How to influence people to prioritize the developer experience

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What not to do

Influencing people, things not to do.

Throw it over the wall and hope someone picks it up

I see this all the time. People collect the feedback or have an idea based on their experience with the product, but beyond sending an email saying we should do X, Y, and Z, there’s no follow through on the idea.

Scorch the Earth

You can pound the table, complain, get loud, and scorch the Earth to intimidate people to give you resources to pursue your idea. You may get what you want in the short-term, but this is not likely a long-lasting recipe for success.

Complain but offer no solutions

You know what exists now is not good enough, but other than complaining privately to your work friends, you offer no solutions and can’t understand why no one cares about this or fixes the issue.

Strategies for influence

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Own the problem and solution

If you want people to overcome the switching cost, you need to put in some work. Dive deep into the problem, do research, talk to developers, try to figure out the scope of the problem.

Show what it means to not solve the problem

While you’re taking your deep dive into the problem, you need to demonstrate what the cost is to not solving this issue. Articulating this with statements like “it creates friction”, “it slows developers down”, or “it’s confusing to developers” is not going to be good enough.

  • How does this problem negatively impact growth numbers and how would solving it positively impact growth numbers? Show actual numbers.
  • What financial cost does this problem have today? You can look at things like developers failing to complete the sign up process or launch something on your platform due to the issue or bugs reported that support teams have to deal with or how much out of band engineering time has been devoted to dealing with one-off issues related to the problem.
  • What are your competitors doing? Sometimes highlighting how the competition is doing a much better job than you can really motivate someone.

Build a coalition

It’s important to build momentum for an idea and support that goes beyond just you. Start with people you know, pitch your idea, hear their feedback and questions, rework your pitch accordingly, and then extend your circle of support.

Over prepare

I originally had this strategy suggestion as “Be confident”, but it’s hard to control confidence, but you can definitely control how prepared you are. And being fully prepared can lead to confidence.

Chase it down, hustle, don’t give up

This goes back to the first item I highlighted in this section about owning the problem and solution, you also need to continue to own it even if you first meet resistance. Try to find out what would other people need to see to be convinced to prioritize your idea. Based on this information, you can find new data or adjust how you articulate the problem to convince those people.

Timing

You need to pick the right time to push on something. For example, if your company just set priorities for the next quarter, resources have been allocated, various leads have all aligned, now is probably not the best time to pitch something new. There just won’t be much energy available to entertain it and even if people agree with you, it’s not likely to derail an existing priority meaning you’ll end up having to pitch it again during the next prioritization meeting for the following quarter.

Reduce scope if needed

Sometimes you have to compromise on your vision a bit in order to get buy-in. People might not be ready to fully commit and want to see some positive ROI before investing further.

Final thoughts

Our job is to care about developers, so our natural reaction to pushback on an idea that will improve the developer experience is that the internal decision-makers don’t care about developers. However, that’s often an unfair and short sighted view of the world. A product or company lead likely does care about developers, but it’s one of many things they care about. The bottom line is they care about the success of the product. It’s our job and responsibility to make them see that prioritizing developers is a key component to achieving product success.

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Sean Falconer

Sean Falconer

Google Developer Relations — BizComms — All opinions are mine and mine alone.