7 Key Elements of Building Software Development Teams

Author: Tomasz Bąk
17 min read
7 Key Elements of Building Software Development Teams

Building a team requires critical care and extensive planning. That is even more so when you are trying to set up a software development team. There is a lot at stake when you are trying to build an effective team. Therefore, you need to put extra work and dedication into the work to create a team that can produce and sustain excellence.

Creating a solid software development team is beyond gathering a group of excellent developers. It requires way more than that. Every team member must be well accounted for and must have a reason for being a part of the team. You must ensure that you are deliberate about every team member and that their roles are crystal clear.

For your software development team to be effective, we will look at some of the things you need to do and put firmly in place while creating your team.

1. Structure your engineering team for the project

Common Team Structure

You've got a project at hand. Therefore, you need a team to bring the project to life. What do you do? Gather people that are capable of doing the job and kick your team to life! Sounds easy. If only it were that easy – but it isn't.

Gathering capable developers and engineers is a crucial part of creating your team. However, the first step you need to take is to structure your engineering team for the project. That means you need to decide exactly the type of team you need to deliver on the project at hand.

The primary aim of your engineering team structure should be to balance trade-offs and maximize effectiveness. Each team member should have valuable contributions that will augment the skills and assistance of the other team members. You must decide if you need more generalists or specialists on your team or even a mixture of the two (a hybrid team). The best way to make this decision lies in your project's type, complexity, the time required, and budget. Let's look at these types of teams in more detail to determine when to use each of them.

Technology team (Specialists)

Functional Team

A technology team is a team that consists of specialists. These specialists are highly proficient in their chosen field. That makes them highly effective and quick to deliver on their tasks. They are usually suited for large projects that need in-depth knowledge and expertise.

Product teams can handle specific matters leveraging their knowledge and expertise, thus resulting in more efficiency and productivity. On the other hand, communication is not really their forte. Being narrow specialists, team members may lack the general understanding of their roles and this can lead to communication breakdown.

When to choose:

  • Complex projects that require deep technical expertise: A technology team (or team of specialists) is more suited for projects that require deep technical knowledge. Therefore, if you feel your project is complex and challenging for less experienced team members to handle, you should opt for a technology team.

  • Cloud-native project that needs to meet high scalability and availability requirements: Do you have a project that requires constant scaling to cater to increasing user base or customers? Or you have a project that requires capable hands to be readily available to handle possible issues? Your best option in such situations will be to build a technology team. The specialists have in-depth knowledge and will be ready to take whatever they need to do at any given time.

Product team (Generalists)

Product Teams

Generalists are Jack of all trades. They possess an extensive knowledge and expertise on different subject matters relating to the products and company. Their main responsibility is to handle end-to-end solutions. The benefits of having them in your team is that they can provide complete solution to the issue. Nevertheless, they have their drawbacks- they may find themselves not capable if a project requires specialized skills and expertise.

When to choose:

  • End-to-end projects of moderate complexity: If you are running a project that doesn't require (and mostly does not tend to require) specialist knowledge, generalists (or product teams) are the best fit.

  • Tight schedules when it's better to integrate existing solutions instead of building them: Also, if your organization is running lean on available time, or your project requires integration instead of building from scratch, your best bet is a product team.

Matrix team

Matrix Team

Some situations require a combination of the two team structures above. In such cases, you can have a mix of both team structures. When this occurs, the resulting team structure is called a matrix team. A matrix team allows you to enjoy the benefits of both technical team structure and product team structure. While the generalists in the team concentrate on actualizing the team's big picture achievable, the specialists on the team can focus on handling the specific details. That way, the team's strengths get a balance as the two ends balance out each other's weaknesses.

When to choose:

  • Ideal for sharing talent and skills across departments: Matrix teams are ideal for ensuring a good share of talent and knowledge across the departments in your organization. It helps you have a team that sees the big picture and the little details, thereby ensuring no stone is left unturned.

  • Cut costs - a matrix approach to projects is typically less expensive even though it sometimes tends to be more effective.

You can read more about team structure here.

2. Cover design, engineering, and product roles

After you have decided on the perfect structure to adopt for your new software development team, the next thing for you is to decide on your team's design, engineering, and product roles.

3. Hire the Right People for Your Software Development Team

The hiring stage is essential. Even though having a good team doesn't do all the work for your software development team, hiring the right people is very important. The quality of the team members is what makes up for the delivery ability of the group as a whole. Therefore, you need to ensure you hire the right people for your software development team.

However, the hiring process of every team (new or old) is never easy. And it's even much harder to hire a software development team remotely based on CVs and Zoom interviews. Therefore, the hiring process can make or mar the project's success even before operations start proper. Still, some qualities can help you see the ability of a candidate to become part of an excellent software development team. Let's look at some of these qualities below.

