Don't reduce your designers and developers to stereotypes

Rob Borley

Rob Borley warns against reducing your designers and developers to stereotypes if you want to get the best work from them.

At Headscape I have the privilege of working with a group of very talented people. Both our development team and our design team are on top of their game and it makes my job of Project Managing a little more straight forward because of it. A big part of my job is getting the most out of both of these teams by facilitating them working together in the most effective way. I’m often asked questions like, “Who do you prefer to work with; designers or developers?” and “how does working with developers differ from working with designers?” So here is my inside track on this age old tussle. Designers or Developers?

Your stereotypical developer is a rather pale individual (as they are afraid of the outdoors) with no social skills. They come in two sizes; 9 stone weakling or 30 stone monster. They spent their childhood playing Dungeons and Dragons and have now matured to a level 70 paladin in World of Warcraft (usually playing as a member of the opposite sex). They were always picked last for any kind of sport and have spent every waking hour since they were twelve in front of a screen, in a room with no natural light, talking to their ‘friends’; online. 99% of all developers die a virgin. 1% are scared of the question, curl up into a ball, and cry.

Illustration of a code monkey

Image credit: JawboneRadio

Your stereotypical designer on the other hand is a charismatic, in your face, individual. Both confident and creative; a dangerous combination. They have lots of real world friends but are secretly hated by most of them. Constantly seeking inspiration they bore easily and become irritable as result. All designers, without exception suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

A recipe for disaster

Putting these two groups together is not a good cocktail. Fortunately, these caricatures, in my experience, are not entirely accurate.

I’m actually loathe to put either designers or developers into boxes. From what I can tell they don’t seem to follow any discernible pattern in character traits. Some developers are quite introverted while others are quite the opposite. Some designers are sporty while others couldn’t catch a cold. Some developers enjoy the great outdoors while some designers find their inspiration in Second Life. In trying to manage the team I need to gather an understanding of them as individuals.

It’s important to understand how your team works. One individual will work most effectively when set a whole stream of tasks with a distant deadline and left to get on with it. While another will be more efficient given bite sized chunks and offered more consistent interaction and faster feedback.One member of your team will thrive on pressure and enjoy short timescales while another will need shielding from the realities of your deadlines and coaxing gentling into delivering on time. You may have an individual that needs to go for a walk regularly to be at peak productivity while another works most effectively if they get their head down and charge for 6 hours straight.

As a PM your goals are always the same. You need to deliver your project on time. However your route to your goal is dependant on the resources that you have available. Your number one resource is your team. Trying to force team members to all work the same way is counter productive and, while you may enjoy some success, is not sustainable.

The best route to goal

Get to know your team. Discover their quirks and eccentricities and use these to get the most out of them. I enjoy my role as a PM because, more than anything else, it’s a job about people. I guess this means that the answer to the question is that I really have no preference over designers or developers. I enjoy getting to know my team and discovering the best way to work with them as individuals.

I believe that this is the most effective way of getting the job done. And hopefully it makes for a better experience for all involved.

What about you?

So what about you? How do you work with designers and developers? What has experience taught you?

Maybe you are a designer or a developer? How have you been treated by clients and project managers? Have you been reduced to a stereotype that you resent?