Software development isn’t just developers writing code. It also includes less technical processes that precede the actual development process such as the planning and the testing stages as well as post-development when the software is released and feedback is gathered from end-users.
What this means is that many teams beyond development are involved in the software development life cycle, such as product, design, testing, sales and marketing teams. These teams are all involved in achieving common objectives and ensuring a high-quality product.
Software development teams
To understand why it’s so important for teams to work cross-functionally, it helps to take a look at the different types of teams involved in software development. This will uncover the best practices to get these teams on the road for enhanced collaboration.
When we visualize a software development team, it’s easy to imagine a group of developers writing and releasing code but the reality is that it’s much more than that.
A software development team brings together a wide range of expertise from different teams within an organization to ensure the success of a project. This means that most teams are not solely made up of developers because while they’re responsible for creating the product, there also needs to be people dedicated to building the vision of the product, managing its life cycle, testing the product and marketing it and so on.
A software development team typically consists of the following roles:
- Business analyst
- Product owner
- Project manager
- UI/UX designer
- Developers (frontend and backend)
- QA engineer
- DevOps engineer
With various teams from different departments coming together, there’s a great advantage in having expertise across multiple disciplines, which can bring innovative solutions to problems and insights which otherwise would be overlooked if these teams were to work in silos. Therefore, each of these roles is key to the effective development of your product.
Many factors will influence the structure of your development team such as project complexity, budget and size as well as the needs and expectations of stakeholders.
Ultimately, the team you put together will determine your project’s likelihood of success or failure and their collaboration will be key to achieving desired outcomes.
Why is cross-functional collaboration important?
It’s inevitable for different teams to clash during projects. For example, developers and product teams tend to approach projects from vastly different perspectives and their metrics for success will also differ.
Product managers are often focused on achieving outcomes and overall business objectives. They’re looking to quickly validate their ideas and just as quickly release features that will bring in more revenue for the business. Developers, for their part, aim to build the best possible product by focusing on the deliverables that come with building this product.
The same applies to other teams within the organization with the different types of mindset, skills and goals coming into play during a project.
It’s vital for cross-functional teams to communicate and collaborate effectively around a shared goal in order to successfully achieve it.
Effective collaboration results in better products. Less conflict between the different teams translates to more time dedicated to building and releasing high-quality products. In other words, when teams are on the same page, it allows them to focus on what really matters, which is creating value for the customer through quality software.
Furthermore, cross-functional collaboration is a key driver for creativity and innovation. Collaboration often results in new ideas that can help companies gain competitive advantages as different people come together to work on a project as they encourage each other to consider things from different angles.
Software development team best practices
To enhance productivity and to continue to deliver value to customers, software development teams should stick to some best practices to put them on the path to improved collaboration and success.
Define clear goals
While each team has their own set of internal goals, they still need to make sure that those goals align with the overall business objectives of the company (and product). It’s essential that all teams have a shared understanding of business goals and how to achieve them.
This means keeping all teams coordinated and aligned around the product vision throughout the software development life cycle. It also involves determining the project scope and requirements that will best achieve these objectives.
Once shared goals are established, teams can work with each other instead of against each other even as they perform their own distinct tasks while pushing ahead in the same direction.
The responsibilities of everyone involved in the software development process need to be clearly defined to avoid clashes and create a sense of accountability. The clearer the roles, the less chance of confusion as teams go deeper into the project.
This is a time when having the right leadership can make all the difference. Leaders must clearly define roles and responsibilities and ensure that all teams understand how their work creates value for the organization and its customers.
Choose the appropriate project management methodology
Depending on the size and complexity of your project and teams, it’s important to choose a methodology that works well with the organization’s culture and values.
From Waterfall to Agile methodologies, there are many approaches you can choose. For large projects with a clearly defined start and end-point, the Waterfall approach would work best. However, for projects that are adaptable and divided to smaller sprints, an Agile approach is better suited.
This will serve as the foundation on how you begin to structure your teams and the type of tools they should implement in their daily workflows.
Invest in DevOps
Many software development companies organize themselves in a way that often leads to functional silos so that all the different teams tend to work in isolation while focused on their own goals.
As we’ve discussed, a project also consists of many moving parts and effective communication throughout the different stages of the project becomes complicated as there’s less visibility during these stages.
The DevOps methodology mainly grew out of frustration of the silos between teams, primarily development and operations teams. However, the term has evolved in modern software development to encompass a set of practices and tools that increase an organization’s ability to quickly deliver new software by promoting enhanced collaboration and communication between different teams.
DevOps goes beyond adopting the right tools to achieve high performance and better quality. It also involves undergoing a cultural transformation and teams adopting a shared culture and mindset that allows them to focus on quality of software and speed of delivery.
Choose the right tools
There are a number of collaborative tools your teams can adopt to establish efficient communication practices. The tools you choose will serve as the foundation to help teams work together towards common goals.
Among those are ones that can help you plan your projects from the bigger picture to the little details, which is especially useful for large organizations with multiple teams and team members collaborating. This also enables teams to have greater visibility over each member’s progress in the project and empowers teams to share input and encourage fast feedback loops in order to build a culture of DevOps and open communication.
Different teams will use their own tools to track work and progress throughout a project. For example, product teams will typically use roadmapping tools to plan, prioritize and track features while development teams will use development tools such as version control systems.
Therefore, there are many tools to choose from depending on the needs of the organization and teams from collaboration to project management tools as well as automation tools to streamline processes.
For example, teams adopting DevOps practices into their workflows will also need to choose the right stack of tools according to their unique business needs in order to implement DevOps successfully.
Communicate constantly and efficiently
From the onset of a project, all teams and other stakeholders will need to be involved in the decision-making process to keep issues down to a minimum and avoid miscommunication further down the road.
For example, many product teams often take the lead on setting the product vision and requirements without reviewing them with the development and engineering teams. In this scenario, it’s essential to understand that developers are the ones who will be writing for the product in question and so they must be consulted early on to give them the necessary context to build and prioritize the right features.
In this scenario, product managers and owners will need to effectively communicate the strategic direction and vision of a product with the help of a dedicated product roadmap. This will enable developers to understand why they’re building the product, its value and how it’s linked to overall business objectives.
A project often consists of many moving parts which means it might not be possible for teams to have full visibility over them. However, Many important decisions are collaborative in nature and require input from multiple sides. It’s imperative that everyone on the team is encouraged to actively provide feedback and share information about the progress of development. This also helps teams identify any potential roadblocks and take quick action to address them.
Set KPIs and metrics to track performance
Depending on the business objectives set at the beginning, teams will need to establish metrics to track and measure performance throughout the development process and beyond.
These metrics will be essential in the short and long term to make data-driven decisions to optimize products and improve team performance.
Teams can set any kind of metrics that will allow them to assess their efficiency. These could include productivity metrics such as velocity and cycle time, customer metrics such as customer satisfaction and net promoter scores and and more DevOps specific metrics such as DORA metrics.
Software development is a team effort
To produce high-quality software that meets your customers’ expectations and needs, different teams have to come together within a collaborative environment to solve complex problems.
If organizations work on fostering collaboration across the entire software development life cycle, software development teams can overcome challenges, maximize productivity and software quality as well as deliver better value to customers. It’s a win-win situation.
At the end of the day, all teams within an organization are looking to accomplish the same end-goals and outcomes, mainly to keep the business running smoothly and bring in profit as well as create top-notch products that customers will love.