How to Most Efficiently Communicate With Your Developers

Communicating with developers isn't always the same as with managers or other staff—and you must ensure communication is always efficient and effective.
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Developers should be considered part of the lifeblood of your company. After all, they create the software that drives your growth, innovation, supply chain, and eCommerce. Without those developers, your company would grow stagnant (at best) or fail (at worst). 

That doesn’t mean that you must treat them like royalty, though. It does mean that they need to be in the communication loop. Thing is, developers can be a tricky bunch to effectively communicate with. They can often come off as quirky people who don’t always have the best social or communication skills. That doesn’t mean you can (or should) avoid them.  

It does mean that you should consider how best to communicate with those teams. With a few modifications to your usual efforts, you can efficiently and effectively communicate with your developers and keep your business humming along.

How? Let’s take a look at some ways you can efficiently communicate with your software engineers.

 

Know what you’re talking about

This might seem obvious to you, but it’s not to everyone. The thing about developers is they really know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, those high-level skills come with a price, one that precludes them from being able to communicate to you in terms you might understand.

Because of that, you need to go into every meeting with developers knowing what you’re talking about. Don’t enter a meeting without a solid understanding of the objectives and how to reach them. The more you know about what you’re talking about, the more effectively (and efficiently) you’ll be able to communicate with those developers.

 

Document your objectives

Now that you know what you’re talking about, it’s important that you document everything. If you had a well-developed and written document on the objectives and processes for a project, it’ll give your developers a clear roadmap of what needs to be done. 

And developers (be they Java, JavaScript, PHP, .NET, Python, or Ruby), love good documentation. So not only will this make their job easier, it’ll impress them that you’ve taken the time to document the process.

 

Know the “why”

When you approach a developer with a request, know why you’re making that request. Not because your boss told you to make it happen, but why that request is important in terms of the company website or application stack. If you say, “We want button X to be shiny,” a developer will laugh at you. If you say, “We want button X to be shiny because it’ll make it easier for people to notice,” the developer will at least respect the request and make it happen. 

If a developer asks you why you want something done, and you don’t have an answer, understand that you’re going to have to come up with a “why,” if you want to be able to easily communicate with that developer.

 

Have a clear idea for the finished product

Developers like to deal with specificity. Let’s go back to our shiny button example. If you say “shiny button,” a developer might translate that to a lime green glow with unicorn sparkles. What you really meant to say was that you wanted a subtle highlight around the button to make it better stand out on the page. 

It’s important that you be able to best communicate to a developer what the finished product looks like in your head (or in the head of the CEO). Be specific, be clear, and be exact. Make sure that the developer knows exactly what you have in mind when you say, “shiny.”

 

Communicate with respect

You might not “get” developers, but they are human beings just like you, who have (by way of delivering product after product) probably earned a good deal of respect. If you talk down to those developers or speak to them in a demeaning manner, you won’t get very far. If you’re a manager, you’ve probably taken courses on effective communication. In those courses, you were taught to respect those you speak with. Remember those lessons when dealing with developers.

 

Don’t pretend you know code

When you communicate with developers, don’t try to be cool and speak their “lingo.” Don’t attempt to couch a request as a function or system call. If you’re not a software engineer, don’t send out an email that looks like this:

print('Hey team!')
print('We need to have a meeting'!)

Your developers won’t find it cute. In fact, you might get a reply laced with nothing but managerial buzzwords that has the same insulting vibe. 

Nor should you attempt to use pseudo-code (a plain language description of the steps in an algorithm) when you speak with your developers. Don’t communicate with them like:

If you fail to complete this project
Print "you’re fired" else
Print "you get a cookie"

See how insulting that can be?

 

Don’t “scope change”

You’ve mapped out a plan for a project and your developers are working diligently on it. Out of nowhere, someone in management decides to pull a “scope change,” which will put the project deadline at risk of failure. 

If a scope change is inevitable, your best bet is to first have an informal meeting with your developers to let them know it’s a possibility. And when you do have that meeting, make sure you know exactly why the change is happening, have a clear idea of the new finished product, document the new scope change, and speak to the developers with respect. 

If you hold a meeting and say, “We’re changing the scope of the project, we don’t know what it’ll be, and you’ll do it whether you like it or not,” you probably won’t enjoy how your developers react.

Instead, approach this kind of meeting with the understanding that how you deliver this news (and with what specificity you bring to the table) could make or break the project.

 

Conclusion

Developers are people. They deserve your respect because they’ve worked tirelessly to deliver software to help make your company grow beyond your wildest imagination. It doesn’t take much extra work to efficiently communicate with those team members. Put in the effort and the rewards will be beyond satisfying for everyone involved.

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