The Ultimate Guide to Software Development Management 
You’ve stumbled across the ultimate guide to software development management, an evergreen guide to software development management created thanks to our experience as a software factory.
How does development work in a Software Factory
You’ve stumbled across The ultimate guide to software development management, an overblown title, I know, but that is what we strive for. The idea is to create an evergreen guide to software development management thanks to our experience as a software factory. Don’t be surprised if this article changes and updates over time. That is the idea!
As a software factory, we work on managed services, staff augmentation, and product development. All of these ventures are done thanks to following procedures and using straightforward management solutions. You might be here because you work in development or are a curious person who wants the best for your business. In any case, welcome!
In general, software factories provide some or all these services:
- Managed services
- Staff augmentation
- Product development
There is a wide range of software development roles and, throughout this article, we will break them down and clarify misconceptions. We will also talk about methodologies like Agile and development practices such as DevOps. We strive for an open-source culture in which all software communities can share their knowledge and experience along the way.
Software development project roles
In software development, there are plenty of roles: CTO, project manager, product manager, product owner, subject matter expert, QA specialist, QA leader, software testers and architects, technical leader, team lead, and the original full-stack developer. As you can see, software management is not shy of development roles, and each has its set of characteristics.
Software development project roles are more than just titles. They are crucial to divide operations and duties properly. Establishing a chain of command and communication channels is also necessary, depending on the inner workings of each organization.
But before we advance with work culture, we need to understand roles and responsibilities (Sounds like a book by Jane Austen, right?).
CTO stands for chief technology officer and can be understood as the equivalent of a CEO in the hierarchical structure but for the technology department. As with other high responsibility roles, almost every CTO has a different job description. That is because of variations in size and work culture of companies.
As a rule of thumb, the CTO is in charge of executive-level decisions about technology, which include setting and implementing long-term strategies, analyzing future technology requirements, and staffing the team, among other things.
The CTO is responsible for how technology affects, optimizes, and benefits the business, rather than developing the software. This responsibility can get stretched when talking about a startup or small business. In those cases, the lead developer might fall into a fix-it-all way of working involving the duties of a CTO.
As for the skills required for a CTO, the role requires combining management, interpersonal, and technological skills. They should be able to think in mid to long-term strategies and be in touch with the latest technological advancements that could be useful for their business. CTOs communicate with the company’s major players, so a wide knowledge base and leadership skills are also appreciated.
CTOs are the ones that will promote the company’s technological evolution and create the best environment for the company to be competitive. To achieve this, they often have to bring business and technology strategies together, making the role essential in any big-enough enterprise.
TL;DR? Here are the skills and responsibilities of a CTO (chief technology officer):
- High level of expertise
- Wide knowledge base
- Versatility and creativity
- Business and strategic vision
- Leadership and management
- Mid to long-term planning
Project managers are the absolute authority in everything related to the details of a project. They are down in the trenches with daily problems and solving any issue. That is because they design the work structure and are in charge of hitting the project goals, even setting them! That is why a project manager also takes a given project and divides it into sizable and workable pieces.
Project managers are often required to have leadership and people skills. Working with people daily, reviewing their work, and directing them to get the desired results is no easy task. Team organization, team management, and conflict resolution should be their area of expertise. Software development also needs someone to put out fires and maintain their temple in a crisis.
Project managers are often dedicated to their team and build a strong bond. They have to make sure that the team delivers on schedule and fulfills the project expectations. They also are in charge of cheerleading the team by encouraging people to meet goals and taking care of their needs.
It is not only about putting pressure on the team. It is about motivating everyone to be their best. We will talk more about this in the multidisciplinary team section.
TL;DR? Here are the responsibilities and skills a project manager should have:
- Be in the details; the devil is there too
- Set up goals and objectives
- Steer the team for success
- Be a support figure for the team
- Plan and keep track of progress
- Report any issues and wrap up projects
The Product Owner is responsible for defining stories (short description of a wanted functionality) and handing them to the project manager to include in the team backlog. They usually benefit from agile software development methodologies like Scrum. Product owners streamline and prioritize given tasks in a product backlog and present the broad structure of every sprint. However, they should not be confused with the product or project managers.
As such, product owners are accountable for maximizing the value of their product by organizing a product backlog that divides tasks and responsibilities into broad needs. Then, those are divided into smaller tasks by a project manager that lists them in sprints (the unity of iteration of a continuous development cycle). This methodical organization allows scrum teams to deliver software faster and with a minimum viable product (MVP) in mind.
Product owners work then as delegators of responsibility to others while remaining accountable. They keep a distanced view and talk directly to project managers. PMs know the skills and timetables of every team member to assign the tasks correctly and maximize the utility of each talent. Assigning the setup of the Drupal CMS to the front-end designer is not going to cut it.
To succeed, the team must respect their decisions, and respect is a two-way street (Gosh, I sound more like my grandmother every day). As seen in other leadership positions, product owners need soft skills and know how to put projects into words that everyone can understand. Not knowing what to do can be a killer for anyone working on a product, right?
