How to Talk Like a Software Engineer: Communicating as a Non-Technical Product Manager
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, learning how to talk like a Software Engineer can be a hurdle.
Communication with Software Engineers: Why You Need It
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, how to develop 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. They are not all about 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 that the people who work with you feel they can share anything with you — and that they have an outlet to do so.
Communication Best Practices: Build a Foundation
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. 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.
Communication Best Practices: Distribute Information
A core part of leadership for Product Managers is not only setting up communication best practices but also distributing relevant information. This is essential to empowering your team 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. You need to make sure the solutions you create together are aligned with this information. You also want to make sure Software Engineers do not feel siloed and have context into why what they are working on is important.
Communication Best Practices: Celebrate Wins
Lastly, have a good understanding of your engineering team’s wins. Make sure you communicate them 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. You can help highlight that work 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. Essentially, 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”. They handle how you will technically implement your solution. Because we are working with software products, this question and its implementation is crucial. It 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. 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: that’s why it’s important to create the open lines of communication discussed above.
Tips and Strategies for Better Communication
Now that you are familiar with some ways to create successful communication between you and your engineering team, let’s dig into some specific tactics. Here are some examples 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. You 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. You should send this to the engineering team, and potentially other stakeholders as well. This update should shed light on the “Why” behind what’s coming down the product pipeline. It should generate enthusiasm and encourage transparency.
- When engineers are describing something to you that you do not understandand, consider how it relates to your work. Take time to ask questions. 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. Be proactive in reaching out to engineering to take a look at your work.
- 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.
Don’t underestimate the power of communication skills to land your Product Manger job either!
Learn to Talk Like a Software Engineer
Working with Software Engineers is crucial for any tech professional but especially so for Product Managers. If you can see Software Engineers not as separate coworkers who speak a different language, but 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.