Software Engineers really can appear as mysterious, magical wizards for the non-technical mortals among us. And this perception is not that far-fetched — software runs the world, and it is no wonder that the skill of designing, building, and deploying software products is one of the most coveted skills today. If you’re a non-technical Product Manager, it can be a hurdle learning how to talk like a Software Engineer.
While many people have plenty of distance between themselves and these mystical developers, Product Managers have to learn the skills and strategies to collaborate and work directly with engineers every day. As a Product Manager, it is your responsibility that the best product possible is shipped, and engineers are the primary stakeholder and teammates you have to partner with to make this happen.
This article dives into some of the ways you can develop your communication skills and get comfortable with how to talk like a software engineer: in other words, developing into the type of Product Manager Software Engineers would love to work with. These practices can be great to review even if you have a technical background because they are not all related to relating on a technical level with your engineering team. It is equally important to develop your communication, collaboration, and leadership skills to be an effective Product Manager working with Software Engineers.
Leadership & Communication Best Practices
Every relationship takes great communication to work, and that includes the relationship between a Product Manager and Software Engineers. As a Product Manager, I view it as my responsibility to make sure communication is strong and flowing well with all of my stakeholders. This is mainly because without it, I surely can’t do my job properly or deliver on my goals. Information is your biggest asset as a Product Manager, so it is imperative to make sure that the people who work with you feel they can share anything with you and have an outlet to do so.
One of the best ways to set a great foundation for communication with your team is to do so during your onboarding period. In your first few weeks, meet with every team member you will work with, and ask them what their preferred communication style, medium, cadence, etc. is. Then, use their preferences to establish an initial framework for how you can communicate with each other. Some examples of this may be having a recurring 1:1 meeting, regular status check-ins on email, or daily standup.
A core part of leadership for Product Managers is not only setting up communication best practices but also distributing relevant information so that your team feels empowered to do their best work. When it comes to working with Software Engineers, you are responsible for bringing the customer, business, and overall product context to the projects they are working on. Not only do you need to make sure the solutions you create together are aligned with this information, but you also want to make sure Software Engineers do not feel siloed and have context into why what they are working on is important.
Lastly, another important part of communication as a Product Leader that impacts your Software Engineering teammates is to have a good understanding of their wins and make sure you communicate that with the broader teams and the company. Everything the Software Engineering team is working on is improving the product and driving the success of the company, and you can help highlight that works to the company during product announcements, product meetings, and company celebrations.
Software Engineers and Product Managers
The biggest misconception Product Managers have when working with Software Engineers for the first time is that you “Manage” the engineers. Nothing could be further from the truth! Software Engineers are your equal teammates when it comes to your product. Make sure you view your relationship as a collaboration as opposed to authoritative in any way.
Product Managers are responsible for the “Why” and “What” of the product — why you need to build something and what high-level solution you will build to achieve your goals. Software Engineers use their technical expertise to own the “How” — how you will technically implement your solution. Because we are working with software products, this question and its implementation is crucial and can be the difference between a product that is successful and loved by your customers, and one that does not achieve its goals.
As the Product Manager, it is your responsibility to make sure that you guide the team in brainstorming, discovery, and problem-solving to arrive at solutions that address the “Why,” “What,” and “How” questions the best. To do so, you will need to collaborate with your Software Engineers because they have the technical expertise that you do not. Even if you have a technical background, if you are not in the codebase to the extent that your Software Engineers are, you do not have the full context that they do. They bring invaluable insight to the table and it is important that you create the open lines of communication discussed above for this reason.
Tips and Strategies for Better Communication
Now that you are familiar with some of the areas you can address to create successful communication between yourself and your engineering team, below are some additional specific tactics to try out:
- Set up regular 1:1s with every team member. You should have at least a weekly cadence with engineering leads or managers, and should also check-in and build relationships with other engineering team members.
- Send out a weekly update on the discovery and implementation work that is happening on the product side to at least the engineering team but potentially other stakeholders as well. This update should help shed light on the “Why” for what is coming down the product pipeline and generate enthusiasm and encourage transparency.
- Take time to ask questions and understand when engineers are describing something to you that you do not understand and is related to your work. Ask to set up a time to dive deeper technically and put in that extra effort to make sure that your product scoping includes a level of technical consideration.
- Involve engineering early and often in your product work. Do not wait until the last minute to include an engineering perspective when you are investigating or scoping a new feature. Ideally, you should be consulting with an engineer teammate as early as the product discovery process. Keep open lines of communication and be proactive in reaching out to engineering to take a look at your work and give feedback.
- Ask for feedback regularly. It is easier to give and receive feedback when you have a strong working relationship, so make sure you first start with something like Step #1. At the very least, you should be asking your engineering lead or manager for regular feedback on how you can be a better Product Manager for the engineering team.
Learn to Talk Like a Software Engineer
Working with Software Engineers is crucial for any tech professional but especially for Product Managers. If you can see Software Engineers not as separate coworkers who speak a different language, and rightfully as your equal and collaborative teammates, you can set a strong foundation for communication to achieve your shared goals of launching the best products possible.
Now that you know how to talk like a software engineer, are you ready to hone your product management skills and become the best PM you can be? Take the first step by reaching out to our in-house experts. We’re offering free career coaching sessions to get your questions answered and your goals achieved: flex your communication skills and schedule your time to chat.