Software development team structure: key roles and responsibilities

Branimir Hrzenjak
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13 minutes
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Managing
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Open your LinkedIn feed, and you’ll see an abundance of managers, specialists, and developers. It can be challenging to discern who does what with so many roles floating around.

This article will guide you through a typical team structure in a software development company.

Whether you are looking to restructure your current team or expand it with additional roles, we’ll teach you the difference between different types of positions within a software development team.

Product manager

A product manager is the center of a software development team. They ensure the product has well-performing features that bring profit and communicate the development plan to the team.

Their job is to bring the product to life by coordinating the visual elements with the technology, all while taking care that the product is financially viable. In other words, a product manager stands at the intersection of design, tech, and business.

Martin Eriksson venn diagram
Source: Martin Eriksson

Since the areas that a product manager covers are so broad, they aren’t expected to scrutinize each task during the project.

The role isn’t to inspect every single line of code but to decide on the right features to add. The rest of the team is there to figure out how to best implement them.

A product manager decides on the features together with the client. The client doesn’t necessarily have technical knowledge, so the product manager is there to help create a profitable product.

Bug and crash reporting tool for your mobile app.

For instance, a client that ordered a barcode scanner app for their store may suggest adding 3D object scanning as a feature.

However, such a feature would only rack up costs and wouldn’t contribute to the product’s functionality, so it’s the product manager’s responsibility to identify the features the product needs for the best performance.

Depending on the product, this role is greatly adaptable—you won’t see two product managers with the same schedule, not even within the same company.

Note that, as opposed to project managers, each product manager only oversees one product at a time.

In their day-to-day operations, product managers communicate with all the other teams to check on their progress and determine the following steps in the process of product development.

This means your product manager should be a great speaker and an even better listener.

Software development is prone to changes, keeping the management on their toes.

If a client requests a feature that conflicts with the rest of the product or abruptly shortens the deadline, there’s no time to mull over different scenarios.

A good product manager is able to swiftly make a decision regardless of the circumstances.

A team that wants to create a functional and profitable product needs a product manager that is:

  • A visionary
  • A communicator
  • Strategic
  • Proactive
  • Decisive

However, before a product manager can direct development, they first have to consider the business aspect of the product. Will the market recognize the product? Which business model to adopt?

To answer such questions, product managers work closely with business analysts.

Business analyst

As the product manager’s right-hand person, a business analyst plays a crucial role in the software development team.

Business analysts use their advanced business knowledge to determine how the product or its elements will perform on the market.

Let’s kick this section off with a common example.

A client asks you whether they should charge $10 for the app or make it free with optional in-app purchases.

Getting that answer wrong could ruin the product’s chances of success, which is why you need to make that decision based on data and facts. Here’s where your business analyst enters the picture.

The analyst then gathers the relevant data, studies it, compares it, and finally presents it in a way understandable to the product manager.

Bear in mind that the analyst’s job is simply to present the facts objectively; the final decision still belongs to the product manager, and ultimately, to the client.

Still, the analyst’s opinion is highly valuable, and product managers often rely on it in the decision-making process.

The in-app purchase dilemma is just one example of the issues that require the expertise of a business analyst. Their other activities include:

  • Creating a business analysis
  • Outlining problems and solutions
  • Budgeting
  • Forecasting
  • Reporting to stakeholders

Still, their job isn’t done when the product is launched. During the maintenance stage, business analysts also process the feedback from the client and end-users.

post-launch tasks
Source: Shake

All in all, if you’re looking to introduce a new business analyst to your team, make sure you find more than a finance major.

Besides number-crunching, their job covers following the market trends and communicating with stakeholders, so your teams need an attentive, detail-oriented, and eloquent individual.

Project manager

While the primary task of project managers is overseeing how all ongoing projects are coming along, they are also the link that connects developments with the management.

When clients have any grievances, the information is passed down to developers through the project manager.

Developers are focused on individual tasks from their to-do lists, so it makes sense to direct questions to the role that has the bigger picture in mind.

Similarly, when developers have suggestions, they approach the project manager, who considers the input and takes it up with the management if appropriate.

Considering that as much as 39% of job satisfaction stems from interpersonal relationships—86% of which is related to management—it’s important that developers communicate openly with the project manager.

After all, the project managers facilitate communication with senior management.

team communication and relationships
Source: McKinsey

When the project managers aren’t passing along information across departments, they are busy managing their projects.

This aspect of the job consists of prioritizing tasks.

For instance, if your team is nearing a milestone meeting with a client who ordered a shopping app for their store, the project manager would assign the developers with polishing push notifications before starting with chat implementation.

One is a crucial feature of a shopping app, while the other is a nice-to-have function that can wait.

Software development is an expensive feat, and clients want to know their money is used well.

It’s again the project manager’s task to track hours and the budget so that the project is completed with the allocated resources, as well as to ask for approval for additional funds.

Here’s how one of the project managers at Willowtree, a mobile app development agency, breaks down her workday.

Meetings55%
Project documentation15%
Communication 20%
Keeping the momentum5%
Relaxation5%

As you can see, more than 70% of project manager’s work comprises exchanging information.

As project managers communicate with different teams working on different projects, make sure your team has one with exceptional interpersonal skills.

Software team lead

A software team lead has the most extensive technical knowledge, yet their primary function isn’t to code; they help other developers on the team when they are stuck, and make sure they create the highest quality code.

This role shares some similarities with that of a project manager, such as monitoring the progress and developing a timeline. However, the position of a software team lead usually requires vast technical expertise.

The responsibilities of a team lead vary from company to company, and here is how Miles Tjandrawidjaja of ApplyBoard, a Canadian educational company, spends a typical day as a software team lead.

