The age of acceleration is being defined by software development teams the world over, but simply employing developers isn’t enough. You need to know how to manage those teams effectively. So argues Marko Gargenta, CEO of PlusPlus, as he outlines the best practices for building the best software development team.
Recruiting and keeping IT talent has always been difficult; and in the present context, it’s even more tricky. An estimated 75% of digital professionals anticipate leaving their present position in the near future, with developing their careers being the primary motivator for 63% of those planning to quit. The pandemic highlighted the shortcomings of managers, and the workforce has realigned on what is of value to them in an employer – and what is not.
That research highlights a key concern – that firms will lose valuable IT expertise – but it also reveals that those employers that can provide opportunities for progression, and are skilled in communicating this, are more likely to retain their talent.
Many companies pride themselves on their capacity to develop people internally, and in developing businesses, there is almost always a major chance to learn new skills by changing jobs. However, just assigning more significant roles to the greatest personnel has its drawbacks. This is especially true when the transition means the abandonment of the work they were good at and the acquisition of a completely new set of abilities.
Consider professional sportspeople: few of the world’s most famous athletes, in any sport, go on to become outstanding instructors. Or consider journalism: what makes a good reporter isn’t always the same as what makes a good editor.
The Difference Between Great Developers & Great Managers
It’s the same in software development. Successful software developers do not automatically make successful managers. In fact, quite often the very thing that made a high-performer successful in their last role could well get in their way in the new position. That’s because the thing that made a great developer – technical prowess – is no longer the primary attribute of a successful manager.
Of course, it’s important to have the right understanding when leading a team of tech specialists, yet simply being the best at creating new products or fixing complex bugs is not going to inspire a variety of personalities. That’s because they will have their own motivations, preferences, strengths and weaknesses, all of which need to be navigated and handled in the right way in order to coax the best performance from both individuals and the collective team.
What It Takes to Manage Developers
That’s before we consider how those individuals work, and how their roles influence how best to manage or lead them.
To do that, managers need to understand the types of people in their organization. Everyone might be unique, but there will be certain characteristics, defined by their roles, which can help provide insight into how best to lead them.
For instance, if we consider programming disciplines, systems, user-interface/experience and database programmers, all will have different ways of thinking about problems and solutions. Or a manager might have a team made up of both permanent employees and contractors, each with their own concerns and approaches. In addition, there could well be both cowboys, charging in at the very last minute of a project to save the day, and farmers, who just steadily plow through the task at hand. Both will be required to make a product successfully, and both will respond to different types of management.
An estimated 75% of digital professionals anticipate leaving their present position in the near future, with developing their careers being the primary motivator for 63% of those planning to quit.
The Common Challenges of Building Software Development Teams
Of course, to get to that point, managers need to have built a team in the first place. And while every organization is different, there are several common challenges that anyone that has worked in a technical function will be familiar with. Specifically, recruitment, onboarding and knowledge sharing.
We’ve already noted the great upheavals attracting and retaining talent is going through, and it’s important to note that while many people are willing to move, there is so much competition that no employer should think it will be easy to recruit the right staff.
How Do You Recruit?
That’s particularly true for engineering teams that are often always hiring as one of the fastest growing functions in an organization. Many managers make the mistake of assuming recruiters, whether external or internal, can handle the whole process, but if candidates are to be properly assessed, their leaders and prospective colleagues need to be heavily involved.
For one thing, a recruitment function that has to serve the whole business is unlikely to have in-depth knowledge or experience of reviewing someone’s ability to code; for another, while they can run company-wide tests to check cultural fit, the intricacies of smaller teams will only be truly understood by the people actually in that team.
Sourcing opinions and ideas from existing team members can help create an assessment process which is fair, balanced, replicable and more likely to identify candidates that will gel quickly with other employees.
Ignore Onboarding at Your Peril
Once a candidate has been chosen, they need to be onboarded. While this is one term, it’s actually two processes. First, there’s the part conducted by human resources, the employee orientation might include all the paperwork, processes and compliance lists needed to turn a candidate into a legal part of the business. Second, and more important from a productivity and engagement perspective, is functional onboarding, which is focused on getting new joiners up to speed as quickly as possible. That’s about having a welcoming culture and access to the right equipment and services straight away.
Yet it’s constantly surprising how many organizations spend tens of thousands of dollars and many hours attracting and recruiting new employees but spend a fraction of that on onboarding. Employers cannot assume that signing a contract means they can take their foot off the gas; they need to ensure that the onboarding process is smooth and reflective of the business.
If they don’t, they could lose those new employees they spent so many resources acquiring in the first place. One study found that employees who had a negative new hire onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for new opportunities soon, while one in five new hires are unlikely to recommend an employer to a friend or family member following their onboarding.
There is also another issue with onboarding – how it can create organizational drag. This is where adding new bodies slows down output, as everything becomes exponentially more complex. While growing businesses need to bring in new staff to maintain progression, if they do not have clear processes and a culture set up to bring people up to speed as quickly as possible, they can actually find they suffer from a dip in productivity.
Creating an Environment of Shared Understanding
This all comes down to the issue of sharing knowledge. Communicating and collaboration is crucial in having a successful team, and it’s as valuable to managers as it is to team members. This is especially true in the increasingly remote working world many find themselves in, and it goes beyond simply sharing information within a team, but also extends to how teams communicate with other functions, departments and business units.
Some managers might feel that they risk over-communicating. In today’s environment, that’s not possible, but it’s important to remember that listening is as much a part of communication as talking is.
Over-communicating less valuable information is a risk. Everyone has a unique perspective or knowledge that is not readily available to others. Leaders need to find ways of being able to access that understanding and share it with relevant people across the organization. This is where knowing individuals on the team, what their preferences are and how comfortable they are communicating, comes in; it’s no good pushing an introvert to give a company-wide presentation when they might be more comfortable, and therefore more effective, in sharing understanding with small groups or on a one-to-one basis.
Getting It Right in 2022 & Beyond
It’s a difficult time for technical companies right now; businesses need to be able to harness technology in order to flourish in today’s marketplaces, and engineering teams are under pressure to help. Managers must be hyper-focused on assisting their staff in performing well in this environment, which focuses attention on these leaders and how they guide, develop, and encourage their teams. Managers are in charge of making software development teams run well, from recruiting and onboarding through individual counseling and sharing information across the enterprise. Getting it right ensures success across the whole team, and across the business.
ABOUT OUR GUEST WRITER
Marko is the founder and CEO of PlusPlus. Launched in 2017, Marko and his co-founders saw that technical teams were underserved and siloed and decided to apply their experiences of building Twitter University to the wider industry. PlusPlus helps technical teams share understanding, stay on the same page, remain productive and grow. PlusPlus is backed by the venture firms behind companies including Airtable, BetterUp, Carta, Clubhouse and Intercom, and counts among its customers the likes of Airbnb, Shopify, LinkedIn, Netflix and Salesforce.