Exploring Team Structure Impacts on Software Projectsby@itrex
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Exploring Team Structure Impacts on Software Projects

by ITRexAugust 14th, 2021
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The way you map your business objectives to the roles in a software development team will likely determine your project’s success. The project management methodology you choose to go with shapes the size of your team, the responsibilities of team members, and the relations within the team. A Business Analyst can translate an abstract product idea into a set of tangible requirements. The table below summarizes the key differences between the following sequential approaches to Agile and Waterfall and the development team structure. The team is built based on hierarchical relations between team members.

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Finally, you have devised a fantastic product or software idea and are eager to bring it to life.

That or, perhaps, you’re planning on giving your company a complete digital overhaul.

If you’re new to software development, realizing these plans --however inspiring they sound-- may give you butterflies.

Suppose you decide to hire a dedicated development team to bring your ideas to life. How do you assemble the right team? What is the perfect software development team structure?

We understand your confusion and are here to give you a leg up. Below, we answer all of the essential questions related to setting up a product development team that would make your project a success.

Key Factors Behind a Software Development Team Structure

Every product begins with the people. The way you map your business objectives to the roles in a software development team will likely determine your project’s success. Or failure.

So, when designing a software development team structure, make sure you consider the requirements and level of complexity of your project.

Before you step into the recruitment craze, you have to work out the scope of your project. If you’re about to build a product prototype, a team of four may be enough to accomplish the task.

But if you’re planning on launching a brand-new application with multiple features and third-party integrations, the number of team members will certainly increase.

Below are some ideas of how project scope and a software development team structure may correlate:

Time is of the Essence

The speed at which you need to complete your project will influence the team structure and size. Naturally, with fewer team members, it may take longer to complete the project.

If you have an idea of a state-of-the-art product that needs to be developed from scratch and on a tight deadline, you might have to assemble an extended team of senior engineers or a group of full-stack engineers. They will likely be able to cover all needs and deliver results quickly and efficiently.

The Budget Allocated to Development

Being inextricably intertwined with the factors above, the available budget would certainly affect every decision you make — from how many team members you can hire, to the seniority of specialists you can bring in, to how feature-rich your product can be when turned around.

To reduce project expenses without sacrificing quality at the initial stages of development, consider opting for any of the Agile project management methodologies.

You could deliver updates in increments, focusing on high-priority features first, and have more cost flexibility.

Approaches to Software Development

Regardless of whether you opt for Waterfall or Agile, either would directly impact your workflows and a software development team structure.

The project management methodology you choose to go with shapes the size of your team, the responsibilities of team members, and the relations within the team.

Let’s catch up on the key facts about Waterfall and Agile and see how their peculiarities are reflected in the development team composition.

So, how do these differences influence the software development team structure?

A traditional Waterfall project team is built based on hierarchical relations between team members, so there are managers and subordinates with well-defined responsibilities.

Such a team structure grants a project manager more control over the project workflows. They are, too, responsible for critical decisions.

Agile teams, on the other hand, are self-organized and self-managed. Still, there are organizational leaders, like a Scrum Master in Scrum or a Service Delivery Manager in Kanban.

Their responsibilities are quite different from the responsibilities of a traditional Waterfall project manager though as they are focused more on fostering relationships within the team and creating a working environment where each team member can be effective.

Spanning a maximum of nine to ten people, Agile teams allow a certain degree of autonomy, so the team members have the freedom to prioritize their workloads and shape their workflows the way they want.

The table below summarizes the key differences between the teams following sequential approaches and those adhering to Agile.

Important Team Roles

Business Analyst

  • Understands the customer’s business processes.
  • Translates customer business needs into requirements.

A Business Analyst dives deep into a customer’s workflows and analyzes stakeholder feedback to help a client formulate what their wants look like.

Further to that, they help to align a customer’s vision with what a development team is producing. A Business Analyst can translate an abstract product idea into a set of tangible requirements.

