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Best Practices in Software Development Team Management

According to a CHAOS report by Standish Group, the success rate of software projects is dishearteningly low, with only 31% managing to succeed. The implications of software failures are even more alarming, with costs surging from $1.31 trillion in 2020 to an astounding $2.41 trillion in 2022.

One of the primary culprits behind these failures is poor software development team management, which can lead to increased costs, extensive delays, compromised software quality, and ultimately, diminished chances of success. This problem becomes even more pronounced for large organizations dealing with complex custom software development operations. 

To tackle these challenges, the key lies in implementing industry-proven best practices. We have curated a comprehensive collection of such practices to guide you.

The best practices in software development team management

The expert panel of Forbes’s Technology Council submits that the top causes of software project failure include:

  • A lack of knowledge of business requirements
  • Failure to unify priorities
  • A lack of a clear strategy
  • Siloed team environments
  • Undefined roles, and
  • Inefficiency of soft skills, among others

Our best practices for managing software development teams are directly aimed at eliminating these barriers from your collaborative environment. 

1. Use project management software to organize tasks

At its very core, the success of your software project is simply a combination of these items:

  • Good project planning
  • Real-time project tracking
  • Seamless scheduling and time management
  • Good resource management
  • Careful budget management. 

What does a project management tool offer you in all of this? 

Well, you effortlessly centralize and satisfy all your collaborative project management needs on one platform. A study by PWC shows that 77% of companies with high-performing projects make use of project management tools. 

Now, when we talk about project management tools, we don’t talk about software that allows you to just create tasks to remember and update completion statuses. Software here refers to collaborative project and portfolio management tools that centralize all tasks and software projects across teams and allow you to prioritize tasks, assign tasks, and monitor tasks all on one platform. 

Project management tools improve the effectiveness of your software development planning and scheduling workflows. You have a single source of truth through which all software development teams understand deliverables, resource allocations, dependencies, deadlines, and priorities. These tools allow for easier file sharing, more seamless task delegation, and automated notifications to keep everyone on the same page. 

Through real-time cost monitoring, sales pipeline forecasting, and IT risk analysis, project management software can also help you keep software development processes within budget constraints. 

The overall advantage of project management tools to your software development team is that they keep change management effective. Every team member has immediate and equal access to new information, responsibilities, deliverables, deadlines, and dependencies. Your team’s software development priorities are equally understood and better managed. 

2. Work with a team you trust

Trust in your software development team is important for so many reasons. When you trust the ability of your team to meet deliverables on time, you have more confidence in defining plans and making quality improvements to software products. 

However, when building a team of developers with abilities you can trust, do well to also build confidence in them by maintaining a psychologically safe development environment. Psychological safety refers to the confidence team members have in taking risks, making mistakes, and admitting these mistakes without facing repercussions. 

Psychological safety is a concept that builds interpersonal trust, giving software developers comfort in each other. Through psychological safety, you encourage information and problem sharing and, hence, collaboration. 

When team members are free to share mistakes and ask questions, you have a better understanding of their dependability, what affects their dependability, and how to improve dependability. The higher the dependability of your software development team, the higher the trust you have in their abilities to meet quality requirements and targets.

Google’s Matt Sakaguchi says teams with psychological safety beat deliverables and targets by 17%, while teams without safety miss targets by 19%. 

3. Commit to a primary software development methodology

A software development methodology (SDM) is a framework that guides the structure, progression, and control of your development operations. It defines processes around identifying requirements, building the software product, testing the product, releasing the product, and maintaining the product. 

SDMs can be majorly split into waterfall methodologies, iterative methodologies, continuous methodologies, and Rapid Application Development (RAD) methodologies. 

Waterfall methodology is a one-way framework that involves defining all plans and deliverables before development starts and strictly sticking to plans without any chance for change.

Iterative methodologies divide software development into different phases. 

Continuous methodologies focus on incorporating change management to increase the efficiency of software development processes. 

RAD methodologies focus on delivering software as fast as possible

Popular methodologies like Agile, Lean, and DevOps combine the ideas of two or more of these categories to give a highly efficient framework to work with. 

For instance, Agile is an iterative and continuous methodology that focuses on simultaneous development sprints. DevOps, on the other hand, combines iterations, continuous improvements, and automation to create RAD workflows.  

Committing to a software development methodology ensures your team stays organized during development. It essentially gives your team structured/defined plans on how to react to changes and ensure outputs meet quality requirements. 

