Pitfalls of Engineering Communication That Lead to Technical Debt - Part 2
May 29, 2024

Thomas Johnson
Multiplayer

Regardless of whether an engineering team is colocated, remote, or hybrid, they are susceptible to the same communication pitfalls. These pitfalls stem from inherent human and group dynamics and they can lead to miscommunication, backtracking, and misunderstandings.

Consequently, these issues often result in technical debt, manifesting as subpar architectural choices, inconsistent solutions, missing documentation, complex dependencies, and many other challenges.

Start with: Pitfalls of Engineering Communication That Lead to Technical Debt - Part 1

Effective Knowledge Sharing Strategies

Software engineering is an inherently social practice; after all it requires integrating all the work into a shared code base and assuming collective responsibility for architectural decisions made during the design phase. In this context, effective knowledge transfer and documentation practices are crucial in mitigating technical debt and enhancing team performance.

Without structured knowledge sharing, cycles of tacit and tribal knowledge perpetuate. Documentation often becomes an afterthought — frequently outdated, incorrect, or missing vital information. Consequently, new hires, unable to rely on existing documentation, must depend on the direct support of the team and in learning-by-doing, contributing further to the accumulation of tacit and tribal knowledge.

Breaking this cycle requires a systematic approach to documentation, capturing as much relevant information as possible, particularly on recurrent issues or critical system aspects. Properly invested time in documenting team and system knowledge pays dividends in faster onboarding, quicker feature implementations, and safer system refactoring.

Over the years, engineering teams have experimented with various documentation strategies — from developers writing their own documentation to integrating technical writers into teams or making documentation a mandatory step in the development cycle. Yet, tasks like "Write/Update Documentation" often end up deprioritized in the backlog.

The ideal solution combines multiple approaches:

Internal Processes: Implement consistent practices for discussing and documenting technical decisions, such as continuous system design reviews. This preserves institutional knowledge across all system aspects and teams, contributing to the longevity and stability of projects.

Centralized Knowledge Base: Consolidate all essential assets in a single, readily accessible location. A unified knowledge base streamlines workflows, reduces context switching, and accelerates decision-making.

Automated Tools: Utilize tools that automatically capture and store institutional knowledge, minimizing the need for manual updates (there’s a plethora of innovative options, especially with new advancements in AI). Opt for tools that support visual, real-time, and asynchronous collaboration to accommodate diverse schedules and facilitate thoughtful communication, while also enabling synchronous interactions when necessary.

Accurate documentation practices significantly impact an organization. For example, in large organizations, where multiple teams may work on various components of a distributed system, well-documented architecture ensures consistency, reduces risk of error, and aids in compliance with industry standards, regulatory requirements, and internal best practices.

By prioritizing effective knowledge sharing strategies, you empower your team to focus on innovation and productivity, maintaining project momentum rather than losing time to inefficient tool navigation and exhausting context switches.

Thomas Johnson is Co-Founder and CTO at Multiplayer
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