The structure of a software development team
When working with a team of software developers, many clients find that its structure includes quite a lot of people. And while the responsibilities of developers are quite clear, things can get complicated with business managers, product managers, and other team members.
In this article, we will explain how software development teams structure their work, what the roles and responsibilities of each team member are, and how to find out if your team is working well with your product.
Approaches to team structure:
There are several ways to organize a flexible development team – universal, specialized, and hybrid.
A team consisting of people with a wide range of skills and experience is called «universal». Such teams are usually responsible for the complex development of the entire project or a separate function. This is the most common project team structure for outsourcing companies.
Pros of the universal approach:
- Each team member is well-versed in the product, so they can focus on improving it as a whole.
- Everyone is competent enough to do their job without being dependent on others, but still can be involved in the development of many project elements.
Cons of the universal approach:
- Since no one’s knowledge is very specific, it is sometimes necessary to attract a new team member in the middle of the project.
A «specialized» team consists of specialists with specific skills to solve narrow problems. Each professional has a niche and therefore takes full responsibility for their project element. This is also quite common for software development teams.
Pros of the specialized approach:
- The specific member is involved in a specific project element without crossing other modules.
- The team can build complex high-quality systems very quickly.
Cons of the specialized approach:
- Since everyone works individually, there is a possibility that various components will conflict with each other.
- There may be gaps in communication due to a lack of common knowledge.
The «hybrid» structure of the project team is essentially a combination of universals and specialists. Such teams work on the project as a whole but can narrow down their tasks if necessary. A hybrid approach is the best of both worlds.
Pros of the hybrid approach:
- There are both specialists who create individual components and universals who supervise system integration.
- The development process is as efficient as possible.
Cons of the hybrid approach:
- It can be difficult to coordinate people with different approaches to the work process.
- Creating a hybrid team is time-consuming and expensive.
Traditional vs Agile team
- Project management is top-down. The project manager is responsible for the execution of the work;
- Teams can work on several projects simultaneously;
- The organization measures individual productivity;
- Clear roles and positions;
- No team size limit;
- Employees are called human resources.
- A self-organized and self-governing team. The role of a project manager is to train the team, remove obstacles, and avoid distractions;
- Teams focus on one project at a time;
- The organization evaluates team performance;
- Cross-functional teams, skills trump ranks;
- Three to nine people on the team;
- Employees are called talents.
Roles in a traditional development team
Business Analyst (BA)
It is a person that connects the development and client side in the development process. BA communicates with the client, reveals all the details, problems, a vision of the solution, formalizes considerations in the form of a document and transfers the result to the developers.
Project Manager (PM)
The main task of a PM is to manage all processes for the development of a new product. This includes ensuring technical implementation, managing technical teams, generating detailed reporting for further analysis and improvement of business processes, and monitoring the deliverables to be ready on time.
A UX/UI designer is a specialist who is primarily concerned with how a user interacts with a product and visualises the system interface. UX/UI designers explore different approaches to solving a specific user problem. Their main task is to make sure that the product flows logically from one step to the other.
Developers (Front-end/ Back-end, Mobile)
No software project is possible without developers. Depending on the end software platform and the future product stack, there’s a variety of different types of developers, including web developers (front-end, back-end) and mobile developers (iOS, Android). Frontend developers work with the client side of the future program and create the future software interface. Backend developers work with the server side and build the product functionality that the user doesn’t see. In turn, mobile developers create the future application for various mobile devices.
Quality Assurance Engineer (QA)
The job of a Quality Assurance engineer is to control the correctness of all stages of development and the correct work of the final product. They are engaged not only in checking the work of the application but also in monitoring compliance with standards in software development, interacting with developers, designers, customers, preventing the appearance of bugs and errors in the software.
What’s an Agile team?
An Agile team is a cross-functional and self-organized team that is responsible for delivering a new end-to-end product (from start to finish). And a team like this has the resources to do it.
You need an Agile team to deliver the product to the market faster, reduce the amount of micromanagement, and better fit the client’s needs.
The cross-functional and self-organized nature of an Agile team means that the result is a common responsibility. Therefore, the team members work not only within their respective competencies but also make sure to help each other.
You need an Agile team when there is a complex product with a high degree of uncertainty and risk. The Agile team delivers the product more frequently and receives feedback from the customer much earlier. As a result, the solution emerges as a more valuable and viable product that generates profits.
Working for an Agile team
The development of complex products requires a flexible approach to work. The process is therefore characterized by regular situations that call for competence in several areas simultaneously. That’s when different team members have to cooperate to solve a problem. Also, an Agile team is characterised by the fact that new pressing tasks emerge quite often, and sometimes they require attention more than the previous ones. In situations like that, the team adjusts to the new realities, implementing the basic principle: «Readiness for change is more important than following the original plan». Of course, teams try to avoid that. To do this, for example, Scrum introduced sprint work, and no new tasks could be assigned to the team during the sprint. Since a sprint only lasts a short time, usually two weeks, the next sprint will allow the team to take on a new task, and thus bring more business value at a brisker pace.