In this overlord position, the product owner has power over the timetable and represents the needs of the stakeholders. People call the product owner when needing a product backlog change that is not modifiable by the project manager.
As for skills, product owners have to be familiar with the Scrum framework and apply it to product development. Also, they should demonstrate how their organization and time-keeping skills can create value or save valuable effort. Structuring a product backlog should be their second nature while also having an eye for talent and trusting project managers.
TL;DR? Here are the responsibilities, duties, and skills of a product owner:
- Develop and communicate the product goal
- Create product backlog items and discuss them with the project manager
- Set the foundations for a transparent, visible, and understandable product backlog
- Prioritize work items by keeping in line with the stakeholders' vision and goals
- Assess the team’s work and provide constructive feedback
- Domain experience and knowledge base
- Leadership and communication skills
- Act as a point of contact from the development team with stakeholders
- Evaluate the progress and assess future strategies
If you Google "product manager", you will often find it referred to as the product CEO, since they are in charge of the life cycle of a product from beginning to end. Even if product managers are, in fact, managers overlooking a project, this definition might have limitations.
Product managers are expected to provide a vision for their product and carry it over to the entire organization. While in this role, they have to develop a strategy and assess its feasibility while working together with other areas. That is why you might see them managing multidisciplinary teams or going from one place to another.
Regarding their aptitudes, product managers should be familiar with design thinking and have exceptional communication skills. Negotiating with so many different teams and professionals is no easy task. They have to guide the development of a product and lead it to success thanks to managing a motley crew of specialists.
Design thinking means that the product manager knows how to research and plan accordingly, spotting business opportunities based on data collection and knowledge base. Both creativity and business vision are combined. A good PM can be an idea generation machine.
In any case, these ideas should be properly put into paper with a strategic vision in mind. Comparing with competitors and providing a value proposition are a must. When developing a product, they have to establish processes, design the roadmap, and make business decisions.
Finally, product managers have to juggle managing teams while providing automation solutions and looking forward to product negotiations. Every step of the process should be reviewed, documented, and consolidated following a task schedule. Even when approaching the finish line, product managers can't rest. They have to make the organization, partners, and potential customers fall in love with the product.
TL;DR? Let's list below their duties, responsibilities, and skills:
- Strategic vision
- Establishing processes
- Articulating what a winning product looks like
- Rallying the entire team
- Iterating until they get it right
- Product negotiation
Subject Matter Expert
A Subject Matter Expert (SME) is a person who masters a particular subject or area. The term is used when creating and developing materials about a specific topic. In software development, people consult subject matter experts when writing articles, documentation, or manuals. They are also hired to create tests and paired with technical writers to convert information to the target audience.
SMEs are also necessary when developing learning materials or training teams. There are some topics and tools that only a few people understand, making SMEs very solicited. In engineering and software, they are consulted when a team is designing new concepts or reviewing the performance of a system or process.
That is why SMEs often work as consultants in their domain knowledge as professional question answerers and indicating the best procedures and practices. When developing new tools, SMEs tell software developers what needs to be done by the software and their requirements. When developing software for a niche, whether it is business, writing, or rocket science, having the perspective of the most knowledgeable end-user (the SME) can be a game-changer.
TL;DR: What is an SME?
- SME = subject matter expert
- Consultants, trainers, and experts
- A wide knowledge base and experience
- They work as guides in development and technical writing
Quality Assurance leader
Quality assurance (QA) leaders are senior quality specialists that manage a dedicated team of testers to assure the best results in a software development project. Being in a management position, QA leaders have more leading responsibilities than software testers or quality specialists. When talking about duties and responsibilities, they have a lot to cover.
People in this position lead the quality assurance team, which implies less testing and more leadership. Leaders have to establish to the QA team the quality needed while resolving all the queries and issues. Also, they ensure that the team is focusing both on automation and manual testing to keep processes updated and fast and challenge the team to automate more daily work.
Quality assurance leaders are in charge of raising the bar and standards with every project to push the team to innovate and grow. They have to motivate the team and make quick decisions as daily struggles depend on their problem-solving.
On the other hand, QA leaders need to define testing standards and strategies. Defining quality standards and metrics for the current project or product is a must for any project to succeed. That can be complemented by creating a list of milestones and checkpoints and setting measurable criteria to check the quality at pace. No plan survives contact with the enemy, but not having a plan is a no-go.
While solving daily issues and putting down fires, QA leaders know how to manage risks and spice things up. They work closely on project deadlines and should remind the development team the QA is coming...
These multiple-team interactions mean that people skills are appreciated: playing nice with the rest of the teams like development and operations; more need empathy-driven communication and sensitivity in the choice of words.
With their perfectionist nature, QA leaders are always trying to improve processes, define better test plans, and review the several phases of the testing cycle. They have to ensure that all development tasks meet the quality standards and criteria the company requires, which is achieved by issue tracking, testing, testing, and (you guessed it) more testing.
Being in charge of the QA team, leaders are responsible for reporting to upper management. They have to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the quality metrics are reviewed and agreed upon. That includes analyzing status reports from team managers and creating and defining risk contingencies and plans to send feedback from management to development and vice versa.