Good software developers are team players

How successful your project will turn out depends largely on how effectively your team members communicate and interact with each other. To determine if a developer is an effective team player, look out for their experiences on achieving goals with teams they have worked with in the past. Look at how they've handled corrections and opposing opinions and how much they recognize the contributions of other team members.

Hire people who are not limited to building excellent software. Ensure that they can work well and create excellence as a team and not just individually.

They're proactive and take responsibility

Good software developers don't sit and wait for directives every time before they can get their job done. They, instead, are always willing and ready to take the initiative. They are very responsible, and they make effective plans about their days and tasks to be achieved. That makes it easy for them to deliver on projects.

They're eager to push the limits of their comfort zone

Good software developers have the ability and drive to learn new things on their own. They are self-starters and are always ready to pick up new skills. They do not shy away from tasks that require them to push beyond their limit. They are never satisfied with their current level and are always looking to break new frontiers.

Consider hiring remotely

Hiring Remotely

In your bid to hire great software developers, you should consider remote hiring. Remote working can be advantageous to your organization in many ways.

For one, it can help you increase your productivity level while saving you some money. It also allows the worker to remove the stress of commuting to work daily while also helping them save money. Remote hiring also means you won't have to worry about the location of your workers, thereby giving you access to talents from across different parts of the world while also reducing the rate of staff turnover due to the ease of operation.

4. Provide Tools and a Good Work Environment for Your Team

If you want to set up a good software development team, you will need to ensure that you provide them with all they need to deliver effectively on their task. These include a conducive work environment and every necessary tool to enhance the team's creativity.

If you do not create an enabling environment for your team, they will falter in delivering their task. It would help if you took the mental and livelihood of your team seriously, as that is what dictates how much team members can deliver on their job at the end of the day.

Provide your software development team with the required technology that can help them develop faster without becoming overwhelmed or frustrated. That ensures the team member's mental health stays optimal always.

Source control and continuous integration tools

These are examples of tools that can improve the efficiency of your software development team. Source control tools like Git allow for the flexibility your team needs. Gitflow, for example, is a Git workflow that helps your team maintain a continuous development and implementation of your software. It allows you to assign specific roles to branches of your team's repositories while defining how and when the branches should interact. That makes it possible for different developers to work at a time while they merge their codes later.

Continuous integration tools work to ensure that your software continues to function after the addition or merging of new codes. They run tests on the software to determine if the new code does not adversely affect the software.

Use End-to-End Automated Testing Framework

End-to-end testing is where you test the entire application from start to finish. It involves ensuring that all integrated parts of the application function as expected and work together. End-to-end testing simulates real user scenarios, essentially testing how real users will use the application.

Automated tests prevent errors and regressions and improve developer productivity. They allow developers to detect problems before moving on to the next task, thereby fixing them while still on the task.

5. Make an Effort To Improve Team Communication

Team Communication

The benefits of effective team communication in the workplace cannot be understated. Your team needs to understand the importance of team communication because it is essential to their success.

Effective communication within the team will establish common goals among team members to achieve their goals. Frequent communication can help team members build a sense of belonging and strengthen interpersonal relationships.

Communication can improve organizational efficiency. When employees understand the work standards, they will be more willing to ask for help when needed, and the team will become more capable. Strong team communication will create understanding, and understanding will build strong relationships within the team.

Define roles and goals from the beginning

The more defined the roles of each team member are, the easier it is for them to take necessary actions. Most times, workplace miscommunication arises as a result of unclear distinctions of roles and responsibilities.

Therefore, to improve the communication on your team and improve their overall productivity levels, it is pertinent that you create well-defined roles, responsibilities, and goals for the team members from the beginning of the team formation process.

Set a clear path on how to identify and resolve problems when they arise

There will be times when issues will arise among team members and within the team. To ensure that these situations don't escalate into more severe cases, you must set a clear path to identify problems and resolve them at the same time when they arise.

Putting a conflict resolution and identification process and path in place for your team will ensure effective handling of problems whenever they arise. That also makes the process of operation a lot smoother.

Leveraging a Common Visual Language to Shrink Feedback Loops

Waiting until the end of the sprint for feedback is too long. It would be best to understand that software development could see minor changes have a massive effect downstream. Therefore, you must create a common visual language to reduce the feedback loops. If developers do not maintain constant feedback early, developers might make assumptions that can make the project go off-course. The longer it takes for team members to provide feedback, the harder it will be to find possible problems and find solutions.

To ensure feedback loops become as short as possible, a common visual language will help develop mutual understanding among teams and team members. The visual language will facilitate sustained communication and effective coordination, thereby helping your team members make informed decisions to make the project a success.

Host retrospective team meetings

Team meetings are necessary for every organization. It is always a time for a lot of issues, ideas, and observations to be tabled. Every team member will give their opinion about the situation and possible steps to take to ensure the project's success.

A retrospective meeting is set up to allow you and your team members to look at your progress so far. You look at each step you've taken in the past and how actions have influenced the project's current state. The retrospective meeting will help you shed more light on actions taken, thereby helping the team make better-informed decisions.

