9 tips for non-technical founders who want to stay on top of managing the development team

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How will you manage a team when you don’t understand the work they do? Perhaps these eight tips will help

You have a great idea for an app. You’ve done the research, and your idea is superior to anything related. You know there is potential for this thing to take off.

Only one problem: You are clueless about software design and development. You majored in marketing, for heaven’s sake. But now, here you are, ready to get your idea off the ground and also realising that you are going to have to hire a group of developers to get it built.

How will you manage a team when you don’t understand the work they do? Perhaps these eight tips will help:

1. There is common ground

Think about how you manage any of your employees. You conduct yourself in a certain way that provides motivation and morale.

  • You trust them to carry out tasks as they are assigned. They embrace being trusted and will want to perform well to keep that trust.
  • You ask them for feedback, and you listen to what they have to say. Morale is sustained when people believe that you are taking their opinions and suggestions seriously.

Successfully managing a team of developers will involve these two things that you already do well.

2. Now to the uncommon ground

Most employees you manage have job responsibilities that you could handle if you needed to. This is not the case with developers. You cannot do their jobs, but you can learn a bit about how they want to be managed, and here is that learning.

Also read: Achieving mindfulness in our crazy startup world; advice from the experts

3. They want specificity

You have a vision for your app, and you certainly will be providing that broad vision – what exactly you want that app to do. As the development process moves forward, however, you will need to be more specific about your wants and needs, as you are given elements and features to review and approve. Instead of saying, this process is a bit “fuzzy,” you will need to be direct and to the point. “This process is not clear enough through steps two and three – is there a way to make it simpler for the user, maybe cut it down to two steps instead of three?” Now the team has something specific to work with.

4. You won’t speak their “language”, and you don’t have to

You will not understand terms like “agile development,” “technology stack,” horizontal/vertical scaling,“ or “dither.” And you do not necessarily have to. As you sit in meetings with your developers, whether in person or via video conferencing (working with remote teams is pretty common now), however, do not be afraid to ask for an explanation.

And as you make your wishes known, there is nothing wrong in using pencil and paper and sketching out what you want your app to look like and do. They can understand these things too.

5. Money is not always a key motivator – “investment” is

Developers are a bit of a different breed. They know there will always be money in their pockets because the demands for their skills are large. If they have enough to pay the bills, they really prefer to focus on solving problems and finding creative solutions. This is what turns them on. Many of them work for free on open-source projects in their spare time, just for the love of their work.

While you should certainly pay a fair wage, do not think that “sweetening the pot” with more money will result in greater motivation. What they want is to be excited about the projects they are working on, and they want a personal “investment” in the final product.

You might want to consider offering your developers an option. They can take a larger salary or a small equity position. Chances are, they will choose the equity position. If they do choose the equity position, you will know immediately that they are invested in your project, and that is what you want.

Another important factor in this whole “investment” thing is that they understand how the work they are doing fits into your larger vision for your enterprise. Is this just the first of several app ideas you have? If this one is a success, will there be more exciting and challenging projects?

6. Develop a small amount of knowledge

You are not going to become a developer. You don’t want to. But you can take a few steps to understand developers’ jobs. It will actually help during meetings if you at least have the jargon down and have some basic coding knowledge. Consider a coding boot camp. They exist all over the country and online as well. The Berkeley Tech Camp in the San Francisco Bay area is a good example of such engagement – it offers a wide variety of classes for all age groups. Most “camps” are 4-5 days or self-paced.

7. Be a good resource person

Development teams may need some resources – a solid agile project management tool comes to mind immediately. There may be scanning tool needs to have solid security in place. Be sure that they have what they need. And if they are working physically at your place, food is always nice. Anything you can do to show them they are valued and appreciated is always a big plus.

Also read: Working remotely is not easy, here are 6 things to help you get started

Have a regular schedule of meetings and stick to it

Don’t skip these meetings. They may be one-on-one with a project manager or with the entire team. And if an issue arises, and the PM needs to meet with you on short notice, be accommodating. Development can be messy at times, and things don’t always operate exactly as scheduled.

Don’t hover. Developers need “space” and some independence. Let them do their jobs and bring progress reports to you at scheduled times.

8. Be specific with your feedback

If you don’t like the layout of elements, or if you want a faster load time, speak up. But do so with specificity. Where would you prefer the elements? How fast a load time do you want? Are these things doable?

9. Accept loss of control

Here is what you are not managing – the process of development. Accept it, no matter how difficult that may be. You can manage the environment you are setting up, the vision you have, and the end results you want. That’s good enough.

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The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.

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