QA leaders are both in the past (reviewing all the development team output) and in the future (planning how to establish better ways to deliver software).
While ensuring no gap between quality at release and quality perceived by the end-user, they will do everything in their power to break the development team's product. Think of it as stress testing before commercialization.
Finally, QA leaders have to document everything, and I mean everything. Any issue, bug, or error will go back to the development team, who has to fix it promptly or find an alternative solution. With that said, QA leaders' responsibilities are many, so they generally have a team to support them.
TL;DR? Here are the skills, qualifications, duties, and responsibilities for a QA lead:
- Quality assurance experience, you don't get to the top by chance
- Industry-specific knowledge
- Test plan management and development experience
- Time and project management
- Interpersonal skills, empathy, and sensible communication
- A solution-oriented person with a collaborative focus
- Attention to the client's needs
- Leadership skills to manage their team
Software testers are quality specialists who test digital products to ensure they do not have bugs, eliminate poor performance, and help create the best interface possible. They are responsible for finding software errors and verifying that everything is fit for use.
Also, they assess that a software application or product meets the requirements set by the QA leader, the software development team, and the other stakeholders.
The extra layer of testing prevents bugs, reduces development costs, and improves the performance of any application. Software testing relies mainly on conducting a wide range of tests with different goals in mind. Among others, we can find:
- Acceptance testing
- Integration testing
- Unit testing
- Functional testing
- Performance testing
- Regression testing
- Stress testing
- Usability testing
The scope of testing can go from the most negligible defects to compatibility issues and complete trainwrecks of a product. That is why the tools needed to analyze every project in detail are many and constantly changing.
When reviewing a product, software testers validate requirements and uncover hard-to-predict scenarios to prevent software errors. They go into every nook and cranny to make sure everything is working up to the users' (and management) expectations.
Some years ago, software testing turned into quality assurance, which covers the entire software development cycle. The tasks are similar, but every year more and more responsibilities fall into the scope of the testers as many companies start to understand the importance of double-checking the product before its release.
With constant innovations in the field, we got to a new testing culture with continuous testing, which is a way to integrate quality assurance into the rest of the development. As with continuous integration and development, continuous testing provides a DevOps approach, allowing for quick fixes and preventing software debt.
Finally, testing costs money, but it saves up much more. Think of going to the dentist, for example: paying once a year to check that everything is okay might seem useless, but if you delay it until you have a real problem, you might have a much bigger expense. The same is true with software testing. Adding the extra layer of quality assurance can make the difference when releasing a product and discovering a major flaw. Remember Samsung’s exploding cell phones?
When incorporating quality assurance into your software development lifecycle, you are assured to address issues like architectural flaws, poor design decisions, incorrect functionality, security vulnerabilities, and scalability issues.
TL;DR? I got you covered. Here are the essential skills and responsibilities of a software tester:
- Analytical and organizational skills and detail-oriented mindset
- Communication skills
- Time management and organization
- Basic knowledge of software development and testing
- Test management, defect tracking, and automation tools
- Review software requirements and prepare tests
- Execute tests on software usability
- Analyze test results, including errors, bugs, and usability
- Prepare reports on software defects and test results
- Interact with clients to understand product requirements
- Participate in design reviews to provide feedback and input on potential problems
When talking about software architects, there is no one definition. As it often happens in software development, the role changes depending on the organization. They are often confused with team and tech leads or even CTOs.
In any case, a software architect is a person who can set the direction of software and design it at a high level. As a typical architect, they lay out the building and the structure, which does not mean planning out (what PMS do) but designing the software system.
There is a common misconception about the software architect career. In theory, the first step is becoming a junior dev, then a semi-senior developer, then a senior, and finally, a software architect. Well, no, hold your horses; it is not necessarily like that. Moving from being a senior developer to a software architect can be risky. This position requires the person to have application design knowledge and be more interested in the big picture: how things work together and intertwine. Also, being in this position will require new soft skills, as well.
The skills they need depend on the team environment and the company culture. There are some leadership skills that any software architect should manage, at least to communicate their ideas. As you can see, there is a balance. Becoming a software architect is not just the next step on a journey.
Development is complex, so they have to know how the pieces fit together by understanding the development world, keeping updated with the latest news, and analyzing which technologies are adequate for each project. Not every developer wants this kind of role, and it should not be considered a mandatory career path; some will always like working directly on top of the code.
What is the ultimate requirement for software architects? Experience. Real-life practice on apps and software development will teach them everything that can go wrong. Practice makes perfect, and learning the theory is not enough. We all love when specialists have a strong knowledge base, but it has to go hand in hand with combat experience. Experience in development gives you the tools to build up complexity and innovation. If not by encountering problems, how do you learn to solve them?
Plus, software architects should understand the development workflow and processes and communicate them to others. I know that soft skills are in every job position nowadays (yeah, I get it, nobody wants to work with the Grinch), but this time it got real. Software architects need to communicate their vision to the developers in their team in a straightforward way. If not, they will face unexpected problems due to a lack of understanding.
