How to Scale a Software Development Team: Reasons, Approaches, Challenges
Scaling the development team is an excellent way to solve efficiency problems with the company's active growth. These two concepts directly correlate: scaling is the basis of proper growth, as it creates new structures, improves work processes, strengthens teams by adding the right professionals, rather than chaotic expansion.
Thus, the proper scaling software development team is about strategic planning, process setup, and the search for new management methodologies. Of course, each company has its own culture, and each product has its own requirements. Therefore, the reasons and scaling strategies may be different.
In this article, we'll talk about reasons to scale, common approaches, and the main challenges you may face.
How Do You Know When To Scale A Software Development Team?
Each company is unique, as are the workflows within it. Various things may indicate the need to scale the team, so let’s talk about the most common.
- Implementation of every next feature takes too much time.
If you notice serious delays in the development process and understand that every subsequent change is made by hard work, it's time to expand the team. Employees are often under a lot of pressure because they try not to lag behind, just too many irons in the fire. So they need reinforcements that would take some of the workloads off them and allow them to do their job well.
- Every deployment turns into a nightmare without CI/CD.
Continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) is a set of practices for faster and more frequent changes to the code base. These processes are implemented automatically for efficient software development, deployment, testing and release. Such techniques reduce the time to market and increase the product's value.
Organizing a large product deployment without CI/CD can be a nightmare. If you understand that the process is in chaos, it's time to start the software development team scaling process and configure the development process.
- Regression testing growth becomes too expensive and time-consuming.
The purpose of regression testing is to assess the system's functionality and verify that the software previously developed successfully performs after making changes. This is a vital part of development because it’s tough to implement new features and create a product without such testing.
So, if regression testing growth becomes time-consuming and expensive, it's time to expand the team with new professionals. How can you calculate these numbers? Here is some info on this topic.
- Bad security adds troubles.
Security holes are a direct path to product death. Your team is responsible for keeping company and customer data protected. If you notice that employees can no longer cope with this task, it's time to strengthen the team.
- Bad database structure leads to bad performance.
The reasons for poor database structure can be different: lack of proper testing, failure of SQL tools to protect data integrity, etc. The result is always the same, and these are severe problems with productivity and complications of project expansion.
So, at some point, you’ll have to expand the team with the person who will be able to cope with the limitations of scalability, increasing the amount of data, data management problems, etc.
Typical Structure of Software Development Team
The team size depends on several factors, such as project type, size, goals, etc. However, the main thing that affects the number of team members is the development methodology.
The Agile methodology favors small teams of 3-7 people who can work self-contained and dedicate themselves to several specific tasks. At the same time, the Waterfall methodology envisages teams of 10-15 people, and all of them should have clear and constant roles.
There are also two main approaches to forming a team structure. The first is called "the whole team", and it’s about the self-contained dedicated team that performs all functions from start to finish. The team can include a project manager, developers (front-end, back-end, mobile), UX/UI designer, QA engineer.
The second option is a "skill-based split". In this case, the members of each team are grouped based on skills, i.e., the development team, the design team, etc. This division is more suitable for working on one large product. Skills-based split helps participants share experiences and improve skills. Of course, every team has a team leader who works with a project manager and business analyst.
Whatever option you choose, traditionally you'll need
- project manager;
- business analyst;
- front-end developer (1-2);
- back-end developer (1-2);
- QA engineer;
- UX/UI designers (1-2).
Depending on the project and the technologies used, highly specialized people, such as DevOps, ML/AI engineers, etc., can join the team.
Scaling Software Development Team: Challenges and Solutions
When you plan development team scaling, you probably should be aware of some common challenges companies face during this process.
Challenge 1. Correct Roadmap
Roadmapping is one of the most common development team scaling problems. It’s necessary to determine the fundamental business concepts before thinking about the codebase, software architecture and team members. Every company needs a clear vision of which way to move. And the team needs to know the goals, what funds are available for investment and how much time it has to develop the product.
Planning is always a good idea, so you’ll not find yourself in a situation of chaos. Create a professional business plan for at least the next five years to be able to move in the right direction and respond to any changes. Think about your roadmap; it will be your guide and allow the team to estimate deadlines and budget correctly.
Challenge 2. Proper Project Management
As you’re scaling a technical team, the number of tasks increases; it simply doesn’t happen otherwise. