Are your updates proactive? Stop being a passive communicator

25 Nov 2020

Companies need to keep their finger on the pulse of progress in their IT projects. This happens best when teams communicate proactively. Are your updates proactive enough? If not, what can you do to stop being a passive communicator?

‘Tell me what you want, then leave me alone while I build it for you.’

Wouldn’t it be great if this actually happened? How much easier would your software development job be if you could focus on the work? Wouldn’t it be nice to spend less time giving status updates or attending meetings?

We live in a world with a need for visibility on progress at all stages of IT projects. Gone are the days where business teams provide requirements and the tech teams go away, work for six months and deliver a solution. And it’s a good thing too. Those early requirements are usually incomplete, inaccurate and change multiple times throughout the course of a project.

Despite the weekly status meetings and other communication methods to keep tabs on work, there is still a gap in the communication between business and technical teams.

Technical teams tend to be passive communicators

Do you work in IT? Are you a passive communicator?

I’m sure you provide updates at scheduled times and when requested, but do you communicate outside these pre-defined methods? If there is an issue, a risk, or a change, do you wait for the scheduled weekly update? Or, do you contact the stakeholders as soon as you know there is a problem?

Most IT teams wait for scheduled update sessions to report problems. After all, that is the designated time each week where updates should be given. Right?


From a business stakeholder perspective, this is passive communication. They often feel they only get information when they ask for it. When this delayed communication relates to bad news it can look like the information was hidden.

Break this cycle. Be a good communicator. Share news when you have it, whether it is good or bad news. When you start a task, let your stakeholders know when you’ve started. If you plan to spend 10 days working on something, give an update after three or four days whether you are on track or not. Either way, the news will be welcome to your stakeholders and you will build a better relationship with them.

How do you like to get updates in your own life?

Think about it this way: if you have construction done on your house, how would you feel if the builders called you on the last day and told you they needed two more weeks? I know I’d be annoyed!

What if they called you as soon as they knew there would be a delay?

In reality, you would probably check on the progress throughout the project. But even in that case, proactive communication about issues is much better than you find out when you go to check.

The same is true for the work you do. Be proactive and your customer (the business) will have a much better impression of you.

This works for good news messages, too

What is surprising is the same is true for good news messages. If a team delivers ahead of schedule or under budget, the message is only communicated at the scheduled touchpoints. Early or under-budget deliveries are not as common as everyone would like. Let’s not miss opportunities to highlight and celebrate when they happen!

How often is proactive enough?

The frequency of updates will depend on the work you are doing, the timeframes involved and the business needs. If you are fixing a critical issue impacting thousands of people and stopping the business from serving its customers, you might need to give updates every few hours. If, on the other hand, you are building something for a long-term project, you might only need to be proactive about communicating when important things happen between the scheduled status updates.

Each situation is different and has a different answer to how can you stop being a passive communicator? Now, I expect a few of you reading this are thinking ‘That’s great, but I need more specific guidance for when to provide updates’. If you aren’t sure how often to give an update, or you are worried about giving too many updates, here are some guidelines:

  • Over-communicating is better than under-communicating. People will tell you if you give too many status updates, but they will rarely complain about being kept up to date.
  • Status updates can be short. Something as simple as ‘Things are still on track’. Can be good enough. Of course, if there is an issue you need to provide more information about that. But be careful not to give too much detail. Updates should be short and stick to the things business teams care about.
  • If something happens that will, probably will, or might change a deadline, be proactive about communicating it.

As you go to work today, think about the status of whatever you are working on. Has anything changed since the last scheduled status update? If yes, send a quick note, an instant message, or pick up the phone. Stop being a passive communicator. Let your key stakeholders know what is happening, whether it is good or bad news.

After all, regular, proactive updates make you a better communicator.