A BA enriches a product development team with a profound understanding of business processes from various perspectives. As well as the ability to shape up a software product that creates maximum business value.

A BA may even step in before a software development team structure is defined and continue to bridge the gap between the customer and the team during later stages of development.

Product Owner

  • Holds the responsibility for a product vision and evolution.
  • Makes sure a final product meets customer requirements.

Holding more responsibility for a product's success than any other app development team member, a product owner is a decision-maker.

Balancing both business needs and market trends, they define a business strategy, shape up the product vision, make sure it satisfies customer needs, and manage a product backlog.

Associated mainly with flexible Agile environments, a Product Owner must work well in scenarios where requirements and workflows frequently change.

While the responsibilities of a BA and a PO sound quite similar there are differences between the two.

Below offers a description of the differences and a rationale for why there need for both in one project?

The critical difference is that a Product Owner provides the vision of a product without diving deep into how it is technically implemented, while a Business Analyst bridges the gap between a customer and a team -- being a bit more on the technical side.

So, a PO is more customer-oriented, while a BA is often more focused on the project.

Professional business analysts are usually qualified to take over some of a product owner’s tasks, like managing the product backlog, modeling workflows, and others.

Project Manager

  • Makes sure that a product or its part is delivered on time and within budget.
  • Manages and motivates the software development team.

In sequential models, a project manager is responsible for distributing tasks across team members, planning work activities, and updating project status.

In Agile projects where the focus is on self-management, transparency, and shared ownership, a PM sets up the vision of a product, maintains transparency, fosters communication, searches for improvements in the development process, and makes sure a team delivers more value with each iteration.

Some people believe that there’s no need for a PM in an Agile environment with similar roles, like a Service Delivery Manager or a Scrum Master, but this is not entirely true.

However, if your company is running multiple Agile projects simultaneously, having dedicated PMs is vital.

They would connect the dots between high-level stakeholder requirements and day-to-day task execution on a team level, while, say, a Scrum Master would manage things within the team.

UX/UI Designer

  • Transforms a product vision into user-friendly designs.
  • Creates user journeys for the best user experience and highest conversion rates.

There are two aspects to the product design process — user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design.

The UX part stands for thinking out an entire journey of a user’s interaction with a product.

A UX Designer is, thus, involved in such activities as user research, persona development, information architecture design, wireframing, prototyping, and more.

A UI Designer, in turn, devises intuitive, easy-to-use, and eye-pleasing interfaces for a product.

A UI/UX designer would accompany you throughout the development lifecycle, helping you achieve business goals via functional and engaging user experiences, as well as analyzing, evaluating, and enhancing those experiences over time.

Software Architect

  • Designs a high-level software architecture.
  • Selects appropriate tools and platforms to realize the product vision.
  • Sets up code quality standards and performs code reviews.

An expert-level software engineer, an architect is the one who makes executive software design decisions in an app development team.

You will need one if you deal with a software product with complex requirements or legacy software that calls for profound changes. A software architect decides which services and databases should communicate together, how integrations should work, and how to ensure that the product is secure and stable.

Software Developer

  • Engineers the product.
  • Solves any technical problems emerging during the development lifecycle.

A software developer does the actual job and codes an application. Just like an app features a front end and a back end, there are front-end and back-end developers.

Front-end developers create the part of an application that users interact with, ensuring that an app offers an equally smooth experience to all — no matter the device, platform, or operational system.

Back-end developers, in turn, implement the core of an app — its algorithms and business logic. Experienced back-end developers not only write code but also do the tasks of an architect — for example, devise an app architecture or design and implement the necessary integrations.

There are full-stack developers as well. They can handle all the work at once — from clients to servers to databases, and all the needed integrations.

Software Testing Engineer

  • Makes sure an application performs according to requirements.
  • Spots functional and non-functional defects.

The job of a software tester is to verify whether an application meets the requirements — both functional and non-functional. Functional requirements define what an app should do, while non-functional requirements specify how the app should do that. To verify both, test engineers run various checks, followed by analyzing the test results and reporting on the app quality.

