Scaling Communication

December 3, 2013

This week, I was given a prompt asking “How do you communicate.” My first instinct was, “poorly.” Okay, that’s not strictly true. It’s more like, “obliquely.” I’m more comfortable with analogies than straight up saying, “it depends.”

Don’t worry. I’m still going to tell you how to scale communication.

Two kids sat down to play. The rug underneath them was a city-map play rug and they had both brought their favorite cars to play. The first child drove the car back and forth between a house and the hospital. The second child drove the other car in a loop around the park. The only sound was the occasional motor noise or screech as a car turned too sharply.

This is a phenomena called parallel play. One of the enablers of parallel play is a well defined boundary. Once two cars get near enough that they influence each other’s movements, play becomes either cooperative or associative.

Two children sit on the same rug. Same cars. But one builds a ramp from blocks. The other child sees the ramp and builds a wall adjacent and says, “This where the bad guys are.” Cars jump the wall and the bad guys are caught. Until…

Two children sit on a rug, the cars forgotten. What started as a ramp soon led to a gate. In a wall. With a tower at one end. Then came the slow inexorable march of the army men. Some manned the parapets and attempted to defend the villagers inside. Others spanned the mote with Lincoln Logs and raised ladders for the assault. The two kids act out giving orders. Each time they act against the boundaries of the other child a response is given, either as an action or as a play command. They make declarations about what they are doing and evolve the play area with each other.

How do you scale communication? You recognize that communication needs to happen where two peoples actions intersect. For example, when an API changes. If we are working on the same class, every change is an API change. If we are decoupled and our actions don’t intersect with our teammates, we don’t need to communicate. But that means we have communicated some how when we clearly set our boundaries.

Basically, “it depends”.