Managing Developers...Part 9...Developers Who Refuse to Learn the Business

"My Developers Don't Want to Learn the Business"

I've heard variants of this over the years and it is usually not true. No coder codes just because he loves coding. He codes because he loves to solve problems. For a coder to be able to solve your business' problem and generate profits for you then he must understand your business' problem. If you are stating that your developers don't want to learn your business then it is because they don't feel as though YOU (or the organization) can show them. There may be lots of reasons for this, it's your job to find out why.

If you really think your developers don't want to learn your business, then why do you think so many of them love tinkering around with iPhone apps at night? Why do they love contributing to open source projects? They want to solve problems. They want to understand the problems.

Perhaps the requirements you are giving your people are just asinine? They may not make sense to your staff. They view failure as imminent. Or maybe you are dictating a solution to a problem instead of just stating the problem. Your dictated solutions to the problem may not be profitable, as seen by your development staff.  Don't dictate the "hows", dictate the "whats".  

Look at SAP. When you roll out SAP they tell you to first consider modifying your business to fit SAP Best Practices before you consider customization. There's a reason for this. SAP has analyzed your industry and frankly they can do it better.

So can your developers. That sounds cocky but it just might be true. Sometimes a business person understands the problem domain but can't see a better solution right in front of them. An outsider sometimes can. Your developers might be just the outsiders you need.

At its core, a developer's job is to help people get a task done better than it is getting done today. I always tell people that my job isn't "database developer", it's "Process Improver". The developers at Google are tasked with making information retrieval better today than it was 10 years ago. The developers at Amazon are tasked with making commerce better for the consumer today than it was yesterday. Listen to your developers. Prototype their ideas. Don't pooh pooh their ideas.

If you feel as though your developers are truly not interested in your business, then perhaps they are simply frustrated at your attempts to mold their innovative ideas into your tired, failed, antiquated, unprofitable notions. It is possible that a few of your developers really do not like your industry, but it's far more likely they just don't like you.