7 Secrets to Happy Relationships with Developers

Unlike the Twinkies you stockpiled in the pantry, the enthusiasm developers have for a new project has limited shelf life. When it fades, the motivation is gone, and the project slowly goes as sour as two-week-old milk. But when developers are high on inspiration, their productivity goes through the roof.

During my career, I’ve worked on both sides of the table—as a contractor being managed and as a client managing the contractor. The biggest lesson I learned is that you need to do everything you can to keep the developers happy and to make their life easier. That’s the only way to bottle the new project motivation.

The secrets to keeping your developers happy

Here are my seven secrets to a prosperous and happy relationship with developers.

1. Listen to them.

Developers are creators, not machines, so respect and consider their ideas even if you have no clue on earth what they’re talking about when they’re tossing out confusing technical terms. Don’t know the difference between this and that subclass? Ask. It’s an opportunity to learn.

2. Don’t keep changing your mind.

Throughout your project people will constantly be giving you feedback, and you’ll see features in other apps that spark ideas. It’s really easy to throw these ideas back at your developers. Don’t do this to them.

If you are going to change the scope of your app project, take something out so you can get your app on iTunes quicker. Then you can add in new features later with the profits you made. Commit to a code freeze so your app can get out the door.

3. Be specific.

Your meticulously laid-out design spec sets the stage for the level of detail that you will continue to provide to your developers throughout the project. Developers work in a world of absolutes and don’t like to guess. If you provide vague or sloppy input, expect sloppy output.

4. Have realistic deadlines.

The truth is deadlines don’t work. Things inevitably break, and even freakishly genius developers don’t know how long it will take to fix the problem. If there is a feature that is holding up the release of your app, pull it and move on. You can add it in later after your app is on iTunes.

5. Check in but don’t micro-manage.

Be available enough so you can prevent the project from going down the wrong path, but don’t be a helicopter client hovering over them. Give them space to think creatively and to get in their zone so they focus on what they’re doing. Every email, instant message, and meeting interrupts their flow, and getting back into the groove can take hours. Be available, but give them alone time so they can get stuff done.

6. Make decisions quickly.

Putting off decisions until you find a perfect answer is toxic. If every choice you make means you have to hold a meeting or check with a stakeholder, your decisions are going to pile up into a massive roadblock. Developers will be infuriated. Your choice will likely be as good today as it will be tomorrow, so just make a decision and move forward.

7. Don’t use any four-letter words.

Go ahead and swear if you must, but some four-letter words offend developers, such as just, easy, fast, need, must, and only. These words indicate that you don’t value the developers’ time and skill, and are red flags that communication is suffering and the project is going to run over.

Be nice and be boring

Despite the rumors, nice people don’t finish last, and boring doesn’t mean stupid or uninteresting. It means narrow and focused. You pay attention to detail; you are predictable and steady. That’s the type of client all developers love. They didn’t take your project in hopes to find a new best friend, so don’t try to be the charismatic salesperson trying to win them over. Just be boring and nice.

Money as a motivator

Some might call it bribery and others prefer to call it rewarding good behavior. Either way, it works. To really keep your developer motivated, offer a bonus at the end of each milestone, enough to celebrate the small win. Also, offer them a bonus for completing the project on time and even more if they complete ahead of schedule.

Also, don’t be shy about surprising them with little presents along the way as well. You don’t need to give much. A fun pair of socks or some movie tickets goes a long way. These gifts can make the difference between pushing your project to the front of the line, shortening development time, and getting on iTunes faster or holding it back in favor of other, more enticing projects.


It’s more than a short courtship

You might think that your relationship with your developer ends when your app ships, but it doesn’t. You’ll be dreaming up new features, wanting to fix bugs, and trying to keep up with Apple’s iOS updates. All these things require technical expertise.

It’s a whole lot easier to go back to the person who created your app than to find someone new. If your relationship with your developer is solid, updating your app will be much easier, affordable, and quicker because you won’t have to go through the lengthy talent hunt again.

Also, passing your code from shop to shop isn’t good. A different developer may not understand how the app was written. It will take time (and your money) for him to get up to speed on its structure and code. In the end, the new developer might be better off writing the app over completely from scratch.

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