Let’s face it, developers make the world go round when it comes to tech startups. More often than not though, they do not report to Product, so to get them to do what you want, you need to convince them. To get them to do what you want faster and better, they need to love you. To love you, they need to see the best you can be, the leader they crave for. The steps below will point you in the right direction.
Drop the ‘I’ in all communications
As a product manager you are part of a team and this you should acknowledge in all your communication. ‘We have released’, ‘We have achieved’ should be the corner stones of your speech, chats and emails. Developers work in teams and they should be acknowledged as such. What’s important, is that you are part of the team as much as they are, that you are sharing the success as much as failures.
Take the bullets, all of them
As a product manager you are there to make sure the right product is being built. If the product does not satisfy needs and the quality is poor, you need to quit pointing fingers and pushing blame around. Grow up and take the bullet, take responsibility for the product, all of it. If you do so, your developer team will suddenly understand that their work puts you on the line and will feel responsibile for your success as a person.
Never say or write ‘easy’ or ‘just’
Those words belittle yours and the developers’ work. Every time a stakeholder asks for time estimate do not ever, under any circumstance say something along the lines of ‘It’s easy. It should just be a matter of doing x with y”. In my experience this never adds up to any good. Stakeholders walk away happy, but they may soon suffer the sting of disappointment when reality kicks in and nothing is ever ‘easy’ or ‘just a matter of’. Save yourself and your development team some embarrassment and never put them under pressure without knowing what you are talking about.
Become invisible when it counts
The perfect product manager is invisible: his product is shipped regularly, his dev team keeps the product in tip-top shape, his urgent intervention is not needed because everyone on the team knows the vision and direction. Identify potential in your team to take over some of your responsibilities, go backstage and give your developers the space to shine, own their work and careers. They will be grateful for it.
Give to receive
Give good feedback to get better developers. Keep track of their achievements, strengths, of the things they do right or wrong and don’t hesitate to go and chat about it with them sooner rather than later. I usually keep email labels to make sure I remember details of a communication/bug fix that I want to use for negative or positive feedback. The important thing is to deliver the feedback constructively. If you manage to do this developers will start seeing you as a source of growth and inspiration, someone they consider instrumental in their professional development.
When developers love you and respect you, everything gets easier. For you and for them.