, this introverted quality will become an important part of the process that leads to the payoff: generating important insights.

Let’s explore a few techniques to ease gently into the ambiversion zone, exercising your interviewing muscles!

Practice Playfully

Practice your requests with a friendly audience and in a comfortable location to make the experience more playful and less stressful. Learning and playing go together!

Set challenges for yourself that expand your skills but that don’t have serious consequences. Instead of waiting for an intense, highly visible project at work to make your first attempt at approaching people, give yourself a short interview challenge. Pick a friendly location and choose a topic of research that would be of interest to most interview candidates and whose results you would not formally present.

Can you think of a local restaurant or cafeteria? Try interviewing its employees about their experience with the lunchtime rush to identify ways to better manage lines (of course, wait until after the rush to approach them). Taking a taxi? Interview the cab driver about their use of technology and how it has changed in the last three years. Do this as though you were conducting research for a real project (for example, ask to interview them, rather than launching right into your questions).

Here are two introductions you can practice:

“Excuse me! I’m a student, and today I’m conducting research on ways to improve transportation information for commuters. Hearing about your experience would be really valuable. Do you have 10 minutes to answer some questions?”

“Hi! We’re conducting some research today. Would you like to be interviewed on your lunchtime eating habits? It’ll take about 10 minutes, and your thoughts will help us improve the availability of nutritional information.”

Make It Meaningful

Whether you’re interviewing for practice or for work, tap into the aspects of the topic that make it deeply meaningful and personal to you. Genuine enthusiasm for a topic is hard to fake and will override fear to a large extent.

Remember the high-school students who were so afraid of approaching people? The class ended up going through the research process a second time with different topics. Instead of being told to interview college students about financial planning, students picked their own topics, like helping other students complete their homework, eating healthier meals and handling peer pressure.

The class picked students to interview, a mixture of friends and strangers. Because they were passionate about the topics (and had practiced once already), the second round of requests was much easier.

Likewise, consider practicing with more than one round of interviews:

  • Round 1
    Choose a topic that you know will be of interest to the people you’re interviewing.
  • Round 2
    Choose a topic that you’re passionate about. (Try to be objective, though!)
  • Round 3
    Take on a challenge for a product or project with support from other team members. (See the section below, “Pair Up Personalities,” for an example.)

If you’re on a team that wants even more practice, you could take turns suggesting practice challenges for each other. The more you practice, the easier it gets — promise!

Pair Up Personalities

If you consider yourself an introvert, pair up with someone who considers themselves an extrovert, and play to each other’s strengths for the first few interviews.

Using your observational skill, you could identify candidates to interview, and the extrovert could approach the first three people.

After the first three or four approaches, take a break and share your techniques with each other. You could share your insight from observing the environment and suggest tips on which people in which location might be best to approach. The extrovert could share tips on conversation openers that seem to be working well. When you’re both comfortable, switch roles to exercise the other’s skills.

This method situates you as mentors to each other, bringing you both closer to the middle of the introversion-extroversion scale.

Go Face To Face

Now that you’ve learned some techniques to get started, don’t let another week go by without trying one of them out! A good first step? Think of topics that you’re passionate about, the ones that are intriguing enough to propel you forward. You’ll find that the skills you develop will give you confidence to pursue the answers you need, leading you to better experiences for yourself and others.


(cc, al, ml, il)


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The post Facing Your Fears: Approaching People For Research appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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Desktop Wallpaper Calendars: July 2014

June 30th, 2014 No comments
To the sea

We always try our best to challenge your artistic abilities and produce some interesting, beautiful and creative artwork. And as designers we usually turn to different sources of inspiration. As a matter of fact, we’ve discovered the best one—desktop wallpapers that are a little more distinctive than the usual crowd. This creativity mission has been going on for six years now1, and we are very thankful to all designers who have contributed and are still diligently contributing each month.

This post features free desktop wallpapers created by artists across the globe for July 2014. Both versions with a calendar and without a calendar can be downloaded for free. It’s time to freshen up your wallpaper!

Please note that:

  • All images can be clicked on and lead to the preview of the wallpaper,
  • You can feature your work in our magazine2 by taking part in our Desktop Wallpaper Calendars series. We are regularly looking for creative designers and artists to be featured on Smashing Magazine. Are you one of them?

To The Sea

“Vacation mode: ON :)” — Designed by Klavdija Balažic3 from Slovenia.


Sweet Season

“We have a fridge-freezer in our office for everyone to store their drinks. The freezer section in the fridge is empty for most of the year, but in July and August, it’s packed with ice cream bars and ice pops with owner’s name hand-written on each package.” — Designed by Hiroaki Sho46 from Japan.



