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10 Best Practices to Build Your Dream Software Development Team

Chief Technology Officer, ScienceSoft

5 min read

An efficient development team is mostly self-managed and delivers valuable software on time. Hence, the team’s efficiency is the main success pillar for both in-house software development and outsourced software development.

However, establishing efficient development flows may be a challenging task. According to Deloitte, only 14% of managers agree that the workforce’s skills and capabilities are used to their fullest potential. And 57% of developers say their team isn’t running as efficiently as it should, naming poor work planning, frequent changes, and lack of visibility over the collaborative efforts as major success disruptors.

Software development teams

For the article, we’ve picked out key factors of the development team’s efficiency:

  1. Forming a team that fits your project.
  2. Creating work processes that boost productivity.
  3. Fostering continuous improvements.

Below, we share related best practices along with examples of project management tools you might need to implement.

Forming a team that fits your project

1. Choose the team structure relevant to your project

There are 3 common types of the development team structure: generalists, specialists, and a hybrid team. Each of them can be efficient in one project and get stuck regularly in another. To prevent the latter, consider your project’s complexity, time, and budget and then decide which team structure suits it most.

Types of software development team structures

2. Accurately define the project roles

The spectrum of team roles is determined by the development task scope and may vary for each project. Define the roles accurately from the onset so as not to miss critical competencies and avoid hasty team rearrangements down the road.

A basic managed development team would consist of a business analyst, a project manager, a solution architect, UX/UI designers, back-end developers, front-end developers, QA engineers, and DevOps engineers. Depending on the project specifics, your team may include additional roles, for example, data scientists to create AI/ML models or compliance consultants to ensure software adherence to regulatory requirements.

Here are some sample team structures outlining the core responsibilities of each role:

3. Build small teams

Small software development teams are more productive because it’s easier to coordinate their efforts and recognize individual contributions of their members. This is particularly true for Agile projects that emphasize individual input and assume frequent communication between the team members to quickly iterate on goals and address changes. Based on our experience in software development, 4–8 people is an ideal size for a team. And if it’s a large software development project, you can divide one team into sub-teams, each with its team lead.

4. Hire the right people

To pick the best matches for each team role, consider the candidate’s tech competencies, experience, seniority, software domain and industry knowledge, rate and workload expectations. Conducting the interviews and tests will help you evaluate the candidates' backgrounds and soft skills not conveyed in CVs. Also, pay attention to the candidate’s interests: hiring a specialist genuinely interested in your sphere ensures better engagement and promises valuable advice on non-obvious software and project improvements.

5. Make sure you have a full set of informal roles inside the team

Software development teams can benefit from having such informal roles as an intellectual leader, a social leader, several idea generators, critics, and, of course, doers. Having all the roles fuels regular project discussions and helps a development team to become more self-managed. Pick up team members in such a way that you have a full set of informal roles instead of only one or two of them.

Creating work processes that boost productivity

After you pick a team structure relevant to your project and form the team, you can continue with establishing its work processes that will help avoid project bottlenecks.

6. Use project management software

Project management software automates repetitive processes. Routine tasks go through a predetermined set of actions until completion. For example, a developer starts a workflow for code changes and follows the first step: sends the changed piece of code for peer review in the project management application. Their team member approves it and proceeds with the final step: transfers changed code to QA specialists.

Moreover, this type of software visualizes the development process as a whole. Every team member can see how their work interconnects with others. Hence, they see their contribution to the project’s progress, which raises the sense of ownership and maturity of the team and helps stick to the timeline.

Tools to consider: Wrike, Nintex, Teamwork Projects, Backlog, Monday.com.

7. Keep documentation updated and easy to manage

Business and technical documentation should stay relevant to the project’s current state to keep the team informed about the direction of the project. You should also make meeting notes, coding and UX standards easy to address to, and it’ll raise the consistency of the team’s work.

A best practice is to use knowledge management software for convenient document storage, filtering and real-time collaboration.

Note: if you are working with a dedicated development team from a software outsourcing vendor, make sure they regularly provide documentation on software development process. Then, in case of changing a vendor or including another team (for example, a third-party QA team), you will not lose any important details on the project.

Tools to consider: SharePoint, Atlassian Confluence, Zoho WorkDrive, Templafy.

8. Use communication apps and establish regular offline interaction

Building transparent communication channels is a key step towards a productive communication environment.

This is where collaborative messaging apps come in handy. Instant messaging is way faster than writing emails or commenting under tasks in workflow management software, so it lets the team share ideas, concerns and discuss the working progress on the fly.

Regular offline interaction is also important to raise a team’s efficiency. Open discussions and project debriefings help close communication gaps inside the team and establish a trust-based working culture.

Tools to consider: Slack, Flock, Rocket.Chat, Ryver, Zoho Cliq, Fleep.

9. Have a policy on resolving conflicts

Instructions for handling conflicts prevent their aggravation. For conflicts and challenges, you should document an escalation process depicting contact points, levels of escalation priority, preferred means of communication, and resolution time frames. In case of conflicts between team members or sub-teams, a guidebook on a team’s culture with a section on conflict resolution always helps.

Fostering continuous improvements

10. Set clear KPIs to measure and enhance the team’s performance

Devise clear KPIs to objectively evaluate teamwork efficiency and timely spot potential issues. Alongside monitoring the team’s performance, robust KPI-based controls will help you quickly identify the areas of improvement and tune the workflow for better results. Commit to regular KPI revisions so that your team members never stuck to the “good enough” approach and stayed motivated for steady performance enhancement. Check sample metrics ScienceSoft uses to measure project health to get an idea of how your control framework may look.

The final checklist

If you want to build an efficient team and set productive work processes, you can always refer to this checklist:

  • Consider project complexity, time constraints, and available budget while deciding on a team’s structure.
  • Take into account the development task scope to accurately define the roles needed to complete the project.
  • Build teams small enough (4–8 people) to recognize the personal contribution of its members.
  • Evaluate the candidate’s qualifications, experience with your software domain and industry, rate and workload expectations, and interests to select a perfect match.
  • Interview the candidates to check their backgrounds and soft skills.
  • Pick up a diverse set of informal roles for your team (an intellectual leader, a social leader, idea generators, critics, doers) to help them cooperate more efficiently and resolve project challenges.
  • Use project management software and take advantage of its routine automation features.
  • Update documentation in parallel with development.
  • Implement knowledge management software for convenient document storage, filtering, and real-time collaboration.
  • Use collaboration apps for instant messaging and group discussions (choose the ones where it is easy to find necessary information).
  • Conduct team meetings on a regular basis (daily and weekly).
  • Include all team members in the communication process.
  • Write an escalation policy for the resolution of conflicts.
  • Set up a KPI-based control framework to quickly spot teamwork inefficiencies.
  • Revise and adjust the KPIs regularly to foster continuous performance improvements.

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