How to Manage a Software Development Team: 13 Key Tips

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As the leader of a software development team, you want to ensure that your employees are set up for success.

It’s your job to oversee that features are added and improved, and code that’s written is concise. On top of that, you need to ensure your team feels challenged, engaged, and like they have the proper support to succeed.

It can feel daunting being responsible for both the success of software development projects and those who build the software. Luckily, by keeping some key tips in mind, you can make sure your team has all the tools they need to keep the ship running smoothly.

13 Best Tips for Managing Software Development Teams

Whether this is your first time in a management position or you’ve transitioned into a role on a new team, you may be wondering how to manage software development teams.

There’s no shortage of tips — so how do you know which are the most effective? Ultimately, it comes down to giving your team the right tools, outlining clear expectations, establishing effective processes, and offering engineers continued support.

Here are the tips every software development manager should follow on how to improve software development teams.

The Foundation: Tools and Environment

The right tools, software, and environment are an important part of your team’s success. If your team doesn’t have the best modern tools for building software, their productivity will suffer.

1. Empower Your Team with Proper Tools and Analytics

Whether it’s to review code, analyze how much code churn your team has, or track cycle times, the right tools are the basic foundation — and one of your best assets — for managing a software development team.

Use tools that help to develop, test, and deploy code efficiently, including:

Also, identify what software development metrics you want to track and take advantage of other productivity analytics to help your team thrive.

minware, for example, will help your team track the entire lifecycle of your code, including time to merge, longevity of code, and more.

2. Establish a Good Environment

If your engineers can’t easily write code, add new features, and identify bugs, they will have a difficult time creating software that does what it’s supposed to.

Ensure you create a local development environment that’s easy to set up and debug.

Local development allows your team to create, test, and refine new features quickly without having to go through a cumbersome testing environment deployment process, which lets developers spend more time focusing on development.

3. Have an Automated Build System That’s Fast and Reliable

Automated builds eliminate the need for manual effort to build software. It also makes software more predictable, so that it’s easy to reproduce and isolate failures.

Take advantage of tools that help your team’s automated builds, including Jenkins, CircleCI, and Github Actions. And use tools that help with automated testing, like Cypress, Jest, and BrowserStack.

4. Create a Deployment Process That’s Frictionless and Low-Effort

It will be daunting if your deployments are rocky, time-consuming, or generally draining. Deployments won’t be something exciting that your team looks forward to — and they will frequently have surprises, which are never a good thing when it comes to a build process.

Ensure team members have defined roles before, during, and immediately after deployments. Create checklists to ensure tasks are completed, and automate tasks when possible. This way, your team will be excited to launch new features and bug fixes.

Learn and Refine

After establishing a solid action plan and ensuring you have the right tools for your team to succeed, it’s important to examine how your team functions, identify the biggest problems they face, and determine what you can do to solve those issues.

5. Learn Your Team’s Biggest Pain Points

One of the fastest ways to fail is to consistently let the same problems occur. Identify roadblocks and issues your team persistently faces and create an action plan to work around them.

Are certain engineers having lots of code churn after it’s put into production? Does it take twice as long to resolve tickets because of a communication inefficiency?

If you’re wondering how to measure team performance in software development, the amount of code written and the hours of work don’t necessarily serve as a good measure. In fact, more lines of code written can actually indicate less productivity.

Make it a point to regularly ask engineers what their biggest pain points are. A good time to do this is during sprint retrospective meetings.

Also, take advantage of tools that show things like:

  • When and where code churn occurs
  • Sprint velocity
  • Technical debt
  • Cycle times
  • Implementation speed
  • And more

When you learn to identify the common pain points on your team — and the ones that consistently cause problems — your team can be prepared and find solutions to increase efficiency.

6. Fix Systems That Slow Individuals Down

While identifying your team’s biggest pain points, you may realize that some issues are not simply due to communication or prioritization issues. Instead, some problems may be due to software or hardware issues that affect how your team is able to work.

It should be a high priority to fix these system issues that slow your team down. The longer it takes your engineers to resolve issues, the more problems it can create.

Whether it’s other tasks that are dependent on a bug fix, a specific feature that tends to crash because software isn’t up-to-date, or a VPN being slow, find lasting solutions as soon as possible. Consider re-prioritizing other tasks until you fix some of the bigger things slowing your team down.

This will ensure engineers can work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Outline Expectations and Requirements

For your team and software to succeed, you need to outline what that looks like.

7. Establish a Roadmap

In order to reach your destination, your team needs to know where they’re headed.

Write out a roadmap, and share that with your team. What milestones will your team hit along the way?

