How to Form a Successful Development Team

When emerging startup founders and business development teams plan to build their next big product, they often envision an all-mighty technical team of well-equipped software developers, web designers, and full-stack engineers.

However, in an increasingly competitive tech-centered economy, building a successful development team is often not as easy as it seems. A successful team isn’t just about professionalism and feeling obligated to have weekly meetings

What separates a good team from an excellent team is when team members have confidence in achieving common goals.

In fact, the prime reason a vast majority of development projects fail early on is due to a lack of collective and individual confidence in the project's success. Because of this, over 75% of software projects fail and 78% feel out of sync with business-level requirements. 

In this article, you’ll be introduced to surefire strategies and best practices for building a successful development team, from finding the right people to professional project management techniques. 

What Is a Development Team?

Development teams work together to create a deliverable project. Every person on the development team plays a part in making that happen and should be held accountable for their work.

Most importantly, development teams should be self-organizing and cross-functional. This means that team members must make a collaborative effort when it comes to communicating and implementing shared responsibilities.

Additionally, software development teams are empowered by their respective organizations to manage their work independently. Structured and efficient work at an individual level optimizes the overall effectiveness of the development team.

To achieve this synergy of team structure and empowerment, it is crucial that development teams have the following characteristics in mind:

  • The team is naturally self-organizing where productivity depends on collective contributions.
  • Teams are well-equipped and cross-functional; they possess all the team skills necessary to advance the product across all development stages.
  • Although individual members on the development team may have specialized skills and domains of focus, accountability belongs to the development team as a whole.

In terms of development team culture, successful development teams have team members who:

  • Leave the codebase cleaner than how they found it
  • Know their customer
  • Rather than directly criticizing people, they criticize their ideas.
  • Shares past and present experiences to offer new team insights
  • Have fun with each other and trust each other!

How to Create a Successful Development Team

The secret sauce to establishing a successful development involves an optimal balance between:

1) finding the best developers, product managers, and designers out there, and 

2) ensuring that there is an effective development team culture that is conducive to long-term success.

By organizing a development team in coordination with the following steps listed below, you’ll have a base foundation to foster your own success:

1. Create a Culture of Teamwork

Ensure that a culture of cohesion is instilled into the development team from the start, where each team member appreciates each other’s roles and functions. 

Further, having team members enjoyable personality traits will complement the development team’s overall work environment and minimize the risk of burning out from purely technology-centric work.

2. Find the Right People for the Job

The team manager should choose candidates with multi-dimensional experiences. By bringing more than just technical backgrounds to the team, you increase the likelihood of hearing unique and often useful perspectives

3. Learn to Delegate and Regulate the Team

When building the groundwork for an emerging development team, your job involves ensuring that your team members can do theirs.

Provide your team access to complimentary tools and encourage independence. After you’ve set measurable short and long-term goals, let your team members do their thing. 

4. Track Progress Diligently

Five words – do not get carried away! It occurs far too often: development managers enthusiastically hurl themselves at a development project without analyzing the preliminary criteria (e.g. deliverables, deadlines, product backlogs, etc), resulting in a disorganized project that collapses in on itself.

Your primary task is to monitor progress across the board, you can accomplish this by providing a comfortable means for everyone to share concerns and host meetings to discuss the project’s status regularly. 

By periodically collecting team-level feedback and collectively discussing project status reports, you can gain a full picture of whether a team is working well or if you have to reassign roles accordingly.

However, it is also essential that you allow the team to overcome obstacles on their own while you offer guidance.

What Are the Roles of a Development Team?

Now for the most action-packed part – understanding all dimensions of a general development team, from the business division to the tech team. 

It is critical that the business management and technology team clearly define their collective roles and responsibilities to allow for effective development.

Below are the most essential business and technology-centered roles in any typical software team.

From the Business Side

  • Business Unit Manager

When a project involves a clientele relationship, with a business to business stakeholder environment, a business unit manager will have a range of responsibilities. Ultimately, their role is adaptive, involving the top three key roles listed below:

  1. Initiating the project
  2. Providing a clear project/product vision and strategic plan
  3. Signing off key milestones
  • Product Manager

Although smaller and emerging business teams may have the business manager act as a product manager, it’s important to distinguish their roles and responsibilities in order to:

  • Allow the business unit manager to delegate more time to run the business rather than additional product management.
  • Enable the product manager to focus their time on product development.
  • Bring in product management-specific expertise, such as communicating with customers about their needs and conducting feedback-driven research.

Since that’s finally out of the way, here are the key responsibilities of the product manager:

  1. Translate the Business Unit Manager’s project vision into a roadmap
  2. Develop and define the criteria and features of the product
  3. ‘Own’ the product from start to finish

From the Tech Side

  • Business Analyst

Perhaps the most valuable but overlooked role in the development team environment, business analysts communicate directly with the product manager. 

Business analysts and product managers work together to further refine and define product features along with a technical lead to ensure they are prepared for development.

