How to build a software development team that will lead your business to success?
Here at Innovecs, we believe that people determine the future of any project and overall business outcome. So, when starting any project, we focus on finding the right people first. This is the core focus of success.
Building an effective software development team is not an easy task. We look for specialists who can create and support a healthy atmosphere and work as a single unit — aligned and always on the same page. So, in this blog, we will cover the topic of how to form an effective and dedicated dev team where all members align according to the same principles and values.
What characterizes a successful software development team
When skilled developers work effectively individually, it does not mean three or four of them will work well when organized in a software development team. This is why it is vital to have experienced managers who can organize an effective collaborative environment and promote internal communication for full transparency. Here we have collected the points every manager or leader must focus on when shaping a team.
Communication in the team
No matter how talented your engineers are, poor communication in a team can lead to project failure. The ability to convey complex ideas to all team members and be open to discussions is one of the few elements when factoring team success. This is not limited to using corporate messengers like Slack or Skype or participating in meetings for plans discussion. It is about building the community inside the team surrounded by healthy communication.
By the way, on our recent CEO Night panel dedicated to effective communication, all speakers agreed that communication in the team was the key to delivering results. For details, you can watch the full video of the event.
Understanding of the software development team goals
Every team must have clear goals aligned with the company-wide mission. At Innovecs, we work according to the OKR approach — Objectives and Key Results. This approach allows for building a logical hierarchy of goals in the company — from the company goal to each employee’s individual goal. OKR creates a favorable environment and helps direct efforts in the right course.
The main idea of the OKR implementation is to improve communication between the departments so that everyone can understand goals and tasks. It also aims to decentralize decision making and help employees be creative and initiative. Amazon, Adobe, Uber, Twitter, Netflix, Google, and many more globally-recognized companies use OKRs.
Clearly defined roles and responsibilities
While the software development team shares the same vision, mission, and company-wide goal, every engineer knows their tasks and responsibilities. Areas of responsibilities and roles in the team are defined based on the common goal from the start of the project; this is why each team member knows what they must do. This eliminates micromanagement and boosts transparency in the team. In the next parts of the article, we will pay more attention to this point.
Strong corporate culture
Every company leader must create a strong corporate culture that will lay the foundation for professional bonds development, respect, and support in each department and software development team.
Strong corporate culture can bring multiple benefits to the company, including increased employee retention, attractive company image, enhanced motivation, and healthier and happier employees.
Zappos is an example of an excellent corporate culture. Just imagine, they pay $2000 for every new employee passing the company’s first-week training, even if this employee figures out that this job does not suit them. This is an example of how Zappos focuses on building the team and promoting each member. They implant their values in everyone, whether it’s a new employee or someone working for years in the company. As a result, they have very productive and, at the same time, happy software development teams providing value to the customers.
Tips for building an effective software development team
In this part of the article, we are going to discuss how to build great software development teams and encourage teamwork. We will also outline the approaches, structures, roles and responsibilities distribution.
Choose the approach to building a software development team
Based on their skills and experience, people usually fall into two categories — generalists and specialists. When building a team, you should know the differences between them, challenges that can appear, and tips for working with them.
Teams consisting of generalists
Generalists are engineers focusing on a wide range of technologies, skills, and areas. They know many aspects of development, but do not specialize in a single one. Teams consisting of generalists are usually engaged in full-cycle development. It is a common practice for outsourcing companies to build teams with the generalists in a place. For example, Elon Musk is a generalist, as well as Steve Jobs was.
Benefits generalist approach brings
- Everyone in the software development team knows the product from cover to cover and they can concentrate on enhancing it as a whole.
- Every member of the team has enough knowledge to finish their tasks without asking for help from someone else.
Disadvantages of the approach
- Sometimes, the team doesn’t have the necessary expertise to complete a particular task, so the company has to hire someone and scale the team. This can happen even during the active phase of the project.
In his book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”, David Epstein states that “The more contexts in which something is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example”.
Teams consisting of specialists
Specialist teams include people who are experts in a narrow field. They are responsible for a certain part of the project, are best at their roles, and no one else in the team can replace them in their responsibilities which can block the work of the entire team.
