How Non-Techies Can Successfully Manage a Development Team

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a frustrated developer is fed up with their manager making bad decisions and focusing on the wrong things. They constantly hover, asking questions like, “What’s the time estimate for this?” They simply don’t understand the development process and just end up getting in the way. 

If you’re a project manager assigned to lead a development team and you don’t have much technical experience yourself, you might be wondering how to avoid becoming that nightmare PM so many developers seem to disdain. How do you lead a development project to success without alienating your team?

The good news: in many ways, leading developers is just like leading any other team. You don’t need to know how to code to understand how the people on your team get work done not the technical aspects of architecture and programming, but their common roadblocks, preferred tools, and best practices. Learn the warning signs that something is going to slip. Create a good working environment. Do your best to lead your team, not manage them. 

At the same time, smart project managers know that development teams do have their own unique needs and challenges. These 6 tips will help you manage and motivate your development team. 

Don’t treat them like code monkeys

Software development is truly creative work your team needs time to think, solve problems, and find new solutions. So give them space and don’t just measure their performance by how many lines of code they write each day. Are deadlines being met? How many defects are being created, found, and fixed? How do their peers feel about their performance? Look at a mix of quality, quantity, and ability to collaborate. 

Understand what motivates them

Many developers are driven by the challenge of solving an interesting problem. That's why so many of them are happy to work for free in their spare time on open source projects that attract their curiosity or relate to one of their personal passions. If you can get them personally invested in the problem at hand, they’ll be committed and motivated to do their best work. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

You can’t (and shouldn’t) pretend like you know everything your team does, and they’ll likely be using terminology that you’re unfamiliar with. If a team member says something that you don’t completely understand, don’t hesitate to pause the meeting and ask them to explain. Grab a pen and paper and sketch something out if it'll help ensure you and your team are on the same page. 

Give them what they need...

Mainly, complete requirements and precise feedback. Proper requirements are essential to delivering high-quality software, so talk to as many people as possible to define functionality and usability. Ask "why" to uncover the true problems and needs the project is trying to meet. Without these details, it's too easy for developers to end up guessing and producing something that doesn't hit the mark. 

Developers also thrive on precise feedback. So instead of saying, "This needs to be faster," specify, "We need this to load in less than 1 second." Use numbers whenever possible to provide crystal clear expectations. 

...And protect them from what they don’t

Useless meetings, office politics, paperwork minimize distraction however you can by taking on most of this yourself and letting your team focus on the work at hand. Push back against setting unrealistic, arbitrary deadlines and ship dates.

Understand the strength of your own role

You may not understand the nitty-gritty of software development, but you do bring valuable insights into how your client thinks and what they ultimately want. So help translate client goals by breaking down big projects into detailed tasks. And explain work done by developers (plus the errors, roadblocks, and opportunities that are bound to arise) so that clients understand it. 

The same rules apply to developers as any other type of team: don’t micromanage them, listen to and provide regular feedback, give specific instructions, and clearly define roles, responsibilities, and priorities. 

Bridge the Gap Between Developers and Managers

While your development team is busy building products, chasing bugs, and incorporating feedback in JIRA, as a PM, you're tracking resources and project progress in Wrike. The Wrike + JIRA Two-Way Sync allows managers and stakeholders to track work status, adjust priorities, and send developers feedback via Wrike, while developers can respond to those requests without leaving JIRA. Start a free trial of Wrike Enterprise to try the feature with your own dev team. 

Sources:,,, Foredecker

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