Effective Software Development Teams

In the IT industry, even well-planned software development projects executed by well-organized teams can still be prone to failure. Businesses increasingly rely on technology solutions; the role of the software development team has become critically important.

In this lean and competitive business environment, the quality of the software development team doesn't simply impact project failure rates; it impacts business failure rates. So, what makes an effective software development team? 

Communication 

Communication is typically what makes or breaks a development team.  Even if all other aspects of the team are ideal, when communication is lacking, you will have sub-par performance.  

  • Effective communication can allow teams to overcome many less than ideal circumstances.
  • Good communication tends to hinge on several things.
    • Listening skills are a must.

Team members must have sufficient understanding of one another’s roles in order to communicate intelligently about their cooperative efforts. 

Individuals should also possess the emotional intelligence required for successful communication and relationship management. 

  • Emotionally intelligent individuals are more self-aware, socially aware, and aware of the emotional subtleties of both verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Teams that communicate well are also better at self-regulating and self-motivating. 

Direction, Buy-in and Ownership 

For software development teams to function effectively, the team must have clearly defined goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. The team must buy in to these as well. 

The team should feel a sense of ownership of the work. 

  • Buy-in to the development approach is required.
  • A coherent chain of responsibilities must be present, as well as ownership and continuity of artifacts and deliverables.
  • Everything from requirements to code must be accounted for in the chain of team responsibility and ownership. 

Environment 

Workplace teams require a quality work environment.

  • There must be mutual trust and support between the team and management, as well as among team members. 
    • Goodwill, rapport, and friendship underpin the trust and support essential to the success of the team. 
  • There should be transparency in terms of knowing what is going on in the company.
  • Team members should be compensated with equitable pay.
  • There should be compensation and/or rewards tied directly to the success of team projects. 

More specific to software development teams is the selection of the appropriate software development methodology for a project. The best development environments are not limited to using only one methodology but are instead open to changing methodologies based on business needs.

They also require the type of equipment, tools and furnishings that enable maximum efficiency and productivity. 

Team Structure 

The organizational structure of the team plays a critical role in its success. Software development teams function best when they are organized into small sub teams. There should be clear delegation of responsibilities to sub teams. 

Consider three types of organizational structures:

Generalist: Sub teams consist of individuals with a broad range of experience. 

Advantages

  • Greater continuity of artifact ownership
  • Enhanced focus on improvement of the system as a whole
  • Project management is simplified by common understanding of teammates' roles and responsibilities
  • Software traceability is easier to accomplish

Disadvantages

  • Problems that require a high level of speciality expertise are more difficult to address
  • May be less focus on improvement of the individual parts of the system
  • Project management may increase in difficulty if generalists are unable to complete project within time and budget



Specialist
: Sub teams consist of specialists, focusing on the aspects that align with their specialty. 

Advantages

  • Efforts requiring special expertise are dealt with more efficiently and effectively
  • Higher quality of work for the distinct parts that make up the system as a whole
  • Communication and cooperation may be less effective between sub teams that don't always understand others' roles and responsibilities

Disadvantages

  • Sometimes the focus on improving distinct parts does not result in improving the system as a whole
  • Lack of continuity in ownership can result in problems ranging from scope creep to components that are not well suited for the final product
  • Software traceability is more difficult

Hybrid: Both generalist and specialist sub teams exist. Generalist sub teams oversee end-to-end development of artifacts and work with specialist sub teams for the artifacts that align with their specialty. 

Advantages

  • Generalists improve continuity of artifact ownership and maintain focus on building easily integrated parts
  • Generalists improve communication and cooperation between specialist sub teams
  • Specialists increase quality of individual parts
  • Specialists provide ability to deal with specialty problems efficiently and effectively

Disadvantages

  • Finding resources to create hybrid teams is more difficult and costly
  • Project management may increase in complexity while managing vertical and horizontal sub teams
  • Poorly organized hybrid teams can bring out the worst of both worlds

The most versatile and capable teams tend to be hybrid.

The Individuals 

Ideally, generalists should have a broad range of experience, the ability to rapidly learn and adapt to new situations and be problem solvers by nature. Generalists can add value by developing specialist understanding of the types of projects they typically work on.

Specialists should not only be experts in their designated area, but should have at least a general understanding of the other roles and related technologies involved in the project. 

Individuals should: 

  • Possess good communication skills
  • Be driven by the desire to add value to the team and to the software project
  • Know their own skill levels and roles
  • Not be discouraged by those who add more value and receive greater compensation
  • Be willing to accept ownership of their roles and responsibilities
  • Understand and assist others.

After all, the ultimate deliverable, the software product, is delivered by the team. 

To Recap 

Effective development teams require effective communication, as this trait maximizes the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses of the team. The team should have a clear direction, a sense of ownership of the work, and buy-in to the process.

Teams require a quality workplace environment, as team results are likely to reflect, not correct the environment. A hybrid team structure is ideal, but ultimately the team structure must match the individuals available and the needs of the project.

Although the cliché “a team is only as good as its weakest link” may be an exaggeration, the most successful teams certainly consist of individuals who know their roles, excel at them, and excel at working with others.

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