How to build a good software development team

Branimir Hrzenjak
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13 minutes
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Managing
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Post a job ad, evaluate candidates, onboard the best ones, and there’s your development team. If only it were so simple!

Building a good software development team is a lengthy process that doesn’t end with hiring.

On the contrary, the real work starts after the team is assembled. You have to be there to teach each member how to become independent while considering the rest of the team and the final product.

If you’ve been wondering how to build an excellent team, our five tips will walk you through all stages of the process, from before hiring, to after the project is done.

Hire with a dream team in mind

There are two crucial aspects to building a good software development team. The first one is to determine the desired team structure and recruit the most skilled professionals.

However, being comfortable working with everybody on the team is just as important, which is why you should also consider the candidates’ soft skills, the second key aspect.

Combining the two will allow you to form a dream team. Let’s see how.

Bug and crash reporting tool for your mobile app.

Imagine you need to recruit a team to build a grocery delivery app. Before you post job advertisements, you first need to determine how many people you require and for what.

It’s also essential to think of specific roles and technologies in advance. The best approach here is to collaborate with your CTO or product manager.

Here’s an example of a potential team to assemble. Remember, the structure will vary across companies.

RoleTechnology
BackendJavaScript, C#
iOSSwift
AndroidKotlin
WebJavaScript

You’ll also need management roles, so you should plan for those as well. Our guide to software development teams can help you ensure you’ve covered all your bases.

Another valuable tip is to determine whether you need generalists or specialists, as both types come with pros and cons.

Once you’ve decided on the structure of your future development team and posted ads, it’s time to evaluate the candidates. CodinGame assessment is one of the tools that can help you to screen candidates using programming tests. 

Source: CodinGame

Bear in mind that technical expertise alone doesn’t guarantee the success of the team as a whole. A group of excellent developers incompatible with each other won’t get you anywhere.

The only way to produce great results and attract more talented people is by forming a harmonious team—a dream team, if you will.

Netflix, for example, has dedicated fourteen paragraphs of their culture page to the importance of working in a dream team.

Source: Netflix

At the company, they practice what they preach.

Here’s a photo of one of their mobile development teams, looking quite happy and relaxed for a group of people in the middle of a meeting.

Source: Netflix

A helpful rule of thumb for deciding whether a candidate would work well with others is to see if you’d want to work with them yourself.

For instance, some people may have years of programming experience, but their people skills could do with some polishing. Netflix doesn’t allow such people on the team, claiming that they are a hazard to the rest of the team.

“On a dream team, there are no ‘brilliant jerks’. The cost of teamwork is just too high. Our view is that brilliant people are also capable of decent human interactions, and we insist upon that.”

Finding candidates with the balance between technical and people skills may take some time.

Still, remember that you aren’t only building a team for a specific project; you’re building a community of people to stay and shape the future of the company, so don’t be afraid to invest a lot of time into selecting the right people.

Create a stimulating environment for your development team

If you want to get the most out of your software development team, you should help them focus on meaningful work. You can create a stimulating work environment by providing effective equipment, tools, and production methods.

There’s a thread on Quora about what frustrates and distracts software developers the most. Many developers, like the one in the following photo, complained about inefficient development software and processes.

Source: Quora

The solution to this particular problem is, luckily, straightforward.

You can ask the devs about their preferred solutions and acknowledge their suggestions. For instance, if most of them prefer to track their tasks in Asana, there’s no need to stick to Jira out of sheer habit.

Similarly, you should minimize tedious manual processes and replace them with more effective methods.

Let’s say your devs get frustrated with spending too much time on reporting bugs and documenting all details.

In that case, it would be helpful to automate the process as much as you can. Shake, our bug reporting tool, can help you streamline the way you handle bugs.

Source: Shake

It automatically collects steps to reproduce a bug, app version, logs, device, and much more, making bug reporting 50x faster.

By using such tools, you’ll be able to eliminate the tedious elements of work, save time, and let your developers focus on work where their expertise is crucial. In other words, it’s helpful to automate everything you can.

Sometimes, the physical environment can be as distracting as slow or inefficient software.

Take a look at another highly-voted answer from the Quora thread on distractions in software development.

Source: Quora

The dev complains about having worked in a cold and loud environment and expresses a dislike of open offices where workers distract each other.

Unfortunately, neither cubicles nor open space offices will boost productivity on their own. However you organize the workspace, you should still ensure your employees have a comfortable work environment.

Numerous studies have confirmed that physical office environments influence work performance and productivity.

In fact, the environment can be as impactful as leadership. So, all investments in lighting, temperature, and noise conditions will help your team create better products.

Anyone can visit a local garden center and drag a dozen ZZ plants to the office. However, to create a truly pleasant environment, you have to work on interpersonal relationships between the team members.

The following section offers more info about the topic, so read on.

Build good team dynamics

If you recruited a fantastic developer from each of the top 10 tech companies, there would still be no guarantee that they’d make a successful team.

A development team is a sum of its parts and should function as a cohesive unit. Because of that, you should strive to build a team of communicative, compatible developers.

When was the last time you saw a job description for a technical position without the words team player or team collaboration listed?

Probably not recently—if ever—seeing that nearly all development tasks require a joint effort between several professionals.

Some companies put so much emphasis on teamwork that they introduce their teams in advance so that candidates know who they’ll be working with if they apply.

For instance, Slite includes the team info for all their open positions. The following image shows a part of the job advertisement for senior backend developers at the company.

