Project Manager’s Guide to Communicating With Developers

(Last Updated On: August 14, 2018)

Here at EveryMundo we employ lots of personalities. While the diversity leads to a robust skill set, interesting conversations, and a culturally-rich environment, it also means we occasionally have communication issues.

While project management tools, emails, and chat platforms can help to keep us all on the same page, we have found that client-focused, deadline-enforcing Project Managers can occasionally clash with detail-oriented, highly-skilled developers.

For this article, we asked two of our most experienced Project Managers for tips that they employ in order to ensure conflict-free communication throughout their projects. Here’s what they came up with (text version after the infographic):

 [Infographic] Communicating with Developers
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 1. BE VIGILANT WHEN DEFINING REQUIREMENTS

Developers are (typically) very literal people. When communicating with them, it is okay to state the obvious. When you assume the developer knows what you want, neither you nor your developer are going to be happy when you later discover that there was a misunderstanding and you are not going to meet the deadline. For this reason, you should always be extremely detailed in your requirements document – to the point of obvious.  Spend extra time defining the scope of the project and have it reviewed/approved by all stakeholders before you begin design planning. Your developer will thank you later.

2. DON’T TREAT DEVELOPERS LIKE THE IT DEPARTMENT

Please don’t ask them to fix your computer, the internet, or your SnapChat app. Even though they are probably capable of performing the task, they have their own job to do. The same way they don’t ask you for help balancing their check book because you manage budgets, respecting their time and role within the company is just as important.

3. NEVER FORGET THE POSSIBILITY OF USER ERROR (NO MATTER HOW SMALL)

No one likes to be blamed for mistakes, especially in the workplace. So when you go to a developer with a potential bug, keep in mind that you might actually be the problem. Perhaps you were supposed to double-click and you failed to do so. Or maybe you downloaded the file in the wrong format. Even if you are 99.9% sure you performed the task as instructed, don’t rule out the possibility that it could be your fault. For example, when approaching the developers with an issue, frame it as your issue first. I’m probably doing something wrong, but I can’t seem to…͟ is much better than Your fix doesn’t work and your humility will be rewarded.

4. BRIBERY WORKS

Developers like pizza, beer, and cookies just as much as the next guy or gal. So, when given the option to finish a project for the guy who brings freshly baked cookies every Friday or the guy who is frequently referred to as Oscar the Grouch, it is easy to determine whose project will be completed first. Spend a little extra time getting to know your developers or join them for happy hour on Thursdays. You’ll be amazed how far a little love will get you.

5. KEEP IN MIND DEVELOPERS DO NOT HAVE SUPERPOWERS

While the best developers might give Batman a run for his money, most are just intelligent people who have a knack for code. They cannot read your mind or bring people back from the dead. While they may blow your mind with what they can do, they are working with a predefined infrastructure, limited time, and budgetary restraints. What seems to you like a small change, may take the developer a week to re-code. Keep your expectations realistic and every once in a while you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

6. BASIC TROUBLESHOOTING SKILLS WILL HELP EARN DEV CRED

Know what a browser cache is and clear it often. Especially before you tell a developer that his or her fix isn’t working. Also, a little restart never hurt anybody. By performing basic troubleshooting tasks prior to alerting the developer of an issue you can increase your credibility with the developers and – even better – you won’t end up looking like an idiot.

7. SOMETIMES IGNORANCE IS BLISS

Once the who, what, when, and why are defined in the requirements document, leave the how to the developers. You don’t need to know and understand every little detail about how the task will be completed. When managing projects that include developers it is often the tendency of the Project Manager to want to understand everything. It is easy to get into the weeds of development which will undoubtedly waste time and effort for both parties involved. It is better to have a basic idea of the undertaking, how long the task should take, and who will be working on what. Don’t overcomplicate or micro-manage – stick to what you know so that the developers can do what they do best.

8. BE THOROUGH IN QA TESTING (AND PERFORM IT PROMPTLY)

Slacking in QA testing isn’t doing anyone any favors. Hopefully, you have established testing procedures to ensure a thorough review of any change to the system. It is important to test discrepancies on multiple browsers, multiple devices, and for us – in different languages. You don’t want to give the developer the thumbs up only to come back two weeks later to reopen the issue with something that you should have caught in the original QA test. By that time, the developer will have moved on to new projects or issues and will not appreciate the interruption. Likewise, don’t wait two weeks to perform the test. The developer can’t move on and check that item of their list until you have approved it, so be considerate. Most likely the developer was working under a deadline that you set, so what kind of message are you sending them if you put off the QA test for a few days?

9. KEEP IN MIND THEY ARE AS FRUSTRATED AS YOU ARE

Deadlines, budgets, and ever-changing technology can lead to an extremely stressful environment. We are all human (see #5) and have good days and bad days. Communication issues can lead to delays in project schedules, rework, and a lot of frustration. Like two people trying to communicate in separate foreign languages, patience and a good sense of humor go a long way. It all boils down to mutual respect and acceptance. Lighten up, together the work will get done.

 

Molly Sinks
 
Elisa Medina-Rivera
Elisa Medina- Rivera

 

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