“July is here and the swimsuit season is coming. Temperatures are raising and bodies are uncovering, showing irreverent tattoos.” — Designed by MONK Software87 from Italy.


The Adventure Is Calling

“July is the month when you go to the seaside. The sea has always been one of the greatest sources of inspiration for poets, musicians and writers. It makes you think about pirates and hidden treasure islands. The summer is here, so let the journey begin!” — Designed by Olga Bukhalova104 from Italy.

The Adventure is calling105

Endless Summer

Designed by WallpaperFX147 from Romania.

Endless Summer148

Cruising On Lounge Waves

“Designing in summer… Windows are open, smell of fresh air, lounge music playing, and you can easily imagine yourself somewhere on open sea, alone, with your design thoughts.” — Designed by Zarko Jovic178 from Serbia.

Cruising on Lounge Waves179

Chill Out

“I designed this to remind people who are enjoying the sunny days to chill out, stay hydrated and have fun this summer.” — Designed by Clifford Almeida272229 from Phoenix, AZ.

Chill Out230

Celebrating Our 238th Birthday!

“I designed this as a creative illustration celebrating our 238th birthday this 4th of July!” — Designed by Clifford Almeida272229 from Phoenix, AZ.

Celebrating Our 238 Birthday!273

A Rainy Summer

“The heavy rains due to the climate changes have affected thousands of people in my country, were crops have been destroyed and droughts affected many households; in place of the warm and welcoming months of summer. However, thinking of our situation while staring at the summer sky (depicted in the wallpaper) on one rare clear night, I remembered a line written by RJ Palacios in his book wonder: “[…] the universe makes it all even in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.” This wallpaper is a glimpse of hope to my fellow guatemalans: hang on. Brace yourselves for a rainy summer. The universe takes care in the end.” — Designed by Ann Fratti315 from Guatemala.

A rainy summer316

Splendor In The Hills!

“Hot July brings cooling showers in India. I wanted to be subtle in depicting the coolness of rains using shades of blue and symbolize the hot sun using the silhouette backdrop. The hills denote the view of the place I climb up every morning to see the sunrise. I wait for the day when the hills will turn this glacier blue and the temperature drops down to 15 deg celsius.” — Designed by Anushree Singh332 from India.

Splendor in the Hills!333

Summer Romance

“There’s something about summer that gets people in a romantic kind of mood!” — Designed by Clarise Frechette355 from Washington, DC.

Summer Romance356


“The beautiful butterflies in my garden this year and summer colours.” — Designed by Madison Zyluk398 from Canada.


Join In Next Month!

Please note that we respect and carefully consider the ideas and motivation behind each and every artist’s work. This is why we give all artists the full freedom to explore their creativity and express emotions and experience throughout their works. This is also why the themes of the wallpapers weren’t anyhow influenced by us, but rather designed from scratch by the artists themselves.

A big thank you to all designers for their participation. Join in next month421!

What’s Your Favorite?

What’s your favorite theme or wallpaper for this month? Please let us know in the comment section below.


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The post Desktop Wallpaper Calendars: July 2014 appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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25 Free HTML Resume Templates for Your Successful Online Job Application

June 30th, 2014 No comments

Are you dreaming about drawing attention to your persona, getting your job application noticed and bagging the desired job? Then first of all, you should take care of your resume. Though it helps to overcome only the first step towards building your brilliant career, no one would argue that this small piece of paper or a modern minimal one-page web resume is the one that creates the first impression. In the majority of cases it is this first impression that decides your fate. Thus, if you want to succeed, spend time and put in a great deal of effort in order to give your CV a professional, original and unique appearance. The online resources we dug up for you will be of massive help in these efforts…

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Work 3.0: Will Ziptask Disrupt the Outsourcing Market?

June 27th, 2014 No comments

The international outsourcing market is giant-sized, hundreds of billions of dollars strong. A numerous amount of web platforms aims to monetize that market. 99designs is one example, oDesk and Elance are others. You have probably tried to find work through one of these platforms yourself and I bet the experience was not exactly a walk in the park. Now look through the lense of a company that wants to hire four or five qualified freelance developers this way. Their problems are even bigger. Ziptask promises to care for both sides of the table. With their man-in-the-middle approach, getting project work and getting projects done grows much more likely and far more effective than any other method I know.

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How To Communicate Effectively In IT Projects

June 27th, 2014 No comments
The people involved may feel that their time is not being respected, which leads to frustration.

One of the most important factors in the success or failure of any IT project is communication. Communicating effectively can be quite difficult, especially when a project involves many people with different backgrounds, experience, skills, responsibilities and levels of authority. The problem compounds when the people involved belong to different organizations with different working guidelines.