Source: Slite

Still, having a team doesn’t mean automatically having a functional team. You have to actively work on creating a collaborative environment where the team can thrive.

As we talked about earlier, everything starts with hiring. You could conduct cultural fit assessments to see if you should invite a candidate for the final interview.

If you don’t think somebody would be able to work with the rest of the team without friction, it’s probably best not to move on with the hiring process regardless of their technical skills.

After all, a cultural fit can make or break the candidate’s work experience; not even they would profit from getting hired somewhere they couldn’t work well with others.

However, the more demanding work begins only after you’ve assembled the team. Good team dynamics require constant improvement.

A good place to start is ensuring that everybody on the team feels heard, from juniors to seasoned professionals.

As obvious as the idea may seem, only 30% of American employees feel their opinions matter at work.

Source: Shake

Of course, a junior developer’s ideas may not always be accepted, but you should encourage the team to listen to them and explain why the idea would or wouldn’t work.

Finally, you can create good team dynamics by approaching mistakes and conflicts openly. You can’t avoid them, so it’s best to stay prepared for handling them in an open and constructive manner.

Perfecting all these steps takes time, but that’s a necessary investment for building a good team with good dynamics.

Encourage team autonomy

Asking for approval for picking up each Asana task, second-guessing decisions, idling while waiting for instructions—all these habits waste energy and time. To make your team more effective, you should instill a sense of autonomy in each team member.

As we’ve just discussed the role noise levels play in a stimulating work environment, we discourage you from blasting the Miles Davis Quintet in the office, so please fetch your headphones for this one.

In jazz bands, each musician is autonomous and focused on their instrument. Still, all members listen to and complement each other—this is the goal your software development team should strive toward.

While a development team may have some similarities to a jazz band, you shouldn’t let your team rely on improvisation. Let’s go over some rules you could implement to encourage team autonomy in a structured way.

Once you do, you’ll notice increases in work engagement, commitment, and satisfaction.

Source: Effectory

Nick Tune, a technical consultant primarily working with CTOs, claims that you can encourage autonomy by asking developers to show intent rather than asking for permission.

Here are his examples of bad and good practices when it comes to picking up tasks.

Bad: “What should I do next, boss?”

Good: “I believe the new Marketplace API is our top priority, so we will pair up on the API design today.”

According to Tune, it’s better to ask devs to express intention and direct actions they want to take.

That way, they can make autonomous decisions. In case their plans aren’t that great, the team lead or the manager can help them find a better direction.

It’s worth noting that autonomy should always come with accountability.

When a dev takes the initiative, they have to know why they’ve chosen to do something and what role the action plays in the big picture of the project.

Spotify, for example, encourages autonomy, as long as individuals are ready to take responsibility for their actions instead of shifting accountability to their teams.

Source: Spotify

Our final tip for encouraging team autonomy is to keep tasks organized and visible.

For instance, a dev may notice a bug that hasn’t been documented. An autonomous decision would be to start fixing it.

But what happens if two devs start working on the same thing independently? Not an ideal situation.

To prevent such events from happening, ask the devs to document their tasks and keep the work in progress public.

Autonomy and teamwork may sound incongruent. But the truth is that both elements need to be present for your team to do their best work, so start working on finding the right balance.

Establish a team performance review system

After your dream team has worked together for some time, it’s time to evaluate the results they’ve delivered so far. Having a review system in place will allow you to see what works and what elements of the development team need some improvement.

In an ideal scenario, you’ve managed to build an excellent team of developers who enjoy working together. Still, companies don’t employ programmers to have fun; there are always business result expectations.

To see how effective your dev team is, you should conduct regular performance reviews and use them as a foundation for providing feedback.

According to Zippia, 65% of employees want more feedback. Therefore, your review and feedback sessions will probably be received well. They’ll also prompt the devs to take more initiative and become better collaborators to their teammates.

Source: Zippia

One of the ways you can review performance is with benchmarking.

This practice of comparing processes and performance is usually applied to competitor companies, but you could scale it down and compare one software development team to another.

For instance, you could check how many hours it took team A to complete a milestone compared to team B.

If you think your team would prefer a more informal approach to reviews, you could go with ongoing team discussions.

Team discussions are especially helpful after significant events that affect the team dynamics.

Let’s say that one of the devs got in a fight with the team lead over best documentation practices.

After the conflict is resolved, it’s helpful to provide comments using the SBI framework.

Source: Shake

In addition to acknowledging what happened, it’s also good to consider how each team member behaved during the situation. The most important thing is to outline how the event affected the project.

When the entire team knows how much time and resources such events consume, they might feel motivated to prevent them from happening next time.

Lastly, you can use project debriefs to review the team performance.

Project debriefs, also known as post-mortems, analyze a completed project. You can use them as an opportunity to identify all stellar moments you want to replicate, as well as some bumps in the road you’d like to avoid in the future.

Here’s a simple example of a project debrief from GitHub.

Using the methods we’ve laid out, you’ll be able to determine how successfully your team navigates projects and come up with suggestions for future development.

Conclusion

Building a good team is one of the most challenging parts of software development. Any wrong turns you take during the process can have damaging effects on the ongoing project.

However, if you take enough time to plan a perfect team structure, support the members continuously and provide valuable feedback, you’ll be able to form a highly motivated team that produces excellent results project after project.

About Shake

Shake is a bug and crash reporting tool for mobile apps. It was founded in 2019 with the mission to help app developers spend less time on debugging and manual overhead — and growing daily since thanks to a small and dedicated team of geeks based in the EU.

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