Celebrate team successes

Acknowledging your team's successes and celebrating them will help serve as a form of motivation to them. It enables you to show your team that their efforts do not go unnoticed and that they will be appreciated for their good deeds.

Below are some best practices that will help you celebrate your team's successes.

Use verbal praises: You can not underestimate the power of verbal appreciation. Therefore, using verbal compliments in public for your team (or team member) will make them feel recognized. When the praise is even more specific and instant, it achieves more.

Provide Written Praise: Sending emails to team members can also serve as a good way of celebrating team success. A simple email offering praise to the team members on their achievement will uplift their spirit and make them even more committed to influencing the future behavior and performance of the team.

Hold a Celebration Party or Event: organizing a party or mini-event to celebrate your team's success also does a lot for the team's motivation. Additionally, holding a party to celebrate your team's success will avail them of an opportunity to interact with each other and foster friendship and better communication.

6. Empower Team Ownership

To build an effective and fantastic team, you need to ensure that the top-down approach to management must be appropriately managed. That will avoid a situation where only the managers care about the goals of the organization or team.

Below are ways that can help you empower team ownership among your team members.

Have trust Within the team

The more trusting of each other the team members are, the more comfortable they get around themselves. That fosters a sense of family that creates an atmosphere where the team members see themselves as a vital part of a large family.

Therefore, to create trust within your team, help the team members to know each other's histories, behaviors, and interests. Also, relying more on your team to make crucial decisions will foster a sense of ownership. Over time, each team member will have developed team ownership to make the team even stronger than it was.

Best practices:

  • Show curiosity and expect the team to ask for help or feedback

  • If somebody brings a challenging issue to your attention - encourage taking it to the team for discussion

  • Demonstrate vulnerability and admit mistakes

  • Make explicit that there are a lot of unknowns with complex work

Keep team up-to-date with the overall progress

The more aware the team members are about the organization's activities (and team), the more they'll feel vital to the team. Therefore, if you want to empower team ownership among your team, keep them informed about the project's overall progress.

Best practices:

  • Reference visual sprint board whenever discussing work with other team members

  • Create a user story mapping board where the team can see the user's journey through your product and where we are currently within the larger picture of the product roadmap

  • Regularly ask, "How do we feel about our progress towards the Sprint Goal?" and "What do we think is the most important thing for us to focus on and achieve today?

  • Work with team to identify where they see waste and bottlenecks by tracking WIP (work-in-progress) and how much time is spent waiting on others

Shared accountability of creating a Done Increment

You must ensure that information is transparent among team members. That will make it easy for team members to discuss their progress, discover possible problems and collectively find solutions to the issues.

Best practices:

  • Change the language to "we succeed as a team" and "we fail as a team."

  • Hold individuals accountable by having them present progress on the area they worked on during Sprint demos

7. Hold teams accountable

The more empowered your team is, the more the team will become more accountable for their tasks. Therefore, you should endeavor to provide the opportunity for your team to explain their obligations and how they fulfill those obligations.

Create an avenue that allows the team to share thoughts and opinions that can bring about improvement in projects. Also, ensuring that team members hold each other accountable will go a long way to ensure success.

Define what people are accountable for

Team members need to have clearly defined expectations to accomplish goals. Your organization may have some core responsibilities that align with the mission, core values, and purpose which you want the team to prioritize. Examples of such could be quality, excellence, or customer-centricity.

At some other times, you may want your team to be accountable while working on some short projects or take initiatives in some other cases.

Whichever way, you should invest quality time to invest what you expect from your team.

Provide updates on the progress

Your team needs information to work effectively towards the goals.

Information in this regard could be feedback from client surveys, ongoing project updates, or insights from relevant stakeholders. However, the most effective feedback that impacts the project significantly occurs between you and your team members.

While preparing your feedback, ask yourself if you have every relevant information, and the right data that is focused on performance. You can reinforce positive behaviors with performance-orientated data or discourage the negative ones which can ultimately boost the team productivity.

Recognize and celebrate progress

For every successful step that teams and team members take, ensure that they receive adequate recognition and immediate celebration. That will keep them on their toes to continue to deliver excellence, thereby increasing accountability.

Remove the ‘hero worship’

A new study conducted by Northwestern University revealed that when team members share previous experiences where they have successfully completed milestones together, the likelihood of winning increases for subsequent projects.

The keyword is 'shared success' which is more significant than individual success. As the team leader, you can reinforce purposeful collaboration and harmony by rewarding team-focused goals and not individual wins.

Conclusion

Software development teams can be tricky to build. Some mistakes can be made. When mistakes are made, they might become costly and might even lead to a catastrophic failure. To ensure that you set up the most effective teams possible, employ these vital elements that have been discussed above. They will help you handle the core areas of your team and give the needed structure and strength to your software development team, leading to success.

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