Effective communication happens when a message is delivered whose content has the same meaning for the recipient as it does for the sender, thus inciting the desired action.

Why Communicate Effectively?

Consider a few scenarios. You will probably recall similar situations from your own experience.

  • A team leader has to keep an eye on the status of a project. All tasks are stored in an issue-tracking system. Unfortunately, the tasks haven’t been named very descriptively. For example, a bug in the contact form is described as “Something is wrong with the form,” and a need for a database backup is described as “Please help! URGENT!” The team leader would have to open each ticket every time to recall what it’s about. Of course, any sane person would change the descriptions immediately to “Contact form does not validate” and “Back up db0234@host1 database.”
  • A developer receives an email whose subject line reads “Just one question.” He can’t tell at a glance that the email is about a bug in the search engine and should be forwarded to his colleague. He has to spend time opening the email and digesting its contents in order to decide to forward the message.
  • A project manager organizes one or two hour-long meetings every week to discuss the progress of a project with the whole team. Each person speaks about their part for a few minutes and then sits bored for the rest of the meeting. From time to time, someone brings up a bigger issue that matters only to them and the project manager. In short, considering the hourly wages of the employees, a lot of money is being wasted on these counterproductive meetings.
  • A developer is trying to concentrate on a complicated problem but is constantly distracted by phone calls or by colleagues who walk in to ask about non-urgent matters.

As we can see, effective communication is critical. Without it, many problems arise: lost time (which means lost money), bad code, inefficient development, delays and products that don’t meet expectations. Ultimately, the reputation of the company and the client’s trust are at risk.

The people involved may feel that their time is not being respected, which leads to frustration. (Image credit1)

In this article, I will share some observations from an IT project I’ve been involved in for almost three years. As the development team leader, I work with about 30 people from different professions: developers, testers, administrators, designers, usability experts, project managers and people on the client’s side. Working in such an environment, I’ve identified the main obstacles to effective communication.

I’ve also been involved in devising techniques to overcome those obstacles. Most of the problems and countermeasures we’ll discuss apply to team environments, but freelancers might see value in them with their clients and partners.

Effective communication saves money, time and effort, and it happens when you do the following:

  • make a message’s subject easily identifiable (by “message,” I mean not only email, but any form of communication);
  • make a message’s content quickly understood;
  • be explicit in your message;
  • manage effectively;
  • involve only those resources (people, tools, etc.) that are needed to complete a task.

Proper communication leads to the following outcomes:

  • the pace of a project is sustained;
  • team leaders maintain control of the project’s progress;
  • people with different responsibilities and levels of involvement are better engaged in the project;
  • people feel their time is respected and well used.

Effective communication in IT projects can be encapsulated by three words: explicitness, traceability and readability.


Email is the primary means of internal and external communication at most companies. Surprisingly, many people still don’t know how to use it properly.

The subject line is the first thing that a recipient notices. It should be brief and should explain the contents of the email. The recipient might want to refer to the correspondence in future, perhaps weeks or months later. Therefore, the subject line should clearly identify the project (including the customer, depending on the organization) and the subject matter.

Of course, not every subject fits neatly into a project — in such cases, take extra care to make the subject line clear. Consider that, while you might be working on only one project for a given customer and “ACME Corp: new images” sounds like a good subject line to you, your coworkers in the marketing department might be working on many projects for the same customer, all of which involve “new images.”

Here are some examples of good subject lines:

  • ACME Corp. | HR Portal | draft of functional documentation, v. 0.1
  • ACME product page — questions after the meeting with marketing dept. on March 5th
  • Please, send your report — deadline: March 10th

Nicknames for clients and projects and the separator symbol should be agreed on by everyone involved in the project, because they enable recipients to sort their inbox according to filtering rules (especially for managers, who get hundreds of emails an hour).

Here are some real-life examples of bad subject lines:

  • ACME
  • Question
  • Request
  • New images
  • We’re going for lunch at 1 pm

That last one is from a follow-up email that contained important documentation — true story!

A clear subject line quickly tells the recipient the contents of the message and whether they need to respond in any way. For this reason, avoid changing the topic of conversation during an email thread (“BTW, about that other thing, did you…” is a dead giveaway). Either change the subject line or send a separate email.

The “To” and “Cc” fields are useful ways to indicate who is the addressee of a message and who just needs to be informed without taking any action. By default, the person in the “To” field should read and probably respond, while the person in the “Cc” field would do enough to just read the message. Many managers want to stay informed on matters that they are not directly responsible for, and they’ll configure their filtering rules accordingly, browsing those messages from time to time. Don’t “Cc” someone if you expect a prompt response.