Let’s see an example. If you need to change something in the database in order to deploy a new part of code, you rely on a system administrator (specialist), the only person in the team responsible for this. And when the administrator can’t take on the task at the necessary moment, the work slows down.
Recommendations when having the specialists-based team structure
First, define the type of work you need to be accomplished by a specialist. There should be minimum uncertainty in the scope of work and zones of responsibilities. You must clearly define what technology the specialist must be an expert to help your software development team.
Second, once you have hired a specialist, promote knowledge sharing inside the team. Allocate time for a specialist to train the core team and share expertise. Thus, the team will be able to apply this expertise when the specialist is on vacation or sick leave. This training can be implemented in the form of regular code reviews, pair programming, or brown bags. At Innovecs, we have these informal Brown Bag sessions to educate employees and share knowledge.
Benefits specialist approach brings
- In-depth knowledge of a certain part of the product and the ability to effectively maintain it any time if needed.
- The software development team can quickly create complex systems of high quality.
Disadvantages of the approach
- Because other team members are not experts in the field that the specialist is, there might be significant gaps in communication and misalignment.
- While all team members work on their own, there is a chance that code parts will not combine properly from the first attempt (iteration).
Specialists work best alongside the rest of the software development team — not in isolation as many might think. Henrik Kniberg, agile/lean coach at Crisp (former coach at Spotify and LEGO) has stated “It’s like a jazz band — although each musician is autonomous and plays their own instrument, they listen to each other”.
Hybrid approach to software development team structure
In the book “Exploring Scrum: the Fundamentals” by Dan Rawsthorne, the author states that “In general, people can either be specialists or generalists, and the Scrum Team may be made up of both”. Scrum methodology is where the hybrid structure works best.
A hybrid team combines both generalists and specialists, maintaining a balance in the expertise needed for successful project completion. Hybrid software development teams focus on the entire project, however, members can concentrate on separate parts when needed. It is considered the best approach for team formation.
Benefits of the hybrid teams
- There is an expertise balance in the team, and the project is always supported even if someone left the team.
- The process of software development is effective at all stages.
Disadvantages of the approach
- For a company, it might take much time to build a hybrid team. It is also expensive and effort-intensive.
- The coordination within such a team can be difficult because it consists of people with different workflow approaches.
At Innovecs, we apply different approaches to team structures on different projects. The approach depends on the client’s requirements, the scope of work, type of work, and many more aspects.
For example, on one project where the key requirement is to migrate software to Java and develop new features, we have cross-functional Scrum Teams. This agile approach allows for incorporating changes to the product more effectively and enhancing the overall team morale.
Engineers in our Scrum Teams take responsibility for full-cycle development while Product Owners focus on maximizing value, ordering Product backlog, and aligning it with the company’s strategic goals. Scrum Masters teach the best Scrum practices, support self-organizing teams, and coach them.
Consider key laws when building effective software development teams
In software development, as well as in physics, there are laws. Someone calls them principles or rules, but the meaning remains the same. Company leaders must pay attention to these laws when shaping software teams. So, let’s shortly describe the main of them.
When a new team member joins, someone has to allocate time to train this specialist, explain all details of the projects, provide the necessary documentation, and clarify everything related to the project. This is time-consuming. So, the recommendation is to pay greater attention to the team size at the initial stages, when you discuss project requirements with the client.
People who create software architectures tend to copy their communication models and apply them to these architectures. As a result, the software obtains the form, workflow, look, and feel convenient to the group of people who created it. So, this law must be taken into account when building the team and finding necessary specialists for the project.
The law of Dunbar’s number
Robin Dunbar, a British evolutionary psychologist and anthropologist, believes that the organization must consist of no more than 150 people. Organizations with over 150 employees are less consolidated and engaged in company life. However, it does not mean that enterprises with 1000-1500 employees perform worse. There are smaller departments and teams that work as a single unit and drive results. So, this law can be applied to teams rather than organizations.
There are also laws such as Miller’s Magic seven, Scrum Team sizing, Hofstadter’s Law and Parkinson’s Law, Gall’s Law, and many more. You can read the detailed overview of each by Product Coalition.
