Victor Leung
Victor Leung
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The importance of communication as a software developer

February 09, 2021

Let me explain why software developers need to be good communicators. Although it may appear self-evident, it will have a significant impact on your career. I know this because I've been there and learned the hard way. As a team leader, your communication skills will come in handy throughout your job interview, progress, and appraisal. You don't want to put yourself at a competitive disadvantage in your job, and there are a few other situations where good communication skills are required:

How to do a good demo? When designing and building a product, you must regularly demo completed work with the team and key stakeholders. In Agile software development, so-called sprint demos are a key part of every iteration. Still, demos can be incredibly valuable whatever product you’re building, be it an app, a website (or even a physical product). Well-run product demos can improve cross-team collaboration, build trust with stakeholders, boost team morale, and enable the team to respond to change and feedback. Every product team can run great demos, no matter what the product. While it presents slightly more of a challenge than for apps and web pages, APIs and back-end services can also be demo effectively. We help organisations build products and services to respond to accelerating change in their industries. We work in cross-functional teams and with client product owners, engineers and designers. Regular product demos are an important part of how our teams communicate, celebrate progress, and deliver value quickly.

In this chapter, I’ve gathered some key learnings on why demos are important and tips and insights on running great demos. Demos Help us to Build Better Products - Regularly demoing working functionality to stakeholders provides a short feedback loop that enables teams to respond quickly to change and course-correct where necessary to ensure they’re building the right thing. In a waterfall environment, a team could spend months or even years making something that the business envisages. Regular demos also provide an opportunity to join the dots between wider teams on bigger programmes of work, surfacing dependencies or duplication of effort early on and highlighting collaboration opportunities.

We run a fortnightly team demo on my current project where each team shares what they’ve been working on. Often these sessions have resulted in cross-team discussions on an issue we hadn’t even considered, allowing us to quickly mitigate or even resolve it before it becomes a blocker. In addition to getting feedback on the product, you can also get feedback on the demo itself. You cannot be afraid to inspect and adapt your demo format to ensure that both your team and your stakeholders are getting the most out of it. Demos Improve Stakeholder Relationships - As technology partners, our clients are our main stakeholders. However, in-house development teams also have stakeholders – the term encompasses anyone interested in a product. By engaging them in the process of developing a product, demos can build trust with stakeholders. They can see regular progress and the incremental delivery of valuable working software.

A good product demo can highlight particular successes or achievements, such as solving a tricky technical challenge, further boosting team confidence. On the flip side, they can also be a forum for raising particular challenges the team might face – allowing for greater visibility.

Demos Help to Develop Teams - Demos can boost team morale by allowing teams to showcase their work and for team members to develop presentation skills and interact more closely with stakeholders. We believe that presentation skills are incredibly important, and often developers don’t get the chance to present in this way, particularly in the early stages of their careers. Running demos is a great opportunity for team members to develop and hone their skills. Anyone on a product team can run a demo, from developers and testers to product owners and designers. We recently started a rota where the group takes turns running the fortnightly demo on my current team. For some team members, this was the first time they had ever run a demo, and they have supported each other in prepping the demo and boosting each other’s confidence to present in front of an audience.

Some Tips for Running Great Product Demos - If you’ve decided to run your first demo, or if you’ve run them before but are looking to make the most out of them, I’ve collated some of top tips for running great product demos.

Always Zoom out - This is one of our principles. Not everyone will have the same context that you do. Make sure to set the scene, remind the room what epic you’ve been working on, what’s new since the last demo? Present with the user’s perspective in mind – what’s the benefit to this feature? Tell a Story - Storytelling is a good way to keep audiences engaged. As well as showing off the new functionality since the last demo, add your reflections. Were there any particular challenges you overcame when developing? What did you learn? What are you proud of?

Go Slow and Keep it Simple - When showing off new features, go at literally half the speed you think you need to. Talk through every step (including what you’re tapping or clicking on). Pause when you get to screens that are new or which you’ve recently built. Remember that while you know the feature back-to-front, the audience doesn’t.

People in the audience may not be technical, so avoid technical jargon and stick to straightforward, plain English wherever possible. Take time beforehand to think through how you can simplify any complicated concepts for the audience. Put in the Prep Time - Have a clear plan for what you’re going to demo ahead of time, preferably with a script you can walkthrough. I would always recommend rehearsing a demo in advance to ensure it flows smoothly and is comfortable presenting for people new to demos.

Finally, get set up in advance, ensure you plugged in your phone/device on-screen and ready to go before the audience arrive so that they are engaged right from the start. Set-up and screen switching saps energy from the demo, and audience attention starts to wander, particularly for senior stakeholders who are often time-poor. We book the room for at least 15 minutes on our project before the demo begins to give us time to set up.

In summary – every team can run great product demos, and anyone on a team can get involved! With the finest of intentions, speak. Speak out loud and clear. Don't try to make something up if you don't understand it. Don't waste other people's time by talking about things that everyone already knows. You'd rather speak up because you believe something is remarkable. You ask inquiries because you are interested in learning the answer. By sharing your point of view and encouraging others to think about it, you add value to the conversation. Maintaining a positive attitude gives you confidence when speaking, which is particularly crucial if you are a shy introvert. Consider conversing with a single friend. I know how it feels to speak in front of a large group of people. You're worried that you'll say something stupid and make a fool of yourself. You're terrified of being judged by strangers and attempting to impress them all the time. If you try too hard, you might come across as a pity. Instead, assume you're having a casual conversation with a friend. It feels good to share your expertise with someone you know well. Lectures are tedious because the instructor only communicates with the students in one direction. Conversations, on the other hand, are more natural when they include questions and responses. Engage your companion by asking questions, pausing, and responding to their questions. Listen to what the audience has to say and arrange what you're trying to communicate well.

Slow down and take a deep breath. You're worried about forgetting important points that you've spent a long time preparing for the speech. However, the truth is that how you communicate is more important than what you say. What you said is going to be forgotten. They are frequently distracted by their phones and may even fall asleep while you are speaking to them. If you talk too quickly, they won't be able to keep up with you. This way is especially true if English is not your first language and your accents are noticeable. Because you're attempting to find the appropriate word to explain what you mean, you're probably thinking faster in your first language than you are in your second. Furthermore, speaking at a slower speed will make you sound more confident.

For me, these suggestions have proven to be successful. I hope it also works for you. Next time, try to speak with good intentions and slow down and breathe as if you were talking to a single friend rather than a vast crowd. Let me know what you think, and perhaps we can collaborate now that you have a better knowledge of communication.

About Victor Leung

Software development professional with expertise in application architecture, cloud solutions deployment, and financial products development. Possess a Master's degree in Computer Science and an MBA in Finance. Highly skilled in AWS (Certified Solutions Architect, Developer and SysOps Administrator), GCP (Professional Cloud Architect), Microsoft Azure, Kubernetes(CKA, CKAD, CKS, KCNA), and Scrum(PSM, PSPO) methodologies.

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