They verify an app from different angles — be it functionality, usability, security, or performance (hence, many types of testing). To keep track of the executed checks and ensure that all of the requirements are covered with tests, QA specialists may create different kinds of testing documentation — from test scenarios to test protocols to test results reports. And experienced QA engineers design and implement quality assurance processes and procedures that help prevent defects at later stages of development.

Test automation engineer

  • Design a test automation ecosystem
  • Write and maintain test scripts for automated testing

A test automation engineer is there to help you test faster and better. To enable that, they develop test automation scripts — small programs that provide reliable and continuous feedback on app quality without any human involvement.

A skilled test automation engineer would help you choose which parts of an app are good candidates for automation and what’s better to be tested manually. They would also design a test automation ecosystem that is easy to maintain and update. Finally, they’ll make sure that your test automation initiative generates as much value as possible at a reasonable cost.

DevOps engineer

  • Facilitates cooperation between development and operations teams
  • Builds CI/CD pipelines for faster delivery

Even in Agile environments, development, and operations teams can be siloed. DevOps engineers serve as a link between the two teams, unifying and automating the software delivery process and helping strike a balance between introducing changes quickly and keeping an application stable. Working together with software developers, system administrators, and operational staff, DevOps engineers oversee and facilitate code releases on a CI/CD basis.

Why is setting the right team essential for project success?

Setting up the right team is the crucial factor in a project’s success as it is the project team that is responsible for delivering value throughout the project.

It’s a common scenario when a company hires a dedicated team but fails to balance roles and responsibilities. For instance, deciding to go without a product owner — the ultimate visioner responsible for crafting a product that meets customer needs — quite often leads to releasing software that fails to win the hearts of its potential users.

At a daily operations level, too, one can miss opportunities due to poorly thought-out staffing decisions. A project manager may, for instance, overlook the need for a DevOps engineer, thus, preventing themselves from tapping into numerous benefits.

For example, in one of our projects, introducing DevOps helped our customer reduce release cycles from ten to two weeks, implement 30+ new features quickly, and achieve a code coverage of 80%.

Mistakes can happen when selecting developers with an appropriate level of expertise. Striving to save budgets, you may feel reluctant to hire senior engineers and opt for less experienced staff. However, to ensure the right proportion of expertise and new perspectives, we would advise staffing your team with both an expert-level developer and those with less experience; the former will ensure technical guidance or even act as a virtual CTO, while the latter would bring fresh ideas to the table.

Four steps to take to assemble a winning software development team

1. Analyze the prerequisites and determine the team size.

Evaluate your business goals, the complexity of your project, available budget, and deadlines to make up your mind about a suitable approach to project management.

Based on that, estimate the size of your team. If you choose to go with Agile, the perfect team would span four to ten people. Waterfall teams, in turn, are usually quite large and may span up to 15 people.

To avoid any management complexities, it may be worth dividing a large team into several sub-teams, each with a lead of its own.

2. Choose a team structure that fits your project.

There are three types of team structures — specialists, generalists, and hybrid teams, and each has its pros and cons. When choosing an appropriate team structure, consider this:

3. Ensure you have all the necessary software development team roles covered.

If you already have in-house resources, evaluate the skills gaps you need to fill in and search for targeted talent to extend your team. If you start anew, make sure your team is balanced and can cover different aspects of development.

4. Facilitate effective communication.

Set up project management software to speed up daily operations and provide for more transparency of the project processes. The most popular project management tools include Jira, Trello, Hive, Smartsheet, and others. And to establish productive communication, encourage using messaging apps, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, as they are simpler and faster to use.

Don’t forget about verbal communication, too. Video conferencing and regular project briefings may come in handy in resolving misunderstandings and boosting the quality of communication.

Still unsure about what software development team structure is the right fit for your project? Tell ITRex the details — they’ll advise on the team structure and back you up with top-tier talent.