If you manage a development team or a startup, you should ask yourself. Do we need a software architect? Maybe not. There are alternatives like architect by committee. How does that work? Take out the whiteboard and put the whole development team in the room and discuss collaboratively, maybe even throw a few designers in the room too.
As we have seen, every system has its own architecture, whether good or bad. The software architect's job is to consider the objectives of all the stakeholders: users, acquirers, assessors, developers, operators, the support team, and more… For each, they add concerns and perspectives like performance, security, cost, availability, evolution, performance and scalability. A software architect is a person who can juggle all of this together effectively and know when to compromise.
TL;DR? Here are the skills and responsibilities of a software architect:
- Architect the software beforehand
- Make high-level design decisions
- Enforce technical standards
- Take into account the objectives, concerns, and perspectives of all the stakeholders
- Have a broad picture view of the process
- Be in touch with the latest developments and technologies
- Judge the best direction for their software development
- Know when to compromise and evaluate pros and cons
Technical leader or Tech lead
A tech lead, or technical leader, is a software engineer or developer responsible for a development team; and with great power comes great responsibility. The tech lead is responsible for the quality of all the team’s deliverables, including functional application, reporting, documentation, and more.
Tech leads work as a technical reference for their team members while also providing a supportive role by earning the trust of their team. Their core interest is avoiding tech debt: low-quality code in early production that becomes a headache down the line.
As with many other positions (like CTO), tech leading looks a bit different everywhere you go. The role is not a specific point in a hierarchy but implies a new set of responsibilities for a senior engineer or developer. You do not choose to be a technical leader; it chooses you. A tech lead might have to learn people skills like people management, looking after juniors, and organizing team members. These are necessary for achieving the highest standards and taking care of the junior devs.
That is why tech lead takes a developer out of their comfort zone of code and reveals new to-dos on your sprint spreadsheet like:
- Regular one-on-one meetings
- Regular feedback on team members (career growth, goal progression, improvement areas, and praise)
- Working with reports to find learning opportunities and where to go next
Tech leads are the first step away from the coding trenches, the first rank with its platoon to manage. In this process, they might have to learn to delegate work and stop micromanaging. Also, they will have to make independent decisions for their team and tackle challenging management and leadership situations. They are software developers responsible for leading a development team and the quality of their products.
TL;DR? Here are the skills and responsibilities of a technical leader or tech lead:
- Guiding the team and getting involved with them
- Looking after juniors
- Delegating micromanagement
- Taking responsibility for the results
- People and managing skills
Team leads are often confused with tech leads, and that is alright, sometimes.
As we discussed before, tech leads are usually the senior team member who spends a portion of their time (usually less than 50%) writing code. The remaining hours are dedicated to eliminating technical blockers, setting and updating the tech strategy, working with product owners and project managers, and aiding, growing, and onboarding their team members. They are software developers who manage the team from the inside.
On the other hand, team leads, particularly in big traditional businesses, may differ from the tech lead role. As such, they are not necessarily a technical team member or might even be post-technical, meaning they have not been writing code for a long time.
Team leads usually manage the team from outside and are more concerned with budget and timelines than technical outcomes. With this outsider perspective, they are usually more involved in HR activities such as approving leaves, vacations and reviewing salaries.
In many cases, team lead and tech lead overlap depending on their expertise and the number of responsibilities they can manage. Juggling with code and new hires is a daunting task.
As with other leadership positions, team leads need good communication skills for hiring, training, and reviewing performance. These HR tasks need solid people skills and are the basis for building team trust. Knowing how to judge fairly the work of others and be a step ahead of their needs is essential for a team leader.
TL;DR? Here are the team lead responsibilities, duties, and needed skills:
- Hire the right people and make performance reviews
- Build team trust and communication
- Deal with budgets and adjust timelines
- Not necessarily a technical team member
- Manage the team and making the tough decisions
- Have a business eye and being familiar with the company’s goals
- Assess team progress and follow company policy
- Solve conflicts, organize team initiatives and stand up for the team
- Lead by example
Full-stack developers are those developers who have knowledge and experience about the entire development stack. What does this mean? They can develop both client and server software, most usually known as front end and back end.
The term probably originated from the early nineties, when sites were often designed, managed, and built entirely by a single developer, called webmaster. As time went by and things got increasingly complex, the webmasters transformed into full-stack developers making the idyllic idea of a single person building the complete website something of the past, even if some still insist on it.
Why are they considered full-stack then? Mainly because they show knowledge of both the back end and front end in an organized manner. Today, multiple popular stacks can be a useful combination for developers. To name a few from W3schools, a popular developer learning site:
A developer with such a knowledge base is expected to master all the technologies in a project, making them a one-size-fits-all solution. Even if these developers can prototype fast as lightning, help every team member, and flip between the front and back end as a light switch, this approach has its limits.
At times, full-stack developers become non-stop multitaskers incapable of focusing on a single task. As technology advances and the amount of tools grows, full-stack developers' positions are increasingly complex. Being in charge of a single project by oneself might be the only solution for a startup or freelancer, but not the best option when it comes to a big company. You know, division of labor and a guy named Smith.
