Scaling software development team is a sign that your business is progressing, things are going right, and you want to increase capacity or add another field to your scope. You expect that hiring more people or setting up that extra department or two will help you cover new tasks. What can possibly go wrong? You have a well-set process, professionals at your side, and a detailed development strategy. Get more people – and the sky’s the limit, right? No.
As it turns out, scaling software teams often fail, and there are several reasons for that, from communication issues to the attempts to innovate routine processes. But forewarned is forearmed, so let’s pinpoint the main challenges of scaling a development team and outline possible solutions.
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Challenge: If your project has at least a few remote employees, most probably, you can imagine what things can get out of control when you have entire distributed teams off-site. Different locations, countries, and timezones will impact even the most well-thought communication strategy. Think of this: headquarters and development center are separated by more than 8-hour difference; every office has their own preferences when it comes to organizational tools and programs; some contractors work flexible hours and report their tasks in a specific system, etc. Scaling software can turn into a communication nightmare.
If new teams are set up in different locations, changes are inevitable. You’ll have to substitute face-to-face meetings with video conferences, replace office whiteboards with digital analogs, etc. Be ready that your core team won’t be happy about changes in their routine – getting on with new processes takes time.
Solution: Rethink your communication channels and develop a strategy that will both cover your distributed team and be convenient for your in-house staff. You might have to change some employees’ working hours or set alerts to respond to emergencies happening in another timezone.
Challenge: With the number of tasks snowballing during the scale of the software team, project management becomes an issue, as well. Larger projects that require dedicated teams, or complex tasks that have to be split into smaller chunks and divided between different people call for certain plan-driven project management principles and practices.
Solution: Do not form your scaling software teams based on technology but focus, rather, on a product or a specific functionality/feature/platform paradigm, e.g., mobile app, backend, etc. This way, you will ensure team specialization that will add to faster, more qualified development. For separate long-term projects, the dedicated team model is your best bet: teams like that are well-accountable, balanced, and flexible in the environment of changing requirements.
As for task management, it’s a good idea to shorten sprints to ensure fast reaction and a sense of constant progress. In this context, shorter beats longer. Keep your backlog full and assign a responsible person to every task. To do that, choose effective, user-friendly reporting tools. For instance, at Relevant, we use Jira for project management.
Challenge: Sometimes, the product architecture is not compatible with the scaling software development team. In fact, there’s an empirical law, called Conway’s Law, which elaborates on the issue of project structure vs. organization structure. In a nutshell, product architecture somewhat reflects your company’s structure.
Overall, Agile isn’t about upfront design, but for complex projects, some planning is essential.
Solution: If there’s even the smallest chance that your software development team will need scaling, plan the architecture that would be a good match for that. To this end, you’ll need a software architect, and here we can help you out by providing you with the architect managed by Relevant. For that, contact Relevant Software and briefly outline your requirements.
Challenge: To plan software architecture, your company needs a vision of where you’re moving, what goals you want to reach, what your timeframe is, and how much you’re ready to invest.
Solution: Create a five-year roadmap for your business covering your plans, goals, and milestones. It shouldn’t be too detailed, but people in your company have to get a grasp of its direction and be able to react to any changes adequately.
Challenge: This issue may not be as obvious as the problem of communication between teams, but let’s take a closer look. At first glimpse, scaling software team means that you’ll be able to do more tasks faster and better because you’ll have more people to cover the scope. Unfortunately, it’s a false assumption.
If we project Amdahl’s Law to the scaling development team, we’ll see that some tasks have to be done in a particular order, and this order limits the number of people who can work on them simultaneously. Having more developers does not necessarily imply that new features will be coded faster or better. On the contrary, communication and synchronization between teams can cause a productivity drop. It might lead to feedback loops and overlooked bugs. The development team will take some time to fix them, while other teams will move on and create workarounds, with the problem still there.
Solution: The choice of programming languages and tools can sometimes boost productivity and ease communication between teams. Using static coding or unit tests with a dynamic language may be helpful. Also, you will need to set boundaries within which every team will operate, with less interconnected tasks. Examine the project architecture, programming language, tools, and team’s skill set. Pinpoint bottlenecks where you may be losing productivity or quality. Try splitting the internal system of a product and/or the team. Use efficient communication channels to make changes visible for all team members.
Challenge: A one- or two-team company usually starts with open-source tools to build Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery pipelines. This initial proof-of-concept may not be able to scale consistently and effectively. With the number of teams growing, new CI pipelines are added as well, so the issues of communication between teams and environments provisioning spring up.
Solution: Proper implementation of DevOps practices may avert development team scaling problems. First of all, you should use the infrastructure as a code approach, so that you can add new infrastructure for each new project at any time. Next, using containers to isolate the individual parts of software from the overall IT infrastructure will help manage the pieces of application more efficiently, no matter the scale. Also, infrastructure automation tools have to be integrated with CI/CD tools. Test automation is another must-have.
Challenge: Any manual activity is a bottleneck that gets worse with scaling in software development. With the growth of your software development team, some manual tasks become too hard to handle, or there can be just too many of them. Testing is the first suspect. Automation is not just an essential part of DevOps and CI/CD – it is crucial when you plan development team scaling.
Solution: Automate as many business processes as you can, and start from automated testing. Regression, smoke, and sanity tests go first. Then, data-driven tests, stress and load tests, time-consuming, and business-critical paths that have effects visible for users.
Challenge: A shared codebases can be a nightmare for new developers joining your team. Diving into someone else’s code may take weeks if you don’t think about your coding beforehand, while scaling software teams will eat up your team’s productivity instead of adding to it.
Solution: The simpler and clearer your code is, the more smoothly your software development team scaling will go. Stick to the code style approved by your team, be specific and consistent in your code and keep the logic clear so that any new developer could grasp the concept.
Setting up CI/CD will help automate some steps and ensure the top quality of your service.
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Software development team scaling is a good idea at a certain stage of your business. Still, it can cause so many problems that you’d lose productivity and quality instead of boosting your team’s efficiency. Scaling software team brings communication, management, and architectural challenges, and to stay on top of it all, you have to be ready for team extension well in advance. Here’s what you should take care of before jumping into the software development team scaling process:
After covering all these points, you will be able to turn scaling software into a business opportunity it should actually be instead of an overwhelming challenge it often becomes.
Read more: Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for Lean Enterprises
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