Thursday, March 11, 2010

Abbott and Costello on team communication

I was talking with a colleague recently about the February UX Group meeting on guerrilla usability, and how one of my strategies has always been to try to work closely with developers and understand their concerns. She reminded me of a meeting that I had once called to reinforce the strong connection between a UX team and a development team.

When I worked at Platform Computing the user experience team had a pretty good relationship with various development teams. Nevertheless, issues occasionally arose where it wasn’t at all clear what the nature of the problem was, and further discussion only muddied the water. When that happened, one of the UX team would smile and interject with the apparent non sequitur “third base”. It was a bit of shorthand we used for a situation where communication just isn’t happening and folks are getting frustrated. Sometimes communication problems can make it seem like people or teams aren’t aligned, when really they’re just misunderstanding each other. Explanations to the developers as to what we meant by “third base”, though, weren’t any clearer!

I decided to share more clearly the source of the “third base” comment with the development team that we worked with most often. I called a meeting with our two teams and showed a video clip of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s famous Who’s On First comedy routine. (Here’s a version of it on YouTube.) None of the development team members had seen it previously, probably because the routine is many decades old and that whole team was made up of Chinese-Canadians who hadn’t been exposed to that corner of American culture. As it turns out, they all loved it, and remarked that the kind of wordplay on display has parallels in Chinese comedy. Watching the video together reminded us all that mis-communication is natural, and that we can work to overcome it while having fun building products together.

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