4. Spell out expectations,  from the word go

Without clear and unified objectives, your team is never truly a “team”. 

Instead, you have a group of individuals with separate priorities. These will be individuals who lack a common motivation, lack a unified sense of urgency to meet deadlines, and don’t have a common idea of what failure is for the software product. You put your project in a state of disorganization, allowing each developer to work at his or her own pace and towards a separate goal from others. 

Effective software development team management is the opposite of this. You want to define goals and deliverables before the project starts, and also clearly communicate these to all team members. 

This is more reason why collaborative project management tools should be your number one go-to team management solution. With these tools, you have a single source of truth for communicating development expectations and, hence, achieve a unified effort toward software delivery.  

5. Shield the software development team from non-technical tasks

Although the more progressive development methodologies, like DevOps, involve close interactions between development and operations, the individuals responsible for these should be clearly separated and defined. 

The focus of developers should be majorly placed on writing better codes to build higher-quality software. 

The non-technical administrative tasks like server resource management, automation playbook optimization, and access control management, among others, should be put on other individuals. 

This doesn’t mean that your developers should not be concerned with these administrative aspects. Instead, interactions or collaborations with administrative operations should only be through feedback on how to improve the quality of software code.

This way, your development team has more time to innovate and solve problems through code.

6. Handle conflicts constructively

Conflict within team environments is an almost unavoidable occurrence. 

Even when expectations are unified, the collaboration between team members may be hindered by, for instance, separate development preferences in the planning stage. 

The natural response here would be “fight or flight”, where team members become aggressive in forcing preferences or postpone conflicts by failing to address them immediately. Both of these would be detrimental to your project. 

Instead, you want to handle conflicts constructively. Rather than allowing fights or totally avoiding conflicts (which will definitely resurface), you initiate conversations on the issue at hand. 

Create a respectable environment where team members communicate their needs or reservations, and where you understand what the problem is. Weigh solutions, and identify where compromises can be made. 

Most importantly, ensure the team members let go of any resentment that may have built up during the conflict or over time. 

7. Hire specialized talent for tasks the software development team is not good at

A dependable team is great, but when this team is faced with specific development challenges they aren’t experienced in, your workflows take a negative hit. Your solution would then be to insource or outsource for specialized talent to handle this specific challenge. 

Insourcing involves employing new talent with specialized skills into your company to handle specific tasks. Outsourcing is where you give the responsibility of this challenging task to a third-party service provider. 

Does your team have difficulty analyzing security intelligence data? You either employ a security data analytics expert (insource) or delegate this task to a third-party data analytics service provider (outsource). 

Now, the choice to insource or outsource depends on your exposure to factors like cost and control. If you don’t need additional technology to manage the specialized task, insourcing proves to be cheaper and offers you more control over your development processes. 

However, with a need for new technology, like the need to purchase enterprise-level data analytics software, outsourcing may be cheaper. 

Compare in-house vs outsourced software development

8. Hold regular team meetings as well as one-on-ones

These interactions foster effective communication and collaboration among team members, promoting a cohesive and productive work environment.

Team meetings provide a platform for discussing project progress, addressing challenges, and setting collective goals. It allows team members to share their ideas, provide feedback, and align their efforts towards a common objective.

On the other hand, one-on-one sessions facilitate personalized discussions between the software development team manager and individual team members. These private meetings create opportunities to understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses.

During one-on-ones, managers can offer tailored guidance, provide performance feedback, and recognize individual achievements. This personalized approach nurtures trust and enhances employee engagement, resulting in a more motivated and committed team.

Furthermore, regular team meetings and one-on-ones aid in identifying potential issues early on, allowing managers to proactively address concerns and maintain a positive team dynamic.

9. Identify and track the most important KPIs

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the financial, performance, and customer-centered metrics through which you monitor the success of your software development processes. 

Consider factors such as the application’s development speed, the amount of work in progress, and customer satisfaction.

To determine the KPIs you have to measure, you look at your business goals and objectives. For instance, if the goal is to deliver software within 6 months, you should track KPIs that show how fast you move through the software development phases and what you spend the most time on. 

Common KPIs would include:

  • Average velocity, which shows how fast teams move through individual Agile sprints
  • Cycle time, which shows how fast you deliver features to customers. 
  • Sprint burndown to track how much work remains in an Agile sprint
  • Release burndown to track how much work remains in a release cycle
  • Cumulative flow to track the average work in progress (WIP)
  • Flow efficiency to track how fast the team moves through a queue of tasks
  • Code coverage, through which you measure the effectiveness of automated testing workflows. 

