Communicating with developers 101

So you’ve got a great business idea, you’ve done your research and you understand your target market. All that’s left is to get your app or system built right? It’s time to start engaging with software developers to help bring your idea to life.

But what information is important to convey to developers? What could make the development process significantly smoother and what information is superfluous?

By all means tell us your vision … but be clear on the starting point

We’d love to know more about your idea and the concept. It’s always helpful to understand the big picture and where you see your system going.

Much more important than this is that both parties are clear on the starting point. Be very clear on what the first version looks like, and what functionality is crucial. At this point you are essentially discussing a MVP (minimum viable product).

Tl;dr: The bulk of your time should be spent ensuring you and your developers are on the same page regarding where the starting point is.

No one understands what you want the way you do

Any developer worth their salt will take you through a requirements elicitation process to try and understand exactly what you want. No matter how good this process is, there is no one that understands what you want the way you do. Very often you will come from an industry that isn’t intrinsically understood by the developer. You may have years of tacit knowledge, and may take many things for granted as being “obvious” to you. These things may not necessarily be obvious to a developer though.

Tl;dr: Don’t assume anything. Don’t allow room for misinterpretation. Any time spent explaining exactly what you want, in as much detail as possible, will only benefit the build.

Be sure we all understand what success looks like

Before seeking out developers to bring your dream to life, you should have a clear picture in your head of what success looks like. Cast your mind six to 12 months down the road after your platform launches.

Imagine turning around and saying to someone “Wow, I am so glad I did this, it turned out to be such a success”. Got that image? Now what criteria will you be using to evaluate success? Is it number of registered users on the platform? Is it social impact? What quantifiable metric(s) can be used to determine success or failure of your venture? Be sure to communicate these clearly and early on to any developers you engage with. They should form part of the project scope or the documentation that is drafted, so that there’s no ambiguity in what the success of the project looks like. You now have a starting point to decide on what technical success looks like. The developers you engage with should be able to help you to extract technical success from your vision of project success. Remember that technical success may not necessarily translate into project success. Developers will only be responsible for the technical success of the project.

Tl;dr: Ensure that you have a clear image in your head of what success looks like. You need quantifiable metrics that will define project success. Work with the developers to define technical success and ensure this all forms part of the project documentation.

Decide which technologies to use

You’re making great progress here – well done! You’ve communicated your vision, your broader “blue-sky” ideal. You’ve explained and helped the developers understand any tacit knowledge you possess and filled in any blanks they may have based on your industry. And you’ve agreed on what success looks like, both from a project perspective and a technical perspective. We’ve covered the “what” quite well; now for the “how”.

What kind of software do you need? Is this a Web-based platform? Is it a mobile app? What platforms do you need presence on to meet the majority of your target audience? You’re building a V1.0 here and you may be self-funding this, so you’re looking for a “bang for buck” scenario here. Don’t worry about reaching everyone and being on all platforms right now. Do your research: understand market share of mobile operating systems in your target territories; understand the usage behaviours of the majority of your target audience; and tailor your initial solution to these understandings.

You may have reasons for wanting to use specific technologies, languages or frameworks. Now is the time to discuss that. Otherwise, let the devs work in the technology they are most proficient in. This will minimise time spent learning and maximise efficiency. Even if you are not technical, be sure to ask questions about technologies, languages and frameworks as they may be important should you have any investment meetings down the line.

Tl;dr: Do the research. Understand what platforms you need to target to reach as much of your target audience as possible. Even if you’re not technical, find out about technologies, languages and frameworks and do a bit of research or ask other technical people if they suit your requirements before you commit.

What we don’t need to know

You’re choosing a developer, someone with the technical expertise to build a software solution to support your business idea. You’re entrusting them with building scalable, stable, performant technology that fulfils the requirements of your unique solution. While it might be tempting to ask their opinions about your marketing plan, commercial model or even your logo or business name, remember that this may not be their area of expertise – and every second spent thinking about this is a second notspent on creating the best technology possible for your business.

Tl;dr: Allow your developers to focus on the technical underpinnings of creating a scalable, stable and performance technological solution, while you focus on the rest.

In conclusion

A good developer will have a passion for bringing ideas to life. We love working to overcome technical challenges; to take an idea from conception to a fully-fledged product ready for the market. We may not understand your industry – so empower us). We may not understand your vision fully – so enable us. Let’s work together to create something amazing.

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From code monkey to CEO

By Ed | 18-09-2019