Roles in an Agile Team
The product owner is the person who manages the product on behalf of the company. This person is responsible for ensuring that the product creates value for customers and users, as well as for the company that provides access to it. To fulfil their responsibilities, the product owner must maintain contact with users, collaborate with the development team, and understand how the company works.
Scrum is a technique that helps teams work together. As a sports team prepares for a deciding game, the team must learn from experience, self-organize as they work to solve a problem and analyze their successes and failures to continually improve.
The Scrum Master maintains the scrum culture in the team and ensures that its principles are adhered to. This person follows the values of this methodology in everything while being flexible and always ready to use new opportunities for the benefit of the team’s work process.
The development team consists of such people as project managers, business analysts, UX/UI designers, frontend and backend developers, QA engineers and other necessary people. As you can see, just a part of an Agile team has all the members of the traditional development team.
Some advice about implementing Agile methodology
- Plan releases in advance
Agile application places a lot of emphasis on planning. Teamwork from the early stages allows for a common understanding and idea of the product, as well as helps to prioritize and make compromises.
Some teams visualize product capabilities when planning a release to work with customers to develop a list of functional requirements. This process often unlocks new opportunities, helps group user stories and determine their order. The resulting data will help the team make decisions before developing the project. By taking the time to research early on, you will create a solid foundation for your future product.
- Make UX research before starting the sprint
It is difficult to create a design and develop it immediately within the same sprint. Two weeks is not enough to do research, create a site skeleton and design, and develop user stories.
The agile methodology assumes equal distribution of user experience/interface and product development. Ideally, you should finish your research and design before starting the sprint. For example, a UX specialist creates the design of the first screen of the site during the first sprint. During the second sprint, the developers take the completed design and write the code, while the designers work on other pages.
- Build a collaboration culture
Social skills are the key to the success of Agile projects. No wonder. According to the Agile Manifesto, people and collaboration are more valuable than techniques and tools. Well-functioning information transfer processes are essential for any digital product development company. However, in an Agile environment where deadlines are short and time-limited, collaboration is even more important.
Some organizations work using design thinking techniques: coming up with new ideas and brainstorming. This is done to stimulate effective communication and teamwork.
- Work in iterations and don’t try to make it perfect right away
Many practitioners opt for short cycle or iteration development. Start with low-res prototypes (sketches, wireframes) and work through them based on feedback from users and clients. In other words, make mistakes quickly and often.
Using wireframes is natural for Agile application processes: team members can quickly test their ideas with a small investment of effort and money. It’s much easier to fix design flaws than after the code has been written.
- Take part in scrum meetings
Of the four types of daily scrum meetings, “standing” meetings were approved by the majority of experts. They are held daily in one place and last no more than 15 minutes. The main purpose of the “standing” meeting is to keep everyone in the loop informed and identify problems.
Sometimes people protest against having daily meetings because with all the rest of the communication (backlog keeping and planning, showing results and retrospective analysis), they are wasting valuable work time. However, this ritual is needed so that all team members are in the know, work harmoniously and, in case of a problem, work as a single organism.
- Turn user research into a team event
Testing the system in terms of usability has a positive effect on decision making. Even with tight deadlines, agile teams can incorporate custom research into their workflow. This discovery dispels the myth that such testing is too laborious or expensive. There are different options. For example, weekly testing by a group of users is one possible approach. It’s a great idea to turn a usability test into a team event where team members (and project participants) observe and participate in discussions. The general alignment of design decisions based on user data, rather than on subjective opinion or unverified assumptions, speeds up the work process.
- Constant interaction with product clients
Experts emphasize the importance of customers’ participation in key stages of the project development. This concept is consistent with the principles of Agile application: to value cooperation with a client more than a contract on paper. Contracts are important, but if they get in the way of teamwork, they only hinder progress.
Companies work with customers in different ways. Techniques range from building a core leadership team early and building partnerships between UX professionals and clients, to inviting customers for custom reviews and regular presentations.
- Establish clear roles and responsibilities in the team
It is important that team members fully understand their role and the roles of their colleagues. For effective Agile work, project participants need to know what is expected from them and what is within their sphere of influence.
According to the traditional Agile methods, teams and their roles are defined, except user specialists. Scrum teams generally don’t do UX. It is especially important to set the right expectations and help people think about user experience in an Agile context, because UX roles and processes may not be familiar to the rest of the team.
- Improve your methodology
As they evolve, Agile teams experiment with different techniques and adapt them to their environment. Apply interactive design not only to the user interface but to the entire project.
Agile is a foundation that helps structure work but doesn’t say how you should run a project. It encourages teams to organize themselves, find ways to work more efficiently and simplify processes.
Leading development teams are becoming more multidisciplinary and flexible than ever before. Successful teams use mixed approaches. Agile was invented as opposed to traditional corporate practices. It has its merits, it can be perfectly combined in work.
Nowadays, the Agile approach is probably the best option for a software development team. If you are looking for a software development company to entrust with making the application of your dreams, try to consider a team with an Agile structure. A team that follows modern methodologies can help you create outstanding software and get maximum profit from both your partnership and the final product.