One last rule, perhaps a lifesaver, is to do everything in writing. People tend to forget about arrangements made by phone or in meetings. Perhaps a form of communication other than email would be appropriate in these situations. We’ll discuss that next.

After a call or meeting, write everything down and send it to everyone involved. This way, you won't miss anything.
After a call or meeting, write everything down and send it to everyone involved. This way, you won’t miss anything. (Image credit2)


When you’re managing — whether it’s one large project or many small projects — compile all issues in one place to enable all team members to track their progress and know what needs to be done. Many teams make the mistake of assigning tasks and documenting important details in email. That might be easy to track when you have only one or two tasks to complete. In all other cases, it is the road to failure.

Issue-tracking systems — including Redmine3, Mantis BT4, Bugzilla5, Jira6 and many more7 — enable clients, developers and managers to work together in well-structured process. Every issue — be it a bug report, feature request or question — becomes easy to track, with information about the person responsible, a full history and often even time-tracking and deadline reminders.

Every company employs a workflow that make sense for its business. Still, some rules apply to all situations, and here are ones that I’ve laid down after analyzing thousands of issues over the last few years:

  • Title each issue as descriptively as possible. Remember that most people — whether developers, project managers or testers — deal with dozens of issues every day. They should get at least some sense of an issue’s subject from its title. Thus, avoid titles like “Something’s wrong” or “A typo.” Rather, use self-explanatory titles, like “API throws NullPointerException when no attributes provided” or “Typo in the telephone number on contact page.” Issues with such titles will be processed more quickly because they are easier to manage.
  • Use attributes accordingly. Many trackers let you set special attributes on each issue, such as status, priority and category. Use them! The issues will be easier to sort, delegate and review.
  • Most trackers allow you to set relationships between issues. For example, you could mark an issue as being blocked by another issue or being a duplicate or just being similar. Relationships make it easier to assign tasks and find solutions.
  • Write about only one thing per issue. For example, if you find many bugs in an application, treat every bug as a separate issue. This way, tasks can be assigned to different people, who can work on them simultaneously. Different issues demand different people: designers, front-end coders, programmers, etc. When everything is in one task, managing and completing it takes much longer.
  • Provide as much information as possible. Link to the buggy web page; write all of the steps needed to replicate an issue; attach screenshots. I worked with someone who attached a Word document with a few words and screenshots, titling the issue “Everything is in the attachment” — a big no-no.
  • Write down in the comments section everything that happens with an issue. If someone explains something to you by phone or if a task is changed, document it. Don’t write, “We spoke about that issue on the phone, so now you know what the problem is.” Imagine that another developer will be assigned to this task in future and that anything not written down will be lost. Keep your project’s bus factor8 as high as possible.

To sum up, keep everything in the issue tracker. Give each task its own issue. And describe the issue as best you can.


Some people consider meetings to be a corporate nightmare. Many hours are wasted every week on meetings that contain no content and that don’t end with any useful decisions. “Status meetings” are the most popular kind of this: A dozen or so people gather to talk about different, often unrelated, projects. In fact, most of them are bored and not paying attention, waking up only when they need to talk for a few minutes about their situation.

A better way to stay in touch with team members is to speak with them frequently in person. When a team is working on a project, organize short morning meetings (5 to 15 minutes), like the “stand-up meetings” popular in agile development. This way, every member of the team will always know the status of the project. One member (usually the leader) could report to the boss, freeing up everyone else. Another good way to collect information about the status of a project is daily one-on-one communication. This will take up some time of the team leader, but it yields great results and saves time overall.

If you really do need a meeting with certain people, follow these practices:

  • Prepare an agenda. This way, invitees can prepare themselves for the meeting and — if necessary — submit their opinion, send someone else to fill in or just avoid the meeting if their attendance is unnecessary.
  • Stick to the agenda. Moderate the discussion and discourage talk of things that could be handled by a smaller group.
  • Don’t make decisions “together” — that won’t work. Instead, the small team that is responsible for a task should propose a solution, which should be discussed briefly and then decided on by the person in charge.

One last remark about meetings. Many people in IT do work that is creative in nature. Programmers, for instance, need time to build their concentration, and breaking this process is very destructive. Not all questions need to be answered immediately in person or by phone; some could be sent by email or instant messaging, thus protecting the creative process.

Other Guidelines

Let’s move on to guidelines that are useful not just in IT projects, but in life in general.

Having a common vocabulary with others is essential to communication, in both professional and personal life. This means using the same names for activities, projects, customers and so on. Misunderstandings arise when two people are talking about the same thing but don’t understand each other because they are using different terminology. Formally establishing a common vocabulary using a tool such as a wiki or whiteboard would be useful.