Define software development team roles and responsibilities
As a rule, software development projects are difficult and require much effort before kicking off. They need thorough planning, engagement of skilled engineers and managers, and smooth collaboration and communication between all these parties.
Before starting the project, the software development company that provides services along with the customer must identify and document the roles and responsibilities of the future team. You must be sure you have the necessary expertise and proven leadership in a place.
So, let’s define the irreplaceable roles in the team and their responsibilities. Note that the team must not be limited to these roles, they are the basic.
The Product Owner (PO) is the person with a clear vision of the future software development project. This is usually someone from the client’s side who connects the client’s team with the outsourced development team.
POs possess strong product expertise and are responsible for conveying ideas to the team. Usually, POs are passionate about the project and play the role of leaders. They motivate the team and find ways to increase overall engagement to deliver results and value.
If you do not have a PO on the project, this may result in poor prioritization, missed deadlines, and low engagement.
The Project Manager (PM) takes the responsibility for the project execution from start to end. Their goal is to make sure the custom software development process runs as planned, monitor results of work, and report to senior management and the client.
A good PM has a combined and rich skillset. They are good at communication and negotiation, risk management, decision making, conflicts resolving, and motivating the team. While hard skills are important, soft skills must prevail.
A software architect is a tech geek. This person plays a very important role in the team while they are responsible for the entire architecture of the system or product in development. The architect has the most interaction with the Client as well as the Product Owner and Project Manager.
Architect envisions the architecture, conveys instructions, controls the process of product building, reviews code to make sure it is of good quality and advocates clarity. The architect also takes part in defining the technology stack for the project and estimation of the project. This person combines technical expertise with mentorship and leadership in the team. Here are the characteristics that the software architect must possess:
- In-depth technical expertise
- Responsibility for decisions made
- Clear communication
- Proven management skills
- Resilience to stressful situations
- Analytical skills
UX of the product is not limited to the feel and look, it is a much wider term. Devin Harold, UX Research Manager & Insights Leader at Verizon, believes that a good UX specialist must be an expert in executing, facilitating, and analyzing data and research.
UX designers cooperate very closely with engineers and business analysts in the software development team.
This is the core of the team which plays a critical role in the collective success of the project. The front-end, back-end, or full-stack developers are responsible for building the product according to the technical requirements. As a rule, a Scrum Team includes both back-end and front-end engineers working on a certain part of the product or service.
At Innovecs, we have a thorough process of hiring engineers consisting of 8 stages. Our talent acquisition team has an internal database of over 60 000 contacts which helps to hire elite talent. Also, we have a great option called “offer-within-one-day”, so if the client approves of the candidate, we can have all interviews during one day and provide a job offer right away.
It is better to be safe than sorry. Quality assurance must be present in every software project. QA engineers are responsible for testing the product — all its versions, finding bugs and inconsistencies, and making sure the product is ready for release. You can read more about the value and power of quality assurance in our blog post.
Some of the projects do not involve business analysts (BA). However, their role in the team is essential. These specialists are in charge of looking for ways to improve the product and make it more attractive to the customers. Business analysts research the demands of the users, analyze them, provide new ideas to satisfy all new needs.
The number of BA jobs in the US is growing. For example, Amazon invests over $700 million to upskill and retain its 100 000 workers that have business analytical abilities, according to TechCrunch.
So, what does the perfect software development team look like?
Before kicking off any software development project, the company leaders must find capable specialists responsible for the management, development, quality assurance, and business requirements.
In this article, we have outlined:
- the key approaches to a software development team structure (consisting of generalists, specialists, and or, hybrid teams)
- the characteristics of an effective software development team (good communication, clear goals, defined responsibilities, strong corporate culture)
- the most important roles and responsibilities that must be present in the team (Product Owner, Project Manager, Software Architect, Engineers, QA specialists, UX designers, Business Analyst)
- famous laws of team formation (Brook’s Law, Conway’s Law, Dunbar’s number).
Innovecs is a global digital transformation tech company. We have skilled and talented people in-house ready to take on the next software project. Do not hesitate to get in touch if you need help with your project — we are always open to dialogue.