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22/100 - Guidance on Forming a Software Development Project Team

Guidance on Forming a Software Development Project Team

Building an effective project team is a critical task for software project managers during the project initiation and planning phases. The success of a software project hinges on assembling a team with the right combination of skills, experience and ways of working. This blog delves into the intricacies of team formation.

In the previous blog we looked at 'Managing Stakeholders in Software Projects'. Let’s look at team formation best practices in this blog.

A Project Team Vs A Group

A team is a cohesive alliance of individuals who are actively engaged in working together towards a common goal, leveraging their varied skills in a complementary manner to achieve collective success. Each member is accountable not only for their individual tasks but also for the team's overall performance, fostering an environment of collaboration and shared responsibility.

In contrast, a group consists of individuals who are assembled together without the necessity of a common objective or tightly integrated roles. Their interactions are more about sharing information and perspectives rather than interdependent work towards a unified outcome. While a group can contain the potential for teamwork, it requires the strategic shaping and direction to transform into a true team.

Understanding Team Structure and Its Impact

The structure of your project team is the bedrock upon which the project's workflow, communication, and ultimate success rest. It reflects the team's hierarchy, delineates responsibilities, and guides collaboration. An optimal team structure boosts productivity and capitalizes on each member's strengths, while a poorly designed one can breed conflict, inefficiency, increased dependencies, and blurred accountability.

Common Types of Software Project Teams

Here are some common team structures to consider:

Functional Teams

These are organized around specific roles or expertise, such as development, testing, and UX/UI design. These teams boast deep expertise but risk working in silos, which can impede cross-functional collaboration.

Component Teams

These teams focus on particular features or components of a product. Specialization is the strength here, though it may lead to delays due to interdependencies affecting integration and release timelines.

Support Teams

They are dedicated to maintenance, technical support, or operations, ensuring the smooth running of the product post-launch, but also can be involved in development stages providing any specific expert support.

Critical Roles in a Software Product Team

A high-functioning software product team typically includes a range of roles:

  • Developers (Front-End and Back-End): They build the product's foundation. Front-end developers enhance user interface and experience, while back-end developers ensure server functionality and performance.

  • QA Testers: As quality gatekeepers, they rigorously test the software to weed out bugs, ensuring the application meets the highest standards before it reaches users.

  • UX Designers: Focused on the user's interaction pleasure, UX designers craft workflows and interfaces for a seamless and user-friendly experience.

  • DevOps Engineers: They act as the conduit between development and operations, pushing for production-ready code and managing continuous integration and delivery processes.

  • Product Manager: The strategist of the team, the product manager identifies user needs, sets the vision, and aligns the product roadmap with user expectations and business objectives.

  • Scrum Master: Facilitators of the Scrum process, they enhance team efficiency, coach members, and ensure adherence to agile practices.

  • Program Manager: Essential for larger projects, they oversee the integration and coordination of various project aspects, ensuring alignment towards common goals.

Each role is integral to the development lifecycle, and their synergy is pivotal for delivering successful software.

The Agile Scrum Approach: Cross-Functional Teams

In scrum, cross-functional teams are recommended. Members in these teams bring together diverse skill sets to cover all activities needed to build a product. They are self-organizing, geared to handle everything from inception to completion, which fosters innovation and minimizes delays due to hand-offs between specialized teams.

Securing the Best Talent

Acquiring the ideal candidates for your team often involves negotiation, especially when team members are pulled from various departments with their own priorities. Convey the project's strategic value to secure top talent commitment, and balance project needs with organizational resource limitations.

Scrum teams and scaled agile teams

Scrum teams are small, cross-functional groups designed to be adaptive, collaborative, and capable of delivering complete product increments within short time frames, known as sprints. They thrive on close-knit interactions, self-organization, and a laser focus on specific project goals set by the Scrum framework.

On the other hand, scaled agile teams operate within frameworks like SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), which adapts agile principles for larger, more complex environments involving multiple teams. These frameworks guide the collaboration between teams to ensure alignment and coordinated delivery across an enterprise, all while maintaining the agility and iterative nature of classic Scrum teams, but at a scale suitable for larger projects and organizational goals

Crafting a Unified Project Team

Assembling a project team is a blend of strategic insight and intuitive understanding. It demands thorough knowledge of team structures and the ability to curate and negotiate the perfect mix of skills and personalities. Whether choosing a functional, component, or cross-functional team, the aim is to customize the structure to the project's requirements.

Establishing an effective team structure is not a matter of simply gathering a group of individuals and deeming them a team. It requires a methodical approach, one that is often best orchestrated by individuals with substantial expertise in agile methodologies, project and program management, and delivery.

The nuanced interplay between different skill sets, personas, and the specific demands of a project need to be considered.— each member's contributions need to be amplified by the team together and supported within the larger program and organizational context.

In conclusion, the role of a software project manager in team formation is fundamental. Your ability to anticipate project needs, strategically think through team composition, and guide and lead your team is instrumental in achieving overall project and program success.

Recommended Reading

  • Team Topologies Core Ideas

  • Organizing agile teams in Scaled Agile

  • Tuckman's model provides insightful guidance on team dynamics, illustrating that newly formed teams typically progress through several stages before becoming highly effective. A short video by Perrine Pasleau on Tuckman Model: understanding the stages of team formation

Coming up in the next blog - 'Team formation & Types of teams'.

Note 1: This blog is part of a 100 Days of Learning Series on Software Project Management frameworks and best practices published on Program Strategy HQ. For more details on the 100 days of blogging campaign check out Blog 0.

Note 2: Reach out to info@programstrategyhq for any queries.

Note 3: Program Strategy HQ Disclaimer for Reference.

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