How To Question Developers and Learn What is Really Going On

Anyone who's ever worked with me knows that I love spending time with developers. I will ask simple questions, "What are you working on?", "Can I see the code?", "Who is also working on this requirement and what are they doing?", and my favorite question, "How will your work help customers?"

This is far more than just getting in touch with the staff and understanding what's going on at a ground level. While this is part of my intention, my real motivation is far more substantial. You see, I firmly believe that Developers represent the organization's strength to innovate, change, and differentiate through their selection,  application, and integration of different technologies.

So when I ask Developers questions, I'm trying to learn a lot from them using some very simple questions. There is no right or wrong answer,  but some things become apparent very quickly

  • Is the Developer comfortable answering questions from an executive?
  • How does the Developer respond to these questions? From what lens - technical, functional, business, customer or user?
  • How quickly can they show me their work, is the code readable,  and can they simplify the technicalities to something anyone can understand
  • Do they understand the bigger picture of how their work is connected to the broader requirements and business need?
  • How is the Developer working with his or her team? 
  • What new ideas does she/he have and are they being considered?

These questions also give me a lens into the team's management

  • Are the Developers working on the top priorities?
  • Are they working well as a team with a firm grasp of the business value of their work and the requirements?
  • Which Developers can be challenged to take on more, or be handed more innovative assignments?
  • Is there a healthy balance of feature development and addressing technical debt?
  • How is management helping the team address risk?

These are not perscreptive questions because if they were, it would come across as formulaic and difficult to answer. Instead, I start off with some simple questions and use the responses to learn and challenge.

2 comments:

  1. Yes Issac, even I was also surprised the day you asked me something similar in different flavor "Is XML based technology really challenging to understand?Can you show me how you manage to code..."

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Abhishek! Development tools change frequently, so I am always interested in seeing the latest ones in action.

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