The roadmap should describe objectives at a high level. This ensures there’s enough information to assess whether the project is feasible. It also provides a rough estimate of the effort required.

Because of the constantly changing nature of software development, you do not want to specify lower-level details. At this stage, spending time on details that don’t affect high-level estimates and feasibility assessment will only slow down the roadmap creation. It will make the development lifecycle longer overall.

Instead, focus on a higher, overarching view. When everyone is on the same page, your team feels happy knowing how to get to the common goal they’re working toward.

8. Define Success Metrics

What do you expect of your team daily, weekly, in each sprint, and in overall projects?

Ensure your team knows what success looks like so they’re not left questioning. Establish guidance for individuals as well. This helps everyone see their role in the team’s success and leaves no room for ambiguity.

Have a set, regular cadence of meetings — including one-on-ones, team retrospectives, and more — to discuss performance and assess progress toward longer-term goals.

Set Software Plans and Design

The next critical phase of software development is architecture design.

9. Architectural Planning

Engineers are often eager to get started coding. In this desire to get a head start, they may neglect up-front architectural planning.

This is one of the most common causes of major schedule overruns. Engineers often later discover design problems that require a significant amount of work to correct, which wasn’t accounted for in the original estimate. This causes significant hold-ups as engineers then have to take time to resolve issues that other tasks are dependent upon.

It’s critical for engineering managers to ensure that teams take the proper steps to avoid big technical surprises through detailed architecture design. Take time to analyze what exactly the software will do, how it will look, possible problems, and solutions that will be needed along the way. Successful architecture design should eliminate major technical risks from a project.

Establish and Uphold Standards

As a manager, during the implementation phase of software development, you’re responsible for setting quality standards that the team upholds.

10. Create Guidelines

Lay out what the quality standards are during implementation. Ensure that each engineer understands those standards and that it is clear who is responsible for maintaining and updating the standards.

Establish:

  • Who should review code
  • When code should be reviewed
  • What level of automated test coverage is expected
  • What code style and design pattern conventions developer should follow

11. Ensure Standards Are Upheld

If necessary, have more senior engineers give guidance to those who are earlier on in their careers. This helps those in senior roles know they’re helping the team grow and ensures that less experienced engineers have the guidance they need to meet the same high quality standards.

If you find something is not up to standard, address it immediately. Especially when working with code, the longer you wait to fix something, the more problems can stack up, particularly as developers tend to copy code from other places assuming it is correct because it is already in the code base.

This helps ensure quality and consistency between different individuals and teams at the company.

Check In With Employees

As a manager, you’re responsible for your team’s overall happiness and career growth.

12. Ensure Projects Interest and Engage Team Members

If your team members feel burned out, understimulated, or like there’s no room for upward growth, they’ll be quick to take other offers from competitors. That’s the last thing you want in an already highly competitive market.

Ensure your team feels challenged and engaged in roles, so they remain interested. However, ensure they’re also not overwhelmed and overworked.

Take time to learn about each individual’s goals and ensure you’re providing them with work that aligns with those goals. This keeps your team members happy and excited to be part of the team.

13. Performance Reviews and Appreciation

It’s not enough just to meet with each team member when they (or you) join the team. Check in with them regularly to give them feedback on how they can improve, gain insight on how they feel about workload, and more.

Ideally, you want to have weekly (or bi-weekly, at a minimum) one-on-one calls. If you're not doing this, it is likely that you are not keeping close enough to your employees.

Also have meetings that touch base on a longer cadence — like once per quarter. Give engineers updates on their progress toward long-term goals and re-assess their long-term goals. This helps engineers grow professionally and ensures you can adjust as their individual aims may change, too.

If there are any pressing issues, be sure to address them constructively when they arise. Don’t wait until the next regular check-in or performance review. This helps keep things running smoothly and keeps individuals and your company successful.

When team members excel, be sure to recognize them for it — and compensate them accordingly.

Some ways you can reward individuals include:

  • Bonuses
  • Raises
  • Promotions

Compensating and showing appreciation for engineers ensures they know they’re making progress and motivates them to stay at the company.

The Bottom Line

Being a software development manager can seem overwhelming. You’re not responsible just for the success of the software your team is creating — you also need to ensure the happiness of the engineers working hard to make it a reality and keep things running smoothly.

However, by following these key tips, you’ll be well on the way to leading your team in success.

Empower your team with the right tools, a well-defined roadmap, and clear expectations. Check in with engineers regularly to maintain their engagement and help them do the best work possible.

When you take the time to create a solid foundation, give your team direction, and have checkpoints along the way, you can ensure your team’s — and your own — success.

Teams First
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