In large web publishing projects such as online newspapers and magazines, the technical and content teams usually have few points of contention. However, sometimes content managers, marketers, and product managers have to communicate directly with IT specialists. Asking for developers’ help can feel uneasy as there is an outdated stereotype that programmers are antisocial and cannot hold up a conversation with anyone who is not a "techie". But nowadays that is no longer true: knowing how to build communication with the customer has become a necessary professional skill for developers. If you are still wary of direct contact with IT specialists, here are a few tips that will definitely enable you to find common ground:
1.Acquaint each other with one’s own terminology and processes
Tell the developer about the structure of the processes that you would like them to improve, and what kind of participation you expect from them. Within your team, decide who will assign tasks and who will have the right to prioritize them. Usually this is the customer’s project manager. Decide when it is the best time to execute technical operations not to disturb your website visitors and you.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what programmers will do to complete your tasks. Reach an agreement regarding which systems you will use to interact (task-trackers, time count systems, messengers) and when you will be available for each other. Ask to explain basic concepts that will come up in your work. Allow yourself to incorporate terminology such as “Prod”, “Test”, and “Stage” into your vocabulary as well.
2. Describe changes in terms of targets and the expected result
Difficulties in communicating with a technical specialist often come from being unable to assign a task along the lines of “do this and that for me in this and that way.” But if all parties are open to dialogue, that won’t be a problem. When you don’t know how to assign a task, focus on the result you want to achieve rather than the means to achieve it. The developer will be able to choose the best solution to your problem by themselves if you thoroughly explain what it is about.
It will be easier for you to understand each other if you: describe the value of changes, benefits you aspire to gain, risks, and successful examples from other services. The description can be structured using the SMART method. Clearly stating your targets and resources will help you as well. It will be easier for you to stay focused and remember which improvements are of the highest priority, and which can be put off till a later time.
3. Assign tasks only via task-trackers
Even when you think you have already discussed everything in person or in writing, you should still add all the tasks into a task-tracker. This will allow you to clearly see which stages of development are required for your tasks, what information you need to provide, and when your participation will be required to accept the result. Likewise, questions and modifications should also be indicated in the same system as where tasks are being tracked.
This approach gives you a lot of advantages:
- the work of all project participants becomes transparent;
- nothing will be forgotten or lost: even years later, you will be able to recall why and how a certain improvement was implemented;
- it is easier to manage deadlines and plan actions;
- it is possible to avoid uncoordinated actions by different team members, duplication of tasks, budget overspending and other complications.
4. Don’t panic if something didn’t go as expected
Have you ever found yourself in a situation when developers say everything is working as it should, but you still see a problem on the website? For a start, check to see whether you are doing everything right. Ask your IT colleagues to compile a check-list for you to verify your actions. This will give you a sense of confidence and reduce the number of cases when you deal with a problem that you already know how to solve. And if that did not help either? Describe the error and ask developers for help.
Make sure your description is precise, accurate and specific. Indicate the conditions under which the error or bug occurred: what — when — where the user was doing, what device and browser he/she was using, and whether he/she was logged in. For the first time it’s better to ask IT guys for a list of important parameters. Write down these items and the description of how everything should work as an issue in the task-tracker. This will significantly reduce the time it takes to resolve the problem. What’s more, you will become your developers’ favourite customer. Would you like that?