Ari Heljakka is CSO of Dream Broker, the development lead of ScreenMail, and a former key contributor in OpenCog. You can connect with him on Twitter.

In projects where all parties are not continuously communicating, misunderstanding what you are supposed to do can be costly. Even small misinterpretations of a required feature can lead to wrong things being implemented, wasting days or even weeks of work before the error will be found out and corrected (if it will, that is).

Fighting the Most Costly Misunderstandings

How does one specify tasks in a way that minimizes misunderstandings? You have 3 factors to improve upon: the amount, the quality, and the method of communication. The last one provides us with the greatest leverage.

While data structures, APIs and architectures can be precisely communicated with text and images, the challenge is far greater for describing functionalities, relationships, and the interplay between the code, user interface, processes and outcomes.

This pertains to all kinds of remote communication, starting from the requirements analysis and specifications, and continuing with design, implementation and testing. The greatest impact comes from the beginning of the process – the requirements and specifications.

Screen Recording Changes the Game

Screen recording is a powerful tool for these purposes, enabling the use of instantly created video to supplement your text descriptions. You can start the screen recorder, show the task on the screen while explaining it into the microphone, end the recording and add the video to the rest of the documentation.

While screen recording videos (or screencasts) have been used for demos for a long time, their use in regular development has so far remained rather marginal, probably because the old video tools have been difficult to integrate to collaboration and ticketing systems.

The new cloud-based video tools will change this, and finally make it feasible to use video as a part of the regular development workflow.

Fine, But Can I Really Do It?

Recording the specifications from your screen is a lot simpler than it sounds. It works exactly as it would if you were explaining the specifications to someone sitting next to you. The key point is that <i>There is nothing special about the use of video</i>. You do not have to sound like a Hollywood star. With screen recording, your face is not visible either. You don’t have to create perfect recordings, you are allowed to take your time to find the right words, you may make mistakes and then correct them in the same video, etc. The important thing is to just to get the message through. Be clear, be brief, and make sure that your video does not show confidential things to a wrong audience.

I will provide you with 2 examples. The first one is being used to describe just a single UI skeleton, giving the idea of how the new UI would look. This video lasts 1 minute 54 seconds. Making it took only a few minutes. Imagine how long it’d have taken to create a description of the same, using words and screenshots.

The second example is more complex. Here, a manager explains the specifications for a video view generation tool by switching between a number of UI sketches and the actual example of what the UI should look like. The original video, 7 minutes total, also shows references to code documentation and API queries and responses.

The outcome? Our guy in Egypt worked based on hardly anything but this and some text documentation, and the app came out exactly as intended.

Remember that you are not limited to UI-related specifications. You can describe tasks which pertain to internal functionality, showing and explaining the relevant inputs and outputs. You can explain requirements for code refactoring, how modules, code sections and dependencies should be re-organized. You can explain how a new module works, which tests are related to it, and what should be done about it next. You can show examples, similar solutions, and explain diagrams. You can introduce new tools, explain your code, and point out errors that should be fixed. With videos, you can get also get more out of your other favorite tools, such as explaining your Balsamiq mockups with video.

Getting started is easy. JIRA now has an integrated screen recorder available via ScreenMail plugin. Try ScreenMail for JIRA today!

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