On the same note, a full-stack developer in charge of an entire project can become risky. You could face a huge loss if you put all the eggs in one basket. Sometimes task specialization is what is needed. As David Epstein says in his 2019 book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, there are benefits of dividing a big project into smaller manageable tasks. That is why leveraging diverse experiences is more relevant than ever.
TL;DR? We just unveiled the full-stack developer, the unicorn that everybody wants in their company. Let’s do a quick recap to see their roles and responsibilities.
- Wide development knowledge base
- Familiar with both frontend and backend development
- Full software lifecycle management
- Upgrade and fine-tune software
- Give comprehensive and exhaustive feedback
- Critical thinking and growth mindset
Role comparisons & misconceptions
In this section, we will review some common misconceptions among software development management while comparing some roles. Roles like CTO and tech lead or project and product manager are often mixed up, leading to several communication and responsibility issues.
Remember that this guide is constantly changing and updating. If you have any doubts or if you want a role comparison review, let me know. Now let us get into it!
CTO vs. Tech lead
We have already discussed the duties and responsibilities of CTOs and tech leads. If you skipped it, be sure to check them up above. I have even included a tl;dr.
One thing that gets these roles mixed up is that they both require management and leadership skills within a development team or business. They both need people skills, a bird’s eye view, and technological expertise. But we are talking about a difference in scale. Each role takes a different combination and scope of similar skills, which can be shaped according to the team and organizational culture.
There is usually only one CTO in charge of the whole technological area in a company. On the other hand, a company might have many tech leads according to their number of separate development teams. There is the case of the small business or startup, where CTO, tech lead, lead developer, and even maybe the whole dev team is a single person.
As it often happens in many small startups, these roles might get mixed up. However, larger companies with a growing structure need to clear them up. To give you a quick overview, let us quickly compare both roles:
Project manager vs. product manager
If you read each role separately above, you have probably realized the differences between a project manager and a product manager. If not, that is not a problem. A project manager is usually in charge of a team, reviews their work daily, and focuses on details and achieving project goals. Product managers have similar responsibilities, but they are more product-focused, jumping from one team to another and following the whole process with a more general view.
In any case, both are crucial roles in IT. They augment the team’s performance toward productivity, efficiency, and wellbeing. As it is often the case, even if there is some overlap between them, this is not a versus case, but more about current needs.
Both product and project managers increase the success of a product or project. You might even see two of them working together side by side, the best of both worlds. That is because essential tasks fulfilled by one might not be the responsibility of the other.
That is not to say that this difference is always so clear-cut and established. A common topic across this guide is that roles and responsibilities change a lot according to business size. There are one-person companies that do not even have the concept of role responsibility and division of duties. Among startups, people tend to cover a wide range of tasks.
In any case, the actions covered by a product manager and a project manager can be separated and assigned to different talents to maximize your product or project success chance.
Product owner vs. product manager
The product owner and the product manager are not necessarily the same person. Why do they keep using the same kind of names? Well, I do not have an answer for that. What I do know is that it is a matter of scale and responsibility, as with many software development roles.
To put it bluntly, product management encompasses a far more complex set of activities and responsibilities than being a product owner. That is not to say that the second is less relevant, but as we have seen with CTO vs. tech lead, there is a difference in scale.
In small companies, people have to wear many hats. Here is when you see product managers dealing with the product backlog and taking the responsibilities of a product owner. But ideally, there will be two different people dedicated to each role.
Imagine dealing with many products, each one with a dedicated development team and product backlog. In a case like that, a product owner can keep score and let you know of the most important decisions while solving most day-to-day stuff. That allows product managers to communicate with stakeholders, conduct research, and meet with the marketing, sales, and customer success teams.
When working in a growing company, investing in a more complex product hierarchy and network of professionals can provide everyone with a straightforward task that allows talent to shine brightest. The era of multitasking might be gone forever, and dedicated individuals are the alley to walk through today.
QA leader vs. software testers
Quality assurance leaders and software testers are not the same thing, especially regarding everyday responsibilities and requirements. When growing your QA team, you might need to establish a hierarchy of roles or, at least, a management position to set a bridge between upper management and the quality assurance team.
Even if we would love to talk to every QA team member, communication flows more easily when centered in one person that speaks for the whole testing crew. Hence, the QA leader. As we talked about before, QA leaders are software testers with growing responsibilities and leadership-focused roles.
On the other hand, software testers conduct daily tests and perform most of the menial tasks in the team, following the leader's directions without having to speak to management and communicate with other managers.
You might think of this difference in the same way as a team lead or tech lead differs from a full-stack developer. With the responsibility of management, QA leaders can’t be micromanaging each test and conducting every review. They keep the hardest part for themselves and rely on their team members for the bulk of tests.
With the time they get by doing fewer tests, QA leaders focus on test planning, bird’s eye reviews, and creating long-term strategies. At the same time, leaders need to take care of their team by helping them grow, learn, and take on challenging tasks and projects. Leadership implies extra responsibility.
