Software Development Team Structure

Author: Tomasz Bąk
9 min read
Software Development Team Structure

We have seen several tech startups build their software development team structure around the Spotify Model for structuring the software development team. However, research has shown that this model based on tribes and squads also comes with its pitfalls. There is no fail-proof model. This has led to questions about how to structure a software development team.

In this guide, we cover the common software development team structures and the best practices to build an effective structure.

Common software development team structures

Common Engineering Team Structure V 2

Before you figure out what you need to prioritize when building a software development team, you need to finalize the type of structure you want your team to have. Establishing a software development team structure goes a long way to determine the success of your project or product.

Tweaking the “triad”

Traid Team Structure

Industry experts recommend utilizing a structure that combines the three core competencies.

For instance, Atlassian and Invision have teams where leaders from design, product, and engineering are duly represented. These core areas are like a trio- a three-legged foot. However, there is always a challenge during decision-making.

For Dropbox, their trio or "3Cs" are Content, Coordination, and Communication while Slack employs a mix of sub-team triads who collaborate with other teams in the organization. Every team mentioned above follows a basic structure that has been tested and trialed so they stick to what works for them.

Three approaches to product team structure

How about we begin with the basics?

You can arrange your agile software development team leveraging different methods:

  • Generalist
  • Specialist
  • Hybrid

Generalist

This team structure includes people with broad skills and experience. The generalists are saddled with the end-to-end development of an individual feature or complete project. Most outsourcing companies adopt this team structure.

Let's weigh the pros and cons

Pros

  • Everyone in the team knows how the product works so it is easier to focus on product development.
  • Every team member is competent to complete the task assigned independently without the need to depend on others.

Cons

Since no one has specific knowledge, there's always a need to onboard new team members while the project is active.

Specialist Structure

A specialist structure incorporates experts with highly specialized skills and who are experienced in dealing with narrow tasks and responsibilities. Every team member is proficient in one niche and is saddled with the responsibilities required in that area as it contributes to the overall project. Most software development teams adopt this arrangement.

Pros

  • Astounding knowledge of specific project areas.
  • Ability to develop high-quality systems without lags.

Cons

  • Since every team member works independently, it is possible the parts may not fill into the whole.
  • Communication gaps may also exist due to the absence of general knowledge.

Hybrid

A hybrid team structure combines the generalist and the specialist structure. While a hybrid team focuses on the whole, they can also become specific anytime there is a need for it. This hybrid is the best of both structures.

Pros

  • The team consists of specialists who develop specific elements and generalists who ensure every part fits into the whole.
  • The development process is highly effective.

Cons

  • It is most times challenging to manage individuals with different work approaches
  • It takes time and a huge cost to build a hybrid team.

Software development team structure by role

Software Development Team Structure By Role

Ideally, every organization would have specialists and generalists, and of them will collaborate without any hassle. This is not the same in the real business world. Every business has its challenges, is time-bound, and budget-constrained. That's the more reason most software development project teams go for the generalist structure.

So what are the roles that exist in these teams?

Let's explore them.

Client

He or she is the owner of the idea. He or she shares foresight and expectation with the developers. He or she is also responsible for preparing detailed documentation of his or her idea and clarifies the what's and the whys'. He or she can also collaborate with technical experts to prepare the product documentation.

Business Analyst (BA)

This is an individual in charge of setting goals, analyzing, and filing the vital processes and systems. He or she also ensures that the business model aligns with the technology. Business analysts have foresight. They assess what works and what does not and establish the direction for the business.

Project Manager (PM)

This individual coordinates project planning and execution. He or she ensures that operations are actively running. PMs are also responsible for managing relationships among stakeholders and different departments of the organization. They manage all processes, assign tasks and ensure every team member aligns with the project timeline.

UX/UI Designer

This is the person that designs how users interact with the product. He or she ensures that every feature and functionality addresses the pain point of users and impacts their bottom line.

Their core responsibilities are functionality and usability.

Developers (Front-end/ Back-end)

These are the group of people in charge of the actual coding. While front-end developers work on the visible elements of the product, back-end developers work on the functionality which is the invisible element of the product.

Quality Assurance Engineer (QA)

A Quality Assurance Engineer tests the product to ensure its functionality. He or she also ensures that the product aligns with standards and the client's expectations. You can see them as the final editor who possesses a keen attention to the tiniest detail. They detect bugs and errors on time so the team can fix them before end-users assess the product.

How is the Agile software development team structure different?

Looking at the peripheral, an Agile team has additional job roles; at least take a cue from the Agile Manifesto.

  • People and interactions take precedence over tools and processes.
  • Functional Software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration supersedes comprehensive documentation.
  • Responding to change supersedes sticking to a plan.
Traditional teamAgile team
Top-down project management. The project manager is responsible for getting things done.Self-organized and self-managed team. PM’s role is to coach the team, remove obstacles, and prevent distractions.
Teams may work on several projects simultaneously.Teams focus on one project at a time.
An organization evaluates individual performanceAn organization evaluates team performance
Distinct roles and job titles.Cross-functional teams, skills matter more than titles.
No team size limits.Three to nine people per team.
Employees are referred to as human resources.Employees are referred to as talents.

Collaboration, how people work together, is what differentiates an Agile team model from the traditional one.

Agile software development team structure

Agile Software Development Team Structure

Let's explore some roles and responsibilities in the Agile software development team structure.

Product Owner (PO)

This is a major stakeholder of the project. This individual possesses extensive knowledge of the users and the product and coordinates the internal aspects of the product. Their main responsibility is to ensure the product addresses the client's requirements. They check on the team, provide support and coordinate operations, and ensure the product is market-ready.

Scrum Master

It would be ideal to define the word 'scrum'. Scrum is a methodology that enables an Agile team to organize itself and be more dynamic based on the Agile development principles. The process owner who facilitates the work is known as a scrum master.

Development team

These are in-house developers that collaborate on the project as a team. Just like in a traditional team, the Agile team incorporates front-end and back-end developers, UX designers, as well as QA testers. All of them collaborate on the product closely.

5 Best practices for effective software development team structure

An effective software development team is efficient and delivers valuable products on time. Let's explore the key factors that form the baseline for this efficiency.

Choose the team structure relevant to your project

We already highlighted the different types of development team structure: generalists, specialists, and hybrid teams.

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Each of them can work for one project while dysfunctional in other projects. To prevent lags and project dysfunctionality, you need to go for the best team structure that aligns with your operations and collaboration.

Split Big Teams Into Smaller Ones

It is easier to coordinate smaller software development teams than big ones. This is because you can easily manage contributions and collaboration. From our experience, we recommend a team of 4-8 individuals. In the case of a large project, it is ideal to split the team into sub-teams each having a team lead.

Empower Team Ownership

Let your team own the project. Several studies have pointed to the fact that when you empower your team, you indirectly optimize the IQ of every team member. Controlling a team sucks the creativity out of your team. Your team will become more efficient and innovative when you empower them.

How do you empower your agile team?

  • Let your team pull the agile initiative instead of pushing it. This creates a buy-in as against forcing a kind of edict on your team
  • Educate business stakeholders about the agile world and what it means to empower the team.
  • Leverage iterations with team planning and retrospection.
  • Behave team ownership, not just say it.
  • Eliminate hero-worship.
  • Reinforce team-focused goals so everyone can perform better and have their intelligence enhanced.

Hold Team accountable

Demand accountability from your team. Provide platforms where they can share their responsibilities and how they meet them.

Keep Your Team Balanced

Define roles and responsibilities for every team member. Assign roles correctly and feel free to change roles when required.

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