5 Ways PMs Can Bridge the Gap with Web Developers

A person working on a computer

As a project manager, or a small business owner acting as one, there is a lot of baseline knowledge of a lot of different things needed to succeed in your position. You need to be able to provide a positive workplace culture to get the most out of your team, you need to clearly display expectations of your team members, and you need to understand, at least, the “why” as far as what each team member is delivering on a daily basis.

When it comes to the “how” of the technically skilled professionals on your team, it would be almost impossible to possess the same skills of those team members, and thus a communication gap often exists when it comes to issues in technical development. When you toss in computer jargon about eCommerce security or data analysis, it can be even more difficult, and the gap between web developers and PMs is often a difficult one to bridge.

Why Does the Gap Exist?

Web development is, very literally, a different language that most Americans do not speak. Project managers have different skills and come from a variety of corporate world backgrounds. Web developers either went to school for exactly that or came from another field based around a coding language, like game development or software engineering. When you’re day-to-day activities at work involve speaking two different languages, a gap in inevitable, and web developers and PMs often find themselves in an environment with a big communication gap.

5 Ways to Make it Smaller

  • Scope Discussion – Many developers are pressed for time on a regular basis, and often they have no say in determining what their time constraints will be. Adding developers to front-end client discussions will allow of insight that a given project manager simply doesn’t understand as well as a developer would. Allowing a representative from development to engage in client conversations and share his or her insight on the code required to bring a given project to fruition will give the developer a feeling of a bit more control, and also, over time, will increase the PM’s understanding of developers’ workloads and time needed for a given type of project.
  • Understand Each Other – Open dialogue about realistic expectations on both sides of the developer/PM coin are far too infrequent in the business world but are ultimately as easy as having a cup of coffee. Just as PMs don’t understand code and developers aren’t afraid to tell them that. Developers don’t know what kinds of pressures are being put on PMs when it comes to expectations for output. Talking about pressure will almost certainly result in some common ground discussion and ultimately increase understanding of each other’s very different jobs.
  • Shrink the Scope – This one lies more on the shoulders of the PMs, but very much helps shrink the communication gap. The further PMs can break down a project (features, stories, and smaller), the less immediate pressure is put on the developers. As a PM, determining that the total developmental requirements of a project equates to months of work is not something you want to put on a developer. Inviting that developer to discuss ways to break down that work into smaller, weekly or daily projects reduces pressure and adds another level of mutual respect.
  • Meetings – PMs, be open when you hear the phrase, “I didn’t need to be here for this,” muttered by a developer. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are not, but listening and explaining why or why not will result in a better basis for when to invite and when not to. Ultimately, developers just want to develop, but even as previously mentioned in this article, there are times when a developer perspective is essential, such as in estimation meetings. It’s certainly a line that is difficult to toe, but trial and error will result in better communication.
  • Marry Humility and Confidence – PMs aren’t expected to be developers, but they are expected to wear a lot of different hats. Phrases like, “I know I don’t understand your coding and your skills are beyond impressive, but I am very good at my job when I have all the information I need, so please explain to me what is wrong” give the developers the pat on the back they so often desire, while still letting them know your job is important, too.

Keep the Gap Closed

Though it’s not expected by most employers that all of her or his employees are best friends, the gap between PMs and developers is such an office norm, that when it does close, it might be worth stepping outside of your normal levels of comfort with a co-worker and trying to make a connection outside of work happen. The totality of the understanding of each other’s jobs is almost impossible to achieve, but mutual respect for one another’s profession is much easier to come by when there is mutual respect for one another as human beings who are both just aiming to achieve goals given to them by other individuals.

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