Thanks to having a QA leader, software testers can focus on daily tasks, have a clear future strategy, and comply with the leader’s vision and planning, providing a much-desired relief with a sense of direction.
How to build the software development team you need
It is the people that often define the future of their company. According to the working culture, organizational differences, and structural factors, a business can support and build a successful software development team or fail miserably and be largely forgotten.
Creating a supportive and healthy work environment can be crucial to building up confidence and unity in a team. Making people feel comfortable and valued is not a goal to be taken lightly. Good communication, visible and understandable goals, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and a supportive corporate culture make the difference at the end of the day.
We will then review some of the most common topics when building a software development team, so you get one according to your needs.
How to assign role responsibilities
To assign role responsibilities, be sure to assess what roles you need, the gaps in your current team (if you have one), and how you want them to work together. It is always easier to build upon a drafted organizational plan. Think of it as connecting the dots. It is much easier to do if you have dots to connect.
Once you have your candidates already selected, ensure that they understand their daily role and the goal behind it. I know it can be tough, but thinking mid to long-term here is a benefit. Having a five-year scope rather than a quarter focus can make the path clearer and set up a valuable north star for your team.
When doing so, be sure to put down specifics about your plan: deadlines, goals, and resources required. That will allow everyone involved to know what they should be doing at all times without someone behind them telling them what it is.
Do you need a quick checklist for hiring and assigning responsibilities to new team members? We got you covered:
- Assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses and take note of the gaps
- Establish a hiring plan
- Hire members with good communication skills
- Establish and promote your company’s culture
- Favor transparency and autonomy. Freedom, responsibility, and accountability are the pillars of a good work ambiance.
If you are building a team or adding new talent to your company, consider the benefits of setting up a multidisciplinary team and establishing solid foundations for its success.
Benefits of a Multidisciplinary team
Multidisciplinary teams are all the rage across the board, and the technology world is part of this trend. There are many advantages acquired from multidisciplinarity, but also some challenges. Like many other industries, tech projects often rely on teamwork; the difference when scaling the size of your team can be notorious. The thing is, you do not want every team member to be the same because a variety of skills and aptitudes are needed. That is when multidisciplinary teams arise.
Multidisciplinary teams are groups of people who belong to different disciplines, each providing specific contributions to the project at hand. These teams vary according to the industry and your business needs. In the software industry, developers, managers, designers, IT specialists, and the unassuming copywriter all work together.
So a multidisciplinary team is a group of people with different talents and backgrounds; it is not only about the developers. Knowing how to work together with people with very different points of view and knowledge can be a challenge, but the most complex projects are achieved through collaboration.
Let's review the main five advantages of multidisciplinary teams in a nutshell:
- Increased product quality
- Continuous team improvement
- Reduction in development time, mistakes, and integration
- Versatility and scalability
- Quick response and problem solving
With these benefits in mind, consider that multidisciplinary teams have their challenges. Teamwork is not something built in a day. Communication channels take time and require effort to maintain them; human relationships have those issues, you know?
A recent study conducted by Google claims to have found the secret of successful teamwork: psychological safety. That is to say, feeling safe to speak your mind and active listening.
Psychological safety has two pillars: setting an environment where people feel safe to talk and encouraging active listening from teammates and management. As we said, good teamwork stems from good communication, either from asking how the other person feels or opening up your thoughts and ideas.
The impact of psychological safety shows how much better a person can perform when they feel that someone has their back. Many people do not know it, but being nice has its benefits.
That communication culture combined with many software development methodologies and tools enhances the benefits of a united team. With a solid emotional foundation and a general willingness to collaborate, your team performance can only go up with the help of the proper methodologies. Wanting to build on the ground without foundations is not going to cut it.
Software development methodologies
A software development methodology is a way of dividing work into smaller chunks easier to understand and deliver. The idea behind most methodologies is to work into smaller steps that can be done in parallel or sequentially. Dividing work this way allows us to improve design, development, and product management.
You have probably read about a process called the software development life cycle (SDLC for a short acronym that nobody understands and everybody Googles). Most methodologies are marketed as agile, whether true or not. Even if the concept of agile has become a buzzword to sell overpriced courses, agile software development will benefit any company.
Without further ado, let’s review some of the most prominent software development methodologies that you will find anywhere today. Hope you find one that suits your needs!
Agile software development principles
Agile software development was first introduced in the manifesto for agile software development and quickly transformed from an adjective to a noun. While originally it was a form of iterative development, now it has transformed into a poorly defined concept under the umbrella term Agile.
So let's throw some misconceptions out of the window from the get-go:
- Agile is not a unique methodology
- Agile is not a specific way of developing software
- Agile is not a framework or process
- Agile is not even a noun. Something can be agile; you can’t get two Agile to go.
Therefore, it is not a structured and defined set of rules, the code is more what you’d call guidelines, than actual rules. Agile software development is a collection of best practices and recommendations. We could even say that the spirit of agile software development challenges the prescriptive and normative sense that it has developed.
