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5 tips for stronger development team management

Being a competent manager and leading a successful software development team isn't as easy as it looks. Explore the skills, tools and best practices that can strengthen your current workforce.

Development tasks involve much more than tirelessly writing line after line of code. It requires an assortment of technical and nontechnical knowledge. A project lead might be knowledgeable and experienced in the IT field, but if they don't possess the qualities of a savvy team manager, such as communication and time-management skills, software development will become even more of a challenge than it already is.

In software development team management, certain best practices help to maintain productivity and provide stability. Here are some tips for development team leads that can help make that happen.

Perfect your communication skills

Many factors affect the productivity of software development teams, but one that team leads often overlook is the importance of communication. Project managers must make a strong and consistent effort to keep their team connected and encourage dialogue. Poor communication can easily derail a project if left unaddressed, especially if a manager neglects to regularly check in with remote developers. Open communication with business-side departments is also essential in order to ensure the application truly meets the needs of users and the software stays in line with organizational policies.

Team leaders should always relay a clear project schedule, taking into account potential delays or complications. In the same vein, managers should clearly prioritize the tasks they pass on to developers. Poor scheduling decisions will result in frustrated stakeholders and underproductive developers.

Commit to a development team model

One of the biggest problems in development team management is misaligned or poorly placed staff. A project's success relies heavily on how team leaders identify skill sets, define developer roles and assign responsibilities.

Often, successful development teams follow one of three management models:

  • Generalist. The generalist model builds itself around team members with broad knowledge who can handle a variety of tasks and roles unrelated to specialized capabilities. This model is best suited to projects of low to moderate complexity.
  • Specialized. A specialized team model should be adopted when dealing with complex software projects with distinct requirements, such as medical applications. Because specialist teams are at risk of forming knowledge silos, project managers should remain vigilant to ensure their team does not disconnect from typical development processes.
  • Hybrid. A hybrid team model is the one that's most effective for large projects. These types of projects often target industry-specific functionality and require back-end configuration. Both generalists and specialists will contribute to the success of such projects.

Foster skills and create a learning culture

A lot more goes into modern software development than code. When looking to upgrade a development team, managers should cultivate the following skills and qualifications among team members:

  • Coding and language skills. These form the foundation of any software development career, and those who are well-versed in multiple languages and protocol formats stand out among their peers. Project team leaders can facilitate trainings and encourage developers to widen their range of expertise.
  • Architecture design and management. These are also important areas of expertise for developers to explore. While senior engineers and architects will make the final call when it comes to the underlying infrastructure, developers should understand the reasons behind these choices and how they affect an application's functionality and complexity.
  • Testing to analyze the stability. Team leaders should train developers to be perceptive investigators who can validate an application's performance against the business and technical requirements. If this skill set isn't already instilled within a team, it's up to the manager to figure out how to fill that gap.

Make sure to also keep an eye out for development knowledge silos, where developers are left working unsupervised or without regular instruction. One of the best ways to eliminate potential silos is to implement cross-training among teams and encourage knowledge-sharing initiatives.

Configure your change control policies carefully

In traditional IT organizations, change control tends to become a point of contention between the operations and development teams. With the emergence of DevOps, project leads must find an approach to change and versioning management that carefully balances application resiliency and the flexibility of deployments. When evaluating how to improve change control policies, there are a few ways to start, for example:

  • Determine exactly which applications need a formal change process. Depending on the risk level, not every updated or new feature needs to be formally evaluated.
  • When working separately, operations teams often worry they'll be blamed for breaking changes. To mitigate this problem, connect responsibility to authority: Whichever team deployed the change should own the consequences.
  • Instead of forcing operations teams to wait for permission from developers before they test a change, consider creating a notification system that alerts operations to changes and permits them a window of time to perform a review.
  • Consider hiding changes behind feature flags. This allows developers to make changes that won't affect the application until the developer decides to reveal it.
  • Isolate the impact of changes as much as possible, so that only the most closely related teams and systems will feel the blow of a failure.

Track and analyze the right metrics consistently

Ultimately, the performance of a software team's applications is the real success marker of the group. That's when developers turn to application performance metrics. Tracking the right metrics gives developers and stakeholder insights into how to improve both the applications and the business. They are key elements in good development team management.

Some of the most important metrics for developers to track are:

  • CPU usage
  • memory usage
  • number of requests
  • latency and uptime
  • security events

Each of these metrics provides important information that can alert developers to areas that could stand improvement. For example, tracking CPU usage enables developers to evaluate the responsiveness of an application and address any particularly slow applications. If team leaders can teach their developers to track the right metrics, both application quality and team productivity will likely see significant gains.

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