Managing the knowledge that is generated in a project is important, too. Documentation often gets outdated because no one cares to update it when the project’s requirements change. Important decisions and guidelines are lost in email and other communication. This often leads to misunderstanding or, worse, conflict with the client. Therefore, confirm every new version of documentation with everyone involved. When updating the issue-tracking system, remember to record details of phone conversations and email, noting who took what action or made which decision or provided what information. In short, log of every action and piece of information regarding an issue.

When working on a complicated project, I often find it useful to post important tasks on colorful sticky notes on a whiteboard (in addition to the issue-tracking system). Some are marked “waiting,” others “in progress,” yet others “done.” The color of the magnet affixed to each note indicates which team member is assigned to the task. People tend to ignore email notifications from issue-tracking systems; marking a task as complete on a whiteboard requires someone to stand up and reposition the note. Everybody can see the status of tasks and the progress of the project at a glance, which is the big advantage of this method. I also tend to write down other essential information, such as the time when the production environment was last updated or the number of bugs left to be resolved, broken down by team member.

Sticky notes on a whiteboard; such dashboards are a great place for daily stand-up meetings, too.
Sticky notes on a whiteboard; such dashboards are a great place for daily stand-up meetings, too. (Image credit9)

If you develop software, then you probably use tools to manage your source code, such as Git, Mercurial or SVN. To facilitate your team’s work, implement some sort of workflow such as a branching model. Remember also to describe your commits informatively.

How To Introduce These Strategies

Forcing everyone to work according to specified rules is hard. Some people are reluctant because they feel that crafting their message more carefully would take a lot of time. Others don’t see the benefit or are just unable to formulate concise thoughts.

I suggest two ways of working with such people. First, show them that the amount of work necessary to better communicate is much smaller than the time wasted otherwise. For example, if a ticket in the issue-tracking system has a meaningless subject line and its contents are hard to process, then the time wasted will accumulate with every person who needs to work on it. A simple countermeasure is to invest a few minutes to prepare the issue better, so that time is not wasted afterwards. Other ways to enforce the rules are by implementing validation mechanisms (for example, in the issue-tracker) or by rejecting communication that doesn’t conform to the standard. It might sound brutal, but it’s effective.


The rules of communication can be summarized in a few points:

  • Communicate clearly. Load the most important information at the beginning of your message (in the subject line, title and first sentence). Learn how to encapsulate a message in one sentence.
  • Involve only the people who are necessary to move something forward. Don’t waste anyone else’s time.
  • Keep everything in writing and easy to access.
  • Read everything you write to make sure it’s easy to understand.
  • Break down big problems into small tasks that are easy to digest.

I hope you find these insights useful to your work. If you have any thoughts, please share them in the comments section below, or catch me on Twitter10.

(al, il)

Front page image credits: Jon Ashcroft11


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The post How To Communicate Effectively In IT Projects appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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A Better Way To Request App Ratings

June 26th, 2014 No comments
ideal ratings-500
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Ten Golden Rules for Choosing the Right Website Images

June 26th, 2014 No comments

Images are the single most critical design element designers implement on their website. Yes, even in a world of web design that swears by design minimalism and flat web design, images still play a very important role in determining the success or failure of a site. To put it simply, you cannot afford to go wrong with them. A perfect image selection strategy can help you differentiate your website from its competition.

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InVision: Design Prototyping and Collaboration Made Easy (Free for Three Winners)

June 25th, 2014 No comments

This tool is able to do wonders to your design process. No longer do you need to shift around versions of your creative work by mail, hoping things won’t get messed up after the fifth back and forth (knowing they definitely will). You can simply create design mockups with your favorite image editor, then make them work interactively using InVision. Discuss the designs online, open and close tasks, even chat or talk with your collaborators, clients, basically any stakeholder involved with the given project – in real-time. And here at Noupe, you can not only get to know this productivity booster, but also win yourself a one-year professional plan, saving 264 dollars that way. Read on…

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How To Speed Up Your WordPress Website

June 25th, 2014 No comments
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Call to Action: 40 of the Best Button Tutorials the Web Has to Offer

June 25th, 2014 No comments

A button is a small, but very important design element. Besides providing the overall functionality of any given website, buttons are often meant to spread a call to action. Equipped with this crucial task, buttons need to be visible and self-explanatory, no matter what. We have curated 40 of the best button tutorials the world-wide web has to offer to help your buttons achieve their goals. You’ll find trendy minimalistic specimen as well as elegant or playful examples. Add your own creativity and you’ll build that guarantor of success in no time.

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