We are talking about agile techniques, agile standups, agile methodologies, agile value, and agile principles. Shifting back to the adjective gets us closer to its original meaning. When following rigid methodologies of development planning, you are actually taking the whole agility out of it. The idea was to get flexibility and we got canned corporate culture.
Because of its versatility, it is hard to put agile development into words, but it is not necessary; the creators have already done it in 68 words on their manifesto. As you would expect of a brand guide or style book, they define their ideal with four opposites.
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
As you can see, the creators of the agile software development manifesto cherished agility, versatility, and flexibility over a definitive way of developing software. Thanks to having a set of guidelines to follow, anyone can apply the concepts as they see fit for their company or project. I know that oftentimes decision makers want a silver bullet, a technique that will guarantee triumph and success, but there are no panaceas or universal recipes in business or software development.
If you are looking for some principles, you can find the twelve principles of agile software on the manifesto. I will list below a few that we recurrently follow here at Awkbit.
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
- Welcome changing requirements
- Deliver working software frequently
- Working software is the primary measure of progress
- Simplicity is essential
These guidelines are not only great rules of thumb for software engineers but also apply to other activities, such as design, marketing, architecture, recruiting, and any industry, for that matter.
Agile is not a unique and predefined methodology, but there are many “agile methodologies” used in software development and technology companies. I want to talk mainly about two of them, Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP). Let’s continue our conversation below.
How to work with SCRUM
Scrum replaces the classic waterfall methodology that structures planning, building, testing, reviewing, and deploying software as distinct and sequential phases of software development. With Scrum, the process is broken down into smaller pieces.
As with new product development and building a minimum viable product (MVP), Scrum allows to follow the same sequential steps but in a targeted way. In this sense, if planning takes several months with waterfall, it should be the minimum amount of time with Scrum (days or weeks). Thanks to this scale shift, reviews and deployments are much faster, making the product available as soon as possible with regular testing.
When using Scrum, each iteration should take less than the previous one, as you are building up from existing foundations. Thanks to having an MVP, adding new features and correcting issues is way easier, and the development team is not constantly facing a white page block. Scrum is a methodology that allows developers to tinker with the project until they find its peak performance and utility.
These sets of plan+build+test+review+deploy are called a sprint, the minimum amount of time to get a potentially shippable product, even if you don’t ship it until later in time. The objective is to be able to release at any time and make sure everything is ready.
Scrum has a few pillars that make everything work correctly. Mainly, the product backlog contains the user stories which change with every sprint. We talked about product backlogs before with the product and project managers. Scrum is the methodology invented by Jeff Sutherland that profits the most from this kind of organization. When defining a feature set with user stories and a stereotypical formulation “As a… I need… So that…”, the team gets a sprint backlog that maximizes efficiency.
Paired up with these tools, many companies use a burndown chart that shows how the work is being done and completed. The idea is to start at a maximum workload and burn it down until you get to zero. Then, it’s time for the next project. From this methodology, we got sprint planning, the daily scrum or standup, sprint reviews, and retrospectives, plenty to be thankful for.
How to work with Extreme Programming (XP)
Extreme programming (XP) focuses on improving software quality and responsiveness by basing the workflow on customer requirements and having quality as its ultimate goal. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t say much. Everybody wants that. With extreme programming, quality is not only sought for the final product but also for every aspect of the development life cycle.
Extreme programming focuses on delivering a great work experience and environment for the development team, whether programmers or management. That is why XP shares its five essential values with Scrum: communication, simplicity, feedback, courage, and respect.
As a methodology, XP relies on planning and establishing feedback loops that involve coding, testing, listening, and designing. Like Scrum, extreme programming is a specific set of rules and practices that go on top of the basic agile principles from the manifesto.
In any case, any recipe followed blindly fails when performing iterative development in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment; this is often the case in software development.
DevOps software development
There is no universally accepted definition for the term DevOps (Why are you like this, software development?). As is often the case in this industry, definitions prolifer and multiply throughout the internet as fast as lightning and conserved as a hamburger at hyperspeed (yeah, not so much). DevOps refers to a myriad of things: reduced downtime and human error, focus on iteration and scalability, or, ultimately, the blend between software development and IT operations.
By combining software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops), DevOps' goal is to remove barriers between teams and make them work together, all of this with a substantial dose of automation and communication upgrades.
DevOps takeaway is to reduce the time between committing a change to a system and placing modifications into production while ensuring high quality. Or, in other words, take out the clutter of the software development process, upgrade communication, work faster, and make it look nice.
In addition to that, one of the goals of DevOps is to keep a constant flow of new features, fixes, and frequent updates. You know how business is today—you have to keep swimming at all times in a world of sharks (better than a tornado of sharks). With the constant evolution and enhancement of the DevOps culture, teams can work together faster with fewer interruptions and blockers.
In order to make a process non-stop, it is necessary to make every part of it continuous. As such, we find a multitude of continuities:
- Continuous development: the planning and coding phase
- Continuous testing: test all the time. If it ain’t broken, break it.
