Non-technical? Stop Doubting Yourself and Become a Great Technical Communicator With These 3 Tips

Let’s talk about communicating with engineers, especially if you’re not technical yourself. Specifically, let’s cover:

  • the challenges of being nontechnical on a technical team

  • why you should care about being able to communicate with your engineering team well

  • 3 tips for breaking through technical communication barriers

Wait, wait, wait. What did you just say?!?!

If you’re on a technical team you’ll often hear engineers say weird things. They’ll talk about APIs and build pipelines and environment variables and configurations.

When you hear this, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Oh my God, like, what the heck is all this? Like, what is going on?”

And it’s OK to be overwhelmed by all this tech stuff you don’t understand. You’re going to learn eventually.

You don’t have to learn it right this moment, but through some tips that we’ll talk about, you’ll be able to pick up on some technical things as, as you progress in your PM career.

Why are y’all rolling your eyes at my idea?

Another challenge with being non-technical on a technical team is that you may suggest changes or features and then get frustrated why they’re taking so long or the team says they’re not doable and you just don’t understand why, why that is. SO frustrating!

But with a little effort, you can get better at communicating with your engineering team and build a better product (and understand why things take as long as they do).

So why should you care about being able to communicate with your engineering team? Why not just throw your hands up and say, Ugh, like I’m never going to learn this. Why even bother?

Communicating well with engineers. SO worth it.

If you can get better with communicating with technical folks, you’re going to have a better working relationship with your engineering team.

Mutual respect

If there’s a mutual respect there for one another’s roles, you’re going to be able to move faster and resolve conflict quickly.

Better outcomes

You’ll also get the product you expect. If you can communicate well to the people who are building your product, then you’re going to be able to get back what you expect. If you don’t and what comes back is different than what she thought you said, then that’s really gonna stink.

If that happens, you’re going to have to go back and rework things and re communicate things. And no one likes to have to do that. You have much better stuff to do.

Better intuition for estimates

Another thing is that when you talk to engineers more often, you’re going to start to understand why things take as long as they do.

You’re going to start to hone your intuition for engineering estimates. Soon enough, you’ll have a better idea as to what takes a long time versus a medium time versus a short time, et cetera.

Breaking through communication barriers

Let’s move into the three tips for breaking through communication barriers.

Ask questions. Yes - it’s such cliche advice. But it’s worth repeating.

Don’t be afraid to ask the engineering team lots of questions. If they start going too deep in something, or they start spitting out terms, you have no idea what they’re saying. They sound like they’re speaking a different language, just ask them to slow down and explain things.

Engineers can get really excited about the technical details. So just remember that and just like ask them to take it down a notch and try to explain it to a non technical person. They’ll be excited to do it and be excited that you’re interested in what it is that they do on a day-to-day basis.

Find communication channels you both understand

Second, find communication channels that you both understand. These are things like using pictures, mockups, metaphors, inspiration, analogies, et cetera.

If you don’t have a designer on your team and you’re kind of like the do at all PM, and you have this idea for a button and how it wants to work, how you want it to work, find something on Dribbble or in another app and show it to your engineering team to give them some inspiration and show them how you want it to work.

Rather than trying to explain it (which may or may not go well), try showing it visually. This will give them a really clear idea of what it is that you’re talking about.

Don’t feel like you have to know everything (but do make an effort to learn some things)

And third don’t feel like you have to know everything, but do make an effort to learn some things. Start to learn the lingo.

You’re not going to pick it up right away. It’s going to be challenging. Your mind is probably going to be a little bit jumbled at first, but as time goes along, you’re going to add new terms to your vocabulary. And before you know, it, heck you might be a technical PM, which would be super duper cool.

Let’s review

In this article, we talked about

  • the challenges of being non technical on a technical team
  • how a good working relationship with your engineering team can result in a better product
  • why breaking through communication barriers with engineers is great
  • why you should ask questions, find common ground and not feel like you have to know everything.

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