IM is your friend

Running a project with a customer in the UK and development split between China and India is, as you can imagine, full of challenge.

The biggest problem we could have faced was the communication bottleneck. In the first week of the project, India was only really speaking to the three people who’ve come to Xi’an from Bangalore, and to me because a few people there know me. (Bangalore have been working on this for a bit longer than Xi’an). This meant that we were continually passing on messages, trying to find information and not doing any of the enablement or mentoring that we needed to.

We did a number of things to solve this problem.

1) It’s a lot easier to talk to someone casually and ping them out of the blue when you know what they look like. We have uploaded photos of both teams, and installed video conferencing and a few webcams.

2) We all signed onto Yahoo IM; the de facto communication tool of Thoughtworkers everywhere.

3) Some of us signed onto Skype. The connection to India is really good!

But we still had another problem, in that no one in either office knew who was doing what. Do you just pick someone randomly to ask? Or do we all broadcast everything we’re doing? The idea of forty emails flying back and forth every day is quite scary, especially for those of us whose connection to our Lotus Notes server goes through a dozen countries and as many time zones.

So here’s our solution, proposed by Helen, who did this successfully on her previous project. Everyone sets their Yahoo Status message to show what they’re doing.

(Names changed to protect the guilty.)

It’s very quick and easy to see if anyone is working on something you’re interested in, looking at that broken build, in a meeting, fixing a bug. Anyone can talk to anyone else on the list, and get the names of newcomers from anyone else – and just as quick to start talking to them!

Bottleneck? What bottleneck?

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2 Responses to IM is your friend

  1. anonymous says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I have been applying this too. It is easy and quick, exactly how you wrote. I wrote about others communications way in the

    – Marcelo

  2. nissepelle says:


    People need to use a client that supports the “status” field – both editing it and showing it (preferably without hovering).

    In my immediate surrounding team, I have people using the Yahoo client, Gaim, Trillian and Exodus (a jabber client using a Yahoo jabber gateway). Of these

    – Yahoo supports the setup fully
    – Trillian only shows the message on hover
    – Gaim only shows the message on hover, and only allows for “away” messages.
    – Exodus (or probably the Yahoo gateway) doesn’t “correctly” interpret the status messages from Yahoo.


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