7 Key Strategies for Managing a Software Development Team
As many companies know all too well, top technical talent is in short supply. According to hiring managers, technical roles now take over two months to fill, on average, with hiring difficulty increasing in recent years.
This scarcity of tech talent is particularly acute in the realm of software development. Across industries, the race is on to create both internal tools and consumer-facing applications. As venture capitalist Marc Andreesen once put it, “In the future, every company will become a software company.” As that future draws ever closer, the skills needed to achieve this transformation are in high demand.
To address talent shortages, many companies are seeking innovative solutions to build their software teams. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, some organizations are permanently adopting a remote workforce model, embracing the potential of the global talent pool.
Moreover, many businesses are increasingly engaging independent talent with specific development skills, often blending their abilities with those of their core teams. These “hybrid” teams deliver the technical agility that companies so desperately need: For each software development endeavor, the perfect team can be assembled on demand.
Amid these evolving trends and challenges, a central concern becomes clear: How can you successfully manage a modern software development team?
After all, effective management has never been more crucial to software development success in terms of coordinating diverse and distributed skill sets. Strong management is also key to attracting and retaining tech talent in both full-time and hybrid team structures.
In this article, we’ll discuss seven key strategies for effectively managing software development teams, particularly those that include remote workers and independent talent. Armed with these insights, you’ll be able to optimize your team’s potential and significantly enhance your software development process.
1. Commit to a software development methodology
Since developing a software application is a multifaceted undertaking, teams need guiding principles and processes to structure their work. Software development methodologies provide these frameworks, providing systematic means to achieve progress.
There are several popular software development methodologies, some with sharply contrasting core concepts. For example, the conventional “waterfall” method adheres to a sequential approach to fulfilling project requirements.
Agile methods adopt the opposite emphasis, utilizing short periods of concentrated effort to achieve specific programming outcomes aligned with customer needs. Variations on the Agile approach include Scrum, extreme programming, and feature-driven development.
Each of these methods has critics and devotees and may lend themselves to specific project parameters. Before choosing a methodology, it’s worth researching the merits of each option and evaluating your own needs.
However, whichever software development methodology you choose, you’ll need to commit to it—conceptually and practically. If you deviate from your chosen approach frequently, your team won’t trust the structure you’re attempting to create. When challenges arise, attempt to solve them within your methodological framework, rather than switching your approach mid-project.
2. Handle nontechnical tasks on your team’s behalf
As discussed above, technical talent is a valuable commodity. Accordingly, don’t squander your development team’s time on tasks that you can accomplish on their behalf.
Administrative tasks, status reports, and other peripheral duties can easily be taken off your team’s plate. Your developers will appreciate the opportunity to focus, and you’ll like the productivity this approach can facilitate.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean your team members can spend all their time coding. They’ll still need to communicate effectively within your team using both synchronous and asynchronous methods. This expectation is especially important in the context of remote and hybrid teams, in which workers across the globe must coordinate their efforts.
Think about it this way: If you handle as much busy work as possible, your team will have more time and energy to invest in communicating effectively and completing their own tasks. Regard your team as a resource, and protect it accordingly.
3. Communicate requirements constructively
Requirements for software development projects tend to drift toward one of two extremes. In many instances, a project’s requirements are documented in painstaking detail, hindering progress with a mess of intricate instructions. On the other end of the spectrum, some project requirements are so vague that the finished product differs widely from initial expectations.
Needless to say, it’s best to strike a balance between these poles. Additionally, you’ll need to translate the project’s requirements into the framework provided by your software development methodology. For example, Agile development methodologies tend to eschew exhaustive requirements, aiming to deliver a “minimum viable product” (MVP) and iterate subsequently.
When working with remote and hybrid teams, including independent talent, communicating requirements effectively should be a particular point of emphasis. When professionals don’t share the same space, it’s essential to keep everyone on the same page.
From a management perspective, therefore, one of the more effective uses of your time is to refine your project’s requirements before they ever reach your team. Consider possible pitfalls, communicate expectations clearly, and listen to your team’s hesitations and objections.
4. Don’t throw people at problems
When a software development effort hits a roadblock—or progress is simply slower than anticipated—many managers conclude that more manpower is needed. According to this rationale, developers can overcome complex technical challenges via collective effort.
Unfortunately, these solutions are often inefficient. For one thing, team members joining an effort will need to get up to speed, requiring the developers already working on it to orient them properly.
Additionally, side-by-side problem-solving may not promote productivity. Instead, think about reorganizing your existing team’s efforts to allow for specialization, with each professional handling just one aspect of a recurring problem. This assembly-line approach can actually increase efficiency, whereas simply adding team members can just complicate matters.
Another potential alternative is engaging independent talent with the specialized skills to resolve specific problems. Rather than asking your current team to learn a new skill for a specific stage of the project, find a top professional specializing in this kind of work.
5. Assess metrics that matter
In any management context, it’s important to assess individual and team outcomes using accurate and relevant measures. In software development, this intention can be complicated by the abundance of metrics one might consider. Because coding generates plenty of artifacts and statistical insights, it can be tempting to judge team members on a numerical basis.
While using these metrics may help identify room for improvement, be sure you’re considering the right statistics—and doing so from a holistic perspective. If a developer tears through tasks at an impressive clip, for example, their code may need extensive revisions later. Similarly, a developer who takes a leadership role may be crucial to the team but produce fewer lines of code. Use metrics to understand your team’s nuanced dynamics, not as a replacement for managerial insight.
6. Facilitate your team’s feedback
Too often, software developers find some aspect of their project requirements unreasonable, ill-conceived, or otherwise suboptimal. But because they’re tasked with executing a vision conceived by another team, their valuable insights are never considered or implemented.
If you’re managing a software development team, make an effort to advocate for their insights. Invite them to comment on the instructions they receive, including how they might alter or improve the project’s requirements. Then, communicate their observations and concerns to stakeholders within your organization where appropriate, developing a dialogue between them and your team.
By taking their feedback seriously and endorsing it internally, you’ll demonstrate your appreciation for their talents. This is especially important for remote workers or independent talent, who may question whether their contributions are truly appreciated.
7. Cultivate collaboration with the right tools
Here’s a straightforward but significant recommendation: Give your team the tools they need to stay on the same page and succeed together. In a surprising number of software development projects (especially those that include independent talent), communication is scattered across several platforms.
Some conversations happen in chat, others in email threads, and still others in virtual meetings. Fragmented interactions may lead to confusion, duplicated efforts, and disconnection among team members. But avoiding these issues is as simple as investing in shared tools and setting expectations for using them.
To start, consider a project management system that everyone can access and update and a chat platform for real-time interaction. Email and virtual meetings will probably also be components of your communication toolkit.
Specify to every team member how they’re expected to utilize each option, such as requesting daily updates in the project management platform or the need to be available via chat during their working hours. By providing clear guidelines about communication, you’ll ensure more consistent and efficient collaboration.
Managing your team starts with the right talent
By integrating the methods presented above into your management approach, you can empower your software development team to collaborate more effectively. Moreover, you’ll invite each professional to optimize their own contributions to collective goals.
Of course, while thoughtful management techniques can enhance a team’s talents, you’ll need the technical skills necessary to complete any software development effort. In this sense, effective management starts with compiling a team capable of completing the work ahead.
Let Upwork serve as your source for top independent development talent. Our platform makes it easy to attract professionals with the specific skill sets your team needs to succeed. With the right talent always in reach, your software development team can seamlessly adapt to new challenges and opportunities. To see how Upwork can transform your talent management strategy, check out our platform today.