There are a whole lot more KPIs to track and utilize to improve the efficiency of your software development team. 

10. Assign clear roles

A comprehensive software development team is made up of distinct roles, and each role has distinct responsibilities in ensuring the team meets its deliverables. 

The core roles include:

  • The project manager
  • Team lead
  • UX/UI design
  • Developer
  • Quality Assurance (QA) 
  • Business Analyst (BA). 

While these roles are ordinarily dedicated to different individuals, one individual can be responsible for playing two or more roles. 

For instance, the UI/UX designer can also be responsible for writing the code that brings his design to life. A business analyst can be the QA officer to determine whether developer outputs fit the given quality/business requirements. 

The important tip here is to ensure goals are clearly defined and that each member understands the role he or she plays within the team. 

With this, everyone knows what they are working towards, the hierarchy of authority in making decisions, and, also their dependencies in completing development tasks. 

Well defined roles eliminate confusion, especially when you use a continuous improvement methodology where roles may change at any time based on changing skill and business requirements. 

11. Find ways to motivate the software development team constantly

We all know that software development can be very challenging, hence overwhelming. 

Your team members can get easily disinterested in the repetitive process of writing codes and managing resources. This r leads to missed deadlines, low-quality output, poor collaboration, lack of accountability, and even high employee turnover. 

Motivation is key to sustaining productivity and creativity and, thankfully, there is a lot you can do to keep it high.

  • Give rewards and incentives for hard work
  • Provide a structure for growth within the team and company
  • Provide regular one-on-one support
  • Sustain a scheduling culture that prioritizes work-life balance.

For instance, you can implement Google’s 20% rule where you allow developers to spend 20% of their time on personal projects and interests. 

Discuss with your developers about what they consider a motivating factor.

12. Balance workload to prevent burnout

Placing too many responsibilities on an individual or development team is never a good idea. It leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, increased chances of error, a lack of creativity, hindered skill development, and even health issues.

Set realistic deadlines and use automation tools for repetitive tasks. Conduct regular retrospective meetings to collect feedback on team members’ workloads and make necessary adjustments.

13. Avoid micromanaging

Micromanagement is where supervisors get too involved in the software development process, removing every bit of autonomy from the developers.

These are the common signs of micromanagement: 

  • Constantly requesting updates, even when it’s not necessary
  • Giving unrealistic deliverables
  • Focusing on unimportant details
  • Dissatisfaction with every output
  • A  desire to be involved in every single decision-making process, among others. 

Micromanagement is a symbol of low trust in the software development team. Unfortunately, it leads to low confidence, low creativity, and, ultimately, high employee/developer turnover. To avoid this, you want to give developers as much freedom as possible. 

Of course autonomy does not mean the freedom to do whatever they want. But, instead, you want to give them the freedom to operate within methodologies and in meeting deliverables. Rather than monitoring every activity, you opt to only compare results against requirements.

One way of giving this level of freedom is to permit a remote work environment. A report on Statista shows that over 58% of developers have noticed an increase in productivity when working remotely — when they aren’t put under constant pressure from the software development team manager.  

A quick note on how to manage remote software development teams

The COVID-19 pandemic redefined work culture and brought remote environments to the forefront. 

Upwork’s survey of 1,000 hiring managers shows that, at the end of the pandemic, 68% acknowledged that remote working still worked for them and a whopping 83% claimed it made teams more effective. 

With estimates showing that at least 36 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025, it’s important that you also consider how to manage this type of software development team. 

With remote teams, our best practices mentioned above remain relevant. 

However, the utilization of project management tools becomes more important as communication and collaboration become critical to business success. Your major challenge would be finding the right schedule for meetings and retrospective sessions across different time zones. 

If your development team is spread across wide geolocations, consider their different time zones when making plans. Slack group chats are great, but video calls through platforms like Zoom permit face-to-face interactions and give you more value. 

If you are into hybrid work environments, use inclusive language when referring to remote team members, rather than separating in-house and remote developers with terms like “us” and “them”. 

Finally, understand that the value of remote work is the freedom it gives to developers to meet deliverables using their own schedule. As advised before, avoid micromanaging remote developers and only judge them on how well they meet deliverables. 

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