As a software developer, the major part of your role involves code. However, there may be times where you need to explain highly technical or complicated concepts or issues to your manager. I’ll explain a few tips on how to explain complicated topics in this article.
Why Is This Hard?
Sometimes, explaining technical things to your manager is hard because they don’t have the same detailed understanding as you do. Their role now involves work allocation, project supervision, and planning for the future. They may not have the same detailed understanding.
Also, depending on the kind of role you’re in, and your team, your manager may not have a technical background. Some team leaders are ex-software developers, but some aren’t.
If they have a technical background, it’s a bit easier to explain technical things to them, as they know more about what you’re talking about. However, it depends on the manager.
1. Use Diagrams
The best way I’ve found by far for how to explain complicated topics to manager or non-technical people is to use diagrams.
Being able to visualise something really helps to understand it.
Draw a picture, a flow chart, a screen layout, a few boxes with arrows, whatever you need to get your point across.
Why does this work?
As you explain things, you can refer to sections of the diagram, which is then translated into something that others can understand.
For example, if you’re trying to explain a defect in one of the systems in your stack of systems, and some possible solutions, it may be hard for others to understand it without a diagram. If you draw a diagram of these systems and where the issue is, along with where the solutions fit in, it’s easier for your manager and others to understand, and easier for you to explain.
I like to draw my diagrams in Visio – it’s one of the tools I recommend for business analysts, but software developers can use it as well. If you don’t have Visio, you can use Powerpoint, or Google Draw (which is free).
2. Don’t Go Into Too Much Detail
When you want to explain technical things to your manager, try not to go into too much unnecessary detail.
This can be a fine line and takes some experience.
If you stay too high level, you won’t get your point across. If you go too detailed, people will get confused. Depending on how technical your manager is and what their level of knowledge is, you may want to stick somewhere in the middle.
You can always go into more detail if someone asks for more information.
It also depends on the issue you’re explaining or the topic you’re talking about.
3. Use Familiar Terms
Another way to help explain technical things to your manager is to use terms that they are familiar with.
In a lot of companies, there is more than one term to describe something. There can often be a technical term (such as a database field or a field in an interface) and a business term (such as the product name or piece of information on a web form).
Now this also depends on who you’re speaking to, but when speaking about something that may have more than one name, try to use the term that they are familiar with.
For example, if you’re talking about an issue in an interface, and the field is called “locality_number_code”, but actually stores something that your manager knows as a ZIP code, then use the term ZIP code. This will help them understand the issue.
It’s good to point out what the more technical name is in some situations, but to assist with understanding, use the name that they know.
4. Use Examples
The final tip that I have is to use examples.
Examples of data, screenshots of systems, or any other example can really help to explain technical things to your manager. It helps for communication in general.
Using examples along with diagrams is a great way to help explain them. Come up with some example data to explain your issue. Or, find or create a screenshot that explains what point you’re trying to raise.
You can use multiple examples. So, if you’re trying to explain how a screen changes in certain situation, use some data that causes it and show the screenshot as well. You can show a before and after screen to demonstrate the issue.
So, using these methods of diagrams, examples, not overly detailed and using familiar terms, can really help you when you want to know how to explain complicated topics to your manager, if you ever need to.