Nov 4, 2019

How to work with developers? A few tips and tricks from a product manager’s perspective

Miroslav Rozenberg, one of Kiwi.com’s product managers, shares his experience of working with developers for people who only can print “Hello world”.

How to work with developers?

If you’re short on time, just remember this — like with any other human being.

If you want to get more specific tips and tricks and check my lessons learnt, keep reading.

Starting from scratch

To give you a little bit of context, I started my career path as a brand manager in a small agency, and one of my tasks was to take care of our website — which soon became my very first experience of working with developers. Two of them, to be precise. However, soon the number of websites I managed grew, along with the number of devs I worked with.

When I joined Kiwi.com as a campaign manager four years ago, the number of developers in my life started to grow exponentially. I needed their support often, usually very quickly, without any help of defined processes or ticketing system. You just came to their office and asked.

What seemed like a trivial task turned out to be demanding, because it was really hard for me to find a common language. I had little knowledge of their environment and my communication style felt very immature every time I approached them.

For the last two years, I’ve been working as a product manager in a team responsible for the backend of our search engine. In those two years, I managed to find confidence in how to communicate with developers and here are a few tips on how to work and talk to developers I can share with you.

How to talk to devs

When I did a small research and googled how to communicate with a developer, I got a couple of very general tips, such as:

  • Know what your requirements are, otherwise you won’t be able to explain anything.
  • Be involved.
  • Be clear and decisive.
  • Set clear expectations.

It’s always nice to have something to start up with but arent’s these rules for any kind of communication?

For me, the only difference between “them” and “us” is that developers have the balls to tell you directly you don’t make much sense and thus you get a lot of feedback and ideas on what you need to improve.

Tips and tricks and lessons learnt

Here are a few things and rules that make my cooperation with developers effective.

1. Start with a small talk

I believe work should be fun, especially when you work with people. And small talk can be a great help in achieving that.

A two-minute conversation to open a discussion on bottlenecks of a project can help you avoid nervous conversation on why some task takes so long or even help you quickly find out what you can do to help to finish the tasks earlier.

Just make sure you don’t do this if it is not sincere from you and adjust the topic having on mind the length of your common project. I’m lucky to usually work with the same people every day, which helps a lot to chat with guys, keep track of all the babies and mortgages and enjoy the time we spend together.

Plus it also helps to better understand the current mood of the person and act accordingly, we’re all only humans after all.

2. Be as precise as possible in every kind of communication

Try to be as specific as possible even when you’re short of time. Every time, everywhere. It will pay off in a long-time perspective.

Just look at the picture below, everything has a clear order. Definition. Sequence. Try to put such a structure into your communication, too.

3. Try to understand what they do every day

There are days when it might seem a developer is a guy pressing random keys, playing Nintendo switch all day long.

If you’ve been doing your job for more than two days, you know it’s not the case. Being a developer is a difficult, extremely complex work with dependencies. Sometimes without a clear way how to solve the problem in the beginning.

The more you know about dev’s work and understand it, the better you can plan with them, discuss their work in more detail and imagine what needs to be done in order to accomplish something.

4. Include devs in a project right from the beginning, discuss issues on your ways to meetings

The developer will probably cry about a useless meeting. However, 10–20 minutes of his time can save a lot of money or time of others later on.

Skipping them can have consequences, such as throwing a whole development project away. And nobody wants to do that, right?

However, you cannot expect anyone’s full involvement if you don’t prepare well for a meeting.

Set up agenda, brief people beforehand, discuss the issue while going to a meeting.

The last one helps me a lot, once I solved a really big issue with a developer while walking to a meeting room and cancelled the meeting when we arrived there. A lot of time and money saved.

5. Double-check on time estimations

  • I discussed it with XY and we found out it should work now, no need for changes now
  • I will do it in the evening
  • Almost done, it’s on code review — max 1 day
  • This is easy… I will do it in 2 hours

A lot of product managers heard any of the phrases above a couple of times (if little). If you want to have a realistic time estimations, make sure to include points 1–4 in your planning. You’ll save yourself a lot of timings problem in the future.

6. Extra tip: Devs like free food, coffee, and sweets. And trolling each other

Bribe them with food — eat together and chat, drink coffee with them and either troll with them or brace your patience and their jokes 🙂

Do you have other tips? Let me know in the comments or check our open positions to tell me in person 🙂

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