Asynchronous information sharing models
As we strive to bring a sense of cohesion in the tools we use for our projects we are quickly recognizing that our methods for communication need improvement. Traditionally we have used synchronous communications such as teams meeting in IRC or e-mail conversations. When we communicate synchronously one party presents information and the other party responds. This method works great when there are only a handful of people involved because everyone has nearly all of the information on what’s going on. As projects grow, so do the requirements for improved methods of communication.
Need for asynchronous sharing
Quite often a project will self-constrain itself because tools aren’t in place to disseminate information to a team larger than a handful of people. People who want to help end up without the information they need to be able to assist, and the project manager ends up carrying the burden of keeping everyone in the loop.
Using synchronous communication we see that issues arise when we have meetings and not all needed parties can be present, often information from project leaders doesn’t reach the entire team, and when one person works on bugs or coding the rest of the team doesn’t know what the other members of the team are doing. It works, but it’s not very efficient. Work gets duplicated, people get frustrated, and it’s hard to make changes to the project plan and keep the workflow moving. At a recent LDSTech Service Day, project managers said that poor communication ended up being a major problem for their projects. This is where I think asynchronous communication methods can come into play.
Examples of asynchronous communication methods are blogs, forums, twitter, change logs, wiki’s, and groupware messaging systems. When coupled with proper project management and adoption from the users, a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous communications can be used to keep the entire team up to date, to enable users to find information pertinent to their work quickly, and to increase overall efficiency.
As we build a simple mixed mode communication platform we can aim for the following objectives:
- Clear goals and strategies from project managers
- Project status updates
- Pertinent logs from IRC meetings
- Centralized area for communicating
- People who want to do work on the project can clearly see where they can help
It would be fantastic if we could standardize on the tools we use and the methods for using them. I have personally use Dropbox, OneNote, SharePoint, Wiki, WordPress Blogs, and Twitter for project management and information dissemination. LDSTech is already using several Asynchronous Communication tools; JIRA, IRC, Dropbox, and E-mail are some of the most highly used.
JIRA is a development tool which helps your team track, prioritize, and guide its work. It’s a very feature rich platform and includes tools such as issue tracking, status updates, the ability to watch issues, and logging for changes. Jira is a support ticket system combined with a forum and is a perfect example of an Asynchronous Communications tool.
Jira works with several concepts in mind, the first of which is Issue tracking. Examples of issues are software bugs, project tasks, or helpdesk tickets. One of the most useful features in the issues pane is the comment function, it’s the primary mode of Asynchronous collaboration for the issue and a user can simply read the threaded comments and be completely informed of the status of the issue at hand.
The second concept behind Jira is that of a project. A project is a collection of issues categorized and tailored to a workflow. Examples would be a software development project, a helpdesk system, or a website enhancement request system. Issues are collected as components within a project and consist of things such as documentation, subsystems, or code repositories. A single issue can belong to multiple projects.
The third concept is that of workflow. Workflow is the movement or transition of an issue through the various stages of its lifecycle. An example would be an issue related to a software bug. A case is opened in Jira and progress is tracked until the case is closed and then finally archived.
One of the greatest challenges in software development is knowing what you have done in the past. This is where Jira shows its true power. Through making good use of the tool we can research previous versions, changes, and issues along with the discussion behind them.
IRC is used to hold meetings and to collaborate. As it related to this topic, being able to read through your history in IRC or read a posted log file is Asynchronous Communication. IRC is a text based communication tool where you enter a chat room with a fellow.
E-Mail is something most of us are familiar with. It’s a great way to keep a searchable timeline of events, it’s a tool that can reach out to persons when they are away from their desks, and it’s most certainly Asynchronous. E-mail works in conjunction with a lot of other tools that you use. Project Managers e-mail you, teams collaborate, and status updates are received from JIRA.
Here at LDSTech we are working with volunteers from around the world therefore things don’t operate on a 9-5 schedule. It is critically important that we capitalize on any opportunity we have to increase our quality and quantity of work.It’s my opinion increasing communication standardization between projects and adding more asynchronous methods of communication will be of great benefit for the future.