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Software Development Team Scaling: Challenges and Solutions

#Dedicated teams

Software development team scaling 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 often fails, 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 software development team scaling and outline possible solutions. 

Distributed Teams Management

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 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. 

Project Management

Challenge: With the number of tasks snowballing, 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. 

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Solution: Do not form your 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. 

Architectural Planning

Challenge: Sometimes, the product architecture is not compatible with the scaled 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. 

Source: Slideshare 

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.

Roadmap

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. 

Keeping Up Productivity and Quality 

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 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 team scaling, 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.

Amdahl’s Law: Deliverables vs. Number of Teams
Amdahl’s Law: Deliverables vs. Number of Teams

CI/CD and Scalability

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 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. 

Manual Activities

Challenge: Any manual activity is a bottleneck that gets worse with scaling. 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 team scaling. 

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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. 

Test automation cycle
Test automation cycle

Prepare Your Code for Scaling

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 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.

  • break up complex calculations into smaller, specific functions 
  • name one concept with one word across different classes 
  • use descriptive names instead of shortenings that only you can understand 

Setting up CI/CD will help automate some steps and ensure the top quality of your service. 

Takeaways

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 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 scaling process:

  • company’s vision and strategy, i.e., roadmap
  • effective communication channels
  • project management tools and models
  • software architecture planning
  • CI/CD pipelines scalability
  • automation
  • crystal-clear code

After covering all these points, you will be able to turn scaling into a business opportunity it should actually be instead of an overwhelming challenge it often becomes. 

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