An efficient software development team isn’t something that just happens. It is indeed a myth that putting together good professionals in a team would mean all is good by default. An efficient development team isn’t just about professionalism; it's also about the strategy the team adopts in their software development process. Only a truly efficient team can deal with the workload faster and be more productive.
As a manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure your developers have the tools and resources they need to be as productive and content in their role as possible. Yes, this is an obvious thing to say but the truth is 75% of the projects are doomed to fail from the beginning because sometimes even the best of us are unable to pinpoint that the flaw is in the process not the person (or the product).
What are the common challenges that cause the software assembly line jams? Here’s a few to name:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Too much backlog/amount of work
- Unmanageable task size
- Code review pile up
- Developer burnout
- Poor Employee Retention
Understanding what makes any team slow can help you evaluate if your development team is working at its optimum speed. First, let's lay out the obvious, why is all this even important?
Why developer efficiency matters?
In 2020, the world has changed faster than ever before. We’ve been hit by one crisis after another through the first quarter of this year. Now we are trying to stay afloat an economic crisis which is making it harder to maintain business. Many industries such as travel and tourism are seeing bad days in the current economic crisis, but many such as the software industry have seen sudden spikes. The business world has come to the realization that in the current age of remote working and online business, digitalization is the key.
You could be one of the companies trying to survive this change by automating your business as much as possible. However, to avoid burnout, you need to do this in less amount of time, and for as less upfront investment as possible. This means you need an efficient team of software developers and development managers that help you digitize your processes. A team that does not function at its optimum may cost you more time and money.
Nonetheless, any company with a team of developers, regardless of the economic crisis, needs to make sure that developer efficiency and productivity is as good as it gets to obtain quality in delivery of the product.
What would a highly efficient development team look like?
If we have understood the common challenges that lower the efficiency of the software team, and why efficiency is important, we need to know if our development team is efficient enough. Therefore, it is necessary to outline the ideal situation which should be a goal to reach optimum efficiency. Ideally, this is what a highly efficient development team looks like, and the processes they’d follow. Scroll to the end if you’re wondering how would I know all this anyway?
A team of good developers
There’s a common discussion that a good developer can be 10 times more productive than a mediocre one. This is an obvious one but to have optimum efficiency it is necessary to have a team of good developers. Now obviously that can not be the only criteria to avoid performance problems, however it has to be a very important factor. We must understand what is a good developer, which is a separate topic altogether, but here’s a few top qualities a good developer should have:
- A good developer understands the end-users well
- They are able to instrument, tune and measure performance
- They enjoy learning and growth is a constant for them
- A good developer over-delivers and underpromises
- They try to write the minimum amount of code
- They write a clean code
- A good developer can break complex functionalities into smaller deliverables
An important task that the development team is responsible for as much as the product management is making sure that the requirements are as lean as possible. It is recommended to use the Pareto principle when starting lean i.e. 20% of the product features drive 80% of the product value for end users. There’s no point in going all in when developing a product as this leads to unrealistic expectations and unmanageable tasks that slow down your development team.
For efficient development, it is important to always start product development with an MVP. This helps the development team fail faster which is better and saves both time and money. Even if it is a win, you can get your product or product update to the market quicker with leaner requirements.
Therefore, starting with an MVP is generally also the faster way to get the product to the market. Building too much without validation or clear learning objectives is the biggest inefficiency in product development. Using a lean approach means emphasising focus on your end-user, thinking of your releases in these terms, and pre-validating features through user research. It is extremely important for product developers to use rapid prototyping and wireframe exercises which in turn increases the efficiency of the development team.
Since it is important to start with an MVP or to keep product requirements lean, this means working in iterations. The best way to do this is through weekly sprints. A Sprint is a planned unit of time during which developers have planned tasks to complete in time. It is a highly efficient way of getting things done in time with your development team.
How weekly sprints help is that you’re able to break down your complex product requirements into smaller, achievable tasks, making your weekly goals S.M.A.R.T. As the Sprint ends, developers can report whether tasks are unfinished or complete. This helps product managers clearly see if the team has achieved their productivity goals. However, this metric can be false if you aren’t cautious. If your team has set low goals for themselves, reporting tasks complete when they’re ‘’actually not’’ then the accuracy of this metric for productivity purposes is untrustworthy. This leads to the next factor important to increase development team members’ productivity.
Measuring developer productivity
Efficiency can not be obtained if it is not measured. Team efficiency is dependent on individual developer productivity. Measuring developer productivity is much more complex than measurement of productivity in other roles. This is because developer productivity is subject to variation depending on human decision making. Some of the traditional ways to measure developer productivity are hours worked, source lines of code, bugs closed, code quality and defect rate. All of these together with the delivered end product can help measure developer productivity.
However, a developer’s job is complex; writing code requires taking inexact problems and creating exact solutions. One way to break down this complex problem is using story points. Story points are a measure of risk taken and effort of the developer. You can figure out how many story points each developer finishes per sprint to extrapolate developer performance.
Other popular metrics for developer productivity, some of which could suit your team are using cycle times i.e. how much time do issues take to resolve, or amount of open pull requests. Each pull request can remain open until the code has been reviewed, this is discussed in detail in the following section.
It is extremely important to create a definite and efficient process for code reviews. One tried and tested solution is to create a pull request for every feature you start. That pull request should not be merged into master until the code has been reviewed by another teammate.
Moreover, try to find teammates that have the least exposure to the feature in question. They should be encouraged to add notes to the pull request and also point out places that could leverage an existing pattern or use an existing helper.
In a smaller team, where everyone is hands-on working on the features together, always try to get code reviews from agencies or experienced software engineering companies.
Last but not the least, work culture is very important in maintaining and improving development efficiency. Work culture drives employee retention directly. It is very important to create a productive environment where your software team has the physical and mental space to focus on their work without unnecessary disruptions.
When it comes to office space it can be useful to separate your software development team from the rest of the business to help them concentrate while providing them with the comfort of refreshments and fuel so that they don’t have to leave the office frequently to recharge and boost energy levels.
However, for remote teams the dynamics for maintaining efficiency are different. Here’s a detailed blog on how to improve a remote team’s efficiency through online collaboration, transparent work culture and regular synchronisation.
A software development team needs just the right amount of support to succeed.
Without sufficient support, your development team can get off-track or unmotivated. Support your team by being clear with expectations and goals by providing a project manager and tech lead to guide and direct them. And at the same time, you must also give your team enough liberty and space to allow them to make their best work.
Also, a culture of constant learning and growth is extremely important to boost the performance of your team. Offering potential development opportunities provides your team with the necessary new skills they need to perform better in their role.
Software development team efficiency is very important for a business with a digital product to deliver quality within less time and money. I have listed some of the factors that could help your development team with boosting performance. A good software development team is managed by product managers who already use these tips and tricks as a rule of thumb.
However, having a software development team in-house and making sure they’re working at optimum efficiency levels can be complex and tiresome. This is why many SMEs and startups choose to outsource development to experienced teams who already have high efficiency levels.
Having worked at Thorgate for a considerable time, I have found the team, work culture, processes and task management to be optimum for team efficiency.
At Thorgate we also help many bigger companies with in-house development that want expert advice to increase efficiency through code reviews, lean requirements workshop or consulting.