Their key responsibilities include:

  1. Clarifying product features
  2. Ensuring that developers aren’t interrupted by product and business fluff
  3. Act as a liaison between the technical lead and product manager to resolve queries.
  • Project Manager

A project manager will deliver the strategy laid out by the product manager. They’ll also ensure that the dev team has everything it needs to get the job done. The product manager will remove any and all obstacles for the development team and manage all meetings and communication.

Key responsibilities include:

  1. Scheduling, hosting, and documenting any relevant meetings.
  2. Ensuring that the dev team have necessary resources to deliver final work
  3. Analyzing and evaluating project/team performance to understand areas for improvement
  • Technical Lead

A technical lead acts in conjunction with the development team, providing the corresponding project manager and business analyst with a key point of contact. They serve as a moderator between business management and software development, ensuring that developers aren’t bothered in the process.

Their roles involve:

  1. Preventing the project manager and business analyst questions from bothering and overwhelming the developers
  2. Be knowledgeable about product features being developed in the sprint
  3. Attend any relevant meetings hosted by the project manager
  • Developer

Developers make up the bare meat of the development team whole. Given that developers’ performance has a critical impact on product development and deployment, that their time is spent wisely.

They are responsible for the following:

  1. Developing and deploying features
  2. Updating the technical lead and project manager with progress reports
  • UX/UI Designer

UX/UI designers should be thoroughly involved from product inception to launch. They handle the user experience and the user interface respectively.

They are typically responsible for:

  1. Converting the product vision into a visual solution/front end
  2. Cooperating with the Product Manager to create a viable user experience that meets requirements
  3. Supporting the development team throughout the build process
  • Quality Assurance (QA)/Product Tester

Simply put, a quality assurance tester can make or break a product solely based on their understanding of feature requirements and resulting feedback. They are responsible for marking the product a success by ensuring that project/product features are up to par.

Their key responsibilities include:

  1. Having a full understanding of feature requirements as defined by the project manager and business analyst
  2. Ensuring that features built by developers meet the criteria and conditions defined in the requirements.
  3. Actively engaging with the development team to understand and agree with the QA processes

How to Manage a Development Team

Whether you're a well-established organization with top-notch project managers, or a startup with under twenty development team members, managing software engineers teams can be a gruesome process.

However, the challenges of sustaining a development team from product inception to launch can be minimized by fostering a healthy culture from the start. These best practices in team management include, but are not limited to, the following:

Hire People Who Are Passionate About Their Work

Find developers that code their own personal projects and have passion projects just for fun!

For example, Google implemented a “20 percent time” policy that allows software employees to expend 20% of their time working on personal projects and ideas. According to business reports, it increased employee energy and enthusiasm.

Avoid Adding Extra Manpower as an Umbrella Solution

Do not add extraneous development team members simply because it might be an umbrella solution that guarantees to get the job done.

Adding extra people will counterintuitively delay the project by dividing work into too many small parts. If you deem it necessary to add more team members, gradually recruit more individuals one or two at a time and evaluate results accordingly.

Listen Actively and Communicate Proactively

As a business manager, it’s essential that you actively listen to both business-related and tech-related members of your team to better understand the ongoing status and progress of each team and project.

Ask questions, such as:

  • What did you work on?
  • Did it come together as you expected?
  • Why or why not?
  • What can be improved?

In addition, communicate proactively and check in on individuals and teams without being asked. By establishing genuine interest in each person and division of the team, you’ll establish meaningful relationships.

Avoid Burnout

Don’t force teams to produce results beyond their capacity. And don’t dump multiple projects on your team to juggle all at once. 

This will inevitably lead to burnout, especially if you’re taking on a single long-term product/project.

Create Software That People Love and Enjoy

Regardless of the technical and business requirements, if users love your software, team members will have that extra motivation to keep improving it.

How to Scale a Remote Development Team

Although 40-hour workweeks and cubicles are commonly associated with work environments, remote development teams can be just as successful with the right formula.

Hiring and scaling a remote development team generally involves:

  1. Deciding where to hire your developers (e.g. South America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe)
  2. Adjusting remote developer salary rates based on currency differences and average rates
  3. Coordinating time zones amongst all developers
  4. Choosing the right business structure, whether that be hiring freelancers, creating a research & development center, or establishing a dedicated team
  5. Finally, using online recruitment platforms to find developers

Conclusion

Creating a successful development team is not an easy task. But it’s not impossible if you know what to look for. 

Looking in the right talent pools and finding the right team while maintaining a healthy and encouraging work culture, you’re bound to create a sustainable development team in the long-term. 

More importantly, by following the best practices outlined here, you can output products/projects with maximized productivity and minimized risk of burnout.

 

 

 

 

Daniel Fleury

About

Daniel is a machine learning researcher and engineer at Johns Hopkins University

Frequently Asked Questions

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Development teams work together to create a deliverable project. Every person on the development team plays a part in making that happen and should be held accountable for their work.

1) finding the best developers, product managers, and designers out there, and 2) ensuring that there is an effective development team culture that is conducive to long-term success.