- Continuous integration: commit changes to the source code frequently to avoid merge-hell
- Continuous deployment: deploy code to productions servers accurately
- Continuous monitoring: stay vigilant. You never know when a corrupted file might kill your site on a Sunday at 3 am.
If all of these are carried out properly, the DevOps cycle can begin again and restart the process. DevOps is a never-ending story. It only iterates to a new and updated version. DevOps automates many manual and repetitive tasks, but it is important to remember that it does not replace humans. DevOps enhances the human ability to create, design, and bring to life robust and unique processes.
Software development is not an isolated endeavor. It requires more than developers working productively and covering a wide range of industry needs, not to mention that some work all by themselves and wear all the hats. But there are benefits and challenges of expanding the software development process with other teams.
Software development teams can work side by side with Design, Marketing, HR, and Sales to maximize productivity, divide labor, and increase the business’s chance of success. We have talked before about multidisciplinary teams; this is going one step further.
It is not about a particular team, but entire departments that need to communicate with one another while keeping peace, harmony, and effective communication. It is undeniable that there are benefits when increasingly more people take part in a project. But some issues may appear, as well.
How to work with a design team
Design and software development are always intertwined. As a rule of thumb, everything that appears on a screen has gone through a design process, even the DOS user interface. Design can sometimes be left aside but will always be there: the way to present the elements on the screen, the colors, and even the type and font size is part of it.
Many programmers argue that they don’t care about “that sort of thing” and can actually manage without a graphical user interface (GUI), but that’s not the case for most users. Even if that is the case, a good UI and UX are necessary for product success.
Think of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. What was one of its major drawbacks and kind of still is? The user interface and user experience. The problem, how to manage money in a decentralized way, was solved, but users took a long time to follow (and many are still reticent) due to unintuitive design and a high barrier to entry.
That is just the surface. When software developers work together with designers, innovation flourishes, as they are natural problem solvers using different approaches. For example, design and development have to think of ways to make a site functional as well as accessible.
How to work with a marketing team
Marketing and software developers work together in a growing circle (I’m still doubting if it is a vicious or a virtuous circle). With software development and the evolution of the internet, targeted marketing has achieved levels not even a science fiction writer could imagine (except Asimov, probably).
Today data collection algorithms are commonplace for targeted ads and effective marketing campaigns. Current marketing business models rely heavily on tools, such as Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Semrush, and Ahrefs to obtain their data. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital marketing.
Think of traditional marketing, putting up a sign on the street, paying for a TV ad, or publishing in a newspaper or magazine. The probability of a potential customer even looking at the ad you invested so much in is way lower than showing dedicated ads to a specific audience. These, too, can have their limits. If you always rely on the same public you are not profiting from the possibility of expanding your market and falling into biting your own tail.
As you probably know, the marketing team works a lot with the design team, which also works with development, so we already have a triad of teams that have to walk in the same direction. In that sense, having a brand book will help designers and marketers and can come in handy for the rest of the crew.
How to work with HR
The HR team is responsible for recruiting, onboarding, and offboarding employees. You know the drill: labor laws, employment standards, perks and benefits, employee retention, and so on.
But the Human Resources team I like are those that go the extra mile, the ones that take the great ideas from one department and cross-pollinate with others. For instance, if the designers came up with a slick idea to organize the product backlog, a great HR team would connect them with development to follow through with it.
Some software factories do not have a dedicated HR department and outsource the service. In most cases, when companies look for staff augmentation or managed services, they want to be assured that they do not have to deal with HR processes.
How to work with sales
Sales. Oh, the sales department. Many companies staff entire departments with sales representatives. Even if there was a belief that automated online sales would take a toll on sales departments, they are still there.
On the one hand, the marketing team can often help the sales department improve the lead generation process by creating buyer personas and assessing market research data to make informed decisions.
On the other hand, there is the development team. Sales tend to skyrocket only when sales representatives truly understand what they are selling. I am not saying that every salesperson should be a coding expert, but being familiar with the product or service is paramount. Devs should influx some knowledge into their sales coworkers if they want to see them thrive.
Training sales representatives with technical knowledge can be a lifesaver. That is why establishing a learning culture and open communication between departments is the go-to for any software development business.
How to rule them all
One thing to rule them all: responsible leadership. In his book (and TED talk), Start with Why, Simon Sinek states how great leaders inspire action. He states that people won’t buy a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the why behind its creation.
Sinek shows that the greatest leaders in the world all think, act, and communicate in similar ways. According to him, leaders behave differently. They want to feel their work matters while inspiring others to feel the same. When having a true leader in your organization, teams will go the extra mile.
At Awkbit, software development is our second nature. Because of our open-source culture, we wanted to share what we have learned along the way with this ever-updating ultimate guide.
We know that having a well-organized team with clear roles and responsibilities can make everything work seamlessly. Clarifying doubts and misunderstandings is also necessary to set solid foundations for any project. We are also aware that getting the latest methodologies can be difficult. There are many more promises than results, and choosing is not easy. Finally, software development does not happen in a vacuum; the devs, the marketers, and the designers have to work together to achieve shared success.
Are you ready to step up your software development management strategies?