He first syncs up with the development team: all members give updates on their progress. If any obstacles arise, Tjandrawidjaja helps the team find a path forward.

Next, he communicates with the product management team to ensure a clear plan of tasks is ahead. After all communicative activities are done, he dedicates some time to reviewing the code of other developers.

His software development team has a weekly tradition that helps them learn more and wrap up the week at the same time:

“On Fridays, the entire Engineering Team comes together for demos. This is a great opportunity for the team to learn from each other, and witness the fruits of our labor.”

Despite the role being associated with management, a great lead still has hands-on involvement with the team.

This is best achieved with code reviews. After all, science says that people learn most efficiently from their own errors, so why not use a developer’s original code as learning material.

Finally, being the software team lead doesn’t mean just being the best coder.

They also have to create a motivating atmosphere for the team by managing expectations (especially with junior developers), finding career growth opportunities for developers within the company, and facilitating discussions.

UI/UX designer

User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are two roles that are often bundled together, despite the differences in their scope.

Try to think about the most beautifully designed ketchup bottle you’ve ever seen. Is the tomato illustration full of intricate details, or does the label have a crisp, modern design?

Either way, a UI designer created the elements you see on the bottle.

However, a UX designer thought of turning the bottle upside down to make it more efficient.

Of course, the terms UI/UX designers are used for digital products only, but hopefully, this analogy made their roles clearer.

In other words, a UI designer creates visual elements of a product, while UX designers are tasked with ensuring that the users have a smooth experience using it.

UI/UX encompasses much more than churning out pleasant visual elements. After UI and UX designers research and plan the user’s journey through the product, they pick out the best ideas and create prototypes.

The next step in the process is testing, where QA specialists, or testers after launch, show whether the ideas were successful. After testing, the cycle begins again.

The design process requires constant communication between the UI and UX teams.

For instance, when the product manager decides that a new function needs to be added, there’s no point in the UI designer modeling the button before the UX determines where to put it.

While the role of a UI/UX designer requires creativity, they have to know how to direct their imagination into an intuitive, user-friendly design.

As Redshelf’s UI/UX designer Maxi Granja puts it, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel; you don’t want to make a grocery-app user relearn how to check out.

Software developer

An indispensable element of any software development company, software developers turn all product managers’ and designers’ ideas into reality.

A software developer is rarely a Jack of all trades; they usually specialize in one programming language or technology and hone it over the years.

Yet, software developers aren’t only categorized by their experience or used languages. They are also grouped by their specialization:

  • Front-end developers
  • Back-end developers
  • Full-stack developers
  • Mobile developers

Front-end developers are the ones who implement all elements that the user sees. They make sure the product is functional from the user’s perspective.

On the other hand, back-end developers build the technology that drives what the user sees.

Full-stack developers are proficient in both. However, note that when somebody is a full-stack developer, this almost always means they are a web developer. Mobile developers, on the other hand, write code for apps running on mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets.

So, what does a developer do during the day? Surprisingly, they only spend a third of their day writing code. The following chart shows their other tasks.

how developers spend their time
Source: Shake

As the chart shows, developers also participate in meetings that define the future of product development.

Besides writing new code or improving the existing one, they also handle testing, either by manual testing or coding automated test scripts.

Development teams generally have several coders, so it’s wise to hire those who thrive in a collaborative environment.

Another desirable quality of a software developer is a constant willingness to upgrade their technical knowledge.

Learning happens daily; you may have heard the expression that a good developer is an expert Googler.

Even a Google study confirms the theory, with the results indicating that a developer conducts five search sessions with twelve total queries each workday.

You can also encourage the developers in your team to subscribe to some of the newsletters from relevant blogs to keep them in touch with the industry news.

QA specialist

Quality assurance (QA) specialists find, report, and document product bugs. The unsung heroes of every successful software, they pore over the product until each bug is identified.

In theory, the final step before releasing a product is testing, the process that ensures that it is polished and ready for the market. However, QA specialists get busy way before the final phase.

As soon as developers push the first version, QA specialists start the hunt for bugs.

Writing down found a bug in the user registration screen hardly helps developers fix the problem, which is why a QA specialist has to create thorough notes on how and where exactly they found the bug.

They have to keep note of what operating system was used, which build version, steps they took to get to the problematic element, and provide any additional context that could help the developers pinpoint the source of the issue.

So, there’s much more to bug squashing than it may seem.

To make their jobs easier, QA specialists often use automated bug tests or bug and crash reporting tools.

One of such tools is our own product Shake, a solution designed for app developers, app agencies, and QA teams.

Shake reduces time spent reporting and documenting bugs from hours to seconds. It notes all the parameters that a specialist would otherwise have to enter manually.

Source: Shake

Due to the amount of work that goes into manual bug reporting, agencies are slowly moving away from such systems.

Marc Shiota, a QA tester at AnyRoad, claims that although automated testing will never replace human workers, the demand for QA specialists that are comfortable with automation is on the rise.

“There’s definitely a move towards having testers that can do some scripting or programming to automate tests.”

Keep in mind that you can’t assign your QA specialists to other projects immediately when a product is released. You need persistent specialists that will scrutinize the product update after update.

To sum up, a QA specialist catches bugs before the users have the chance to. If you want to streamline the QA process at your company, encourage the specialists to leverage automation and reporting tools.

Conclusion 

It takes a village to build a software product. To make a successful one, your team needs strong leaders and dedicated workers.

Hopefully, this article has shined some light on typical roles included in a software development team. 

None of these roles work individually, so it’s essential to promote a communicative culture within the company. From seniors to juniors, everybody should know what and why they are doing and how they are contributing to the final product.

By creating a stable development team structure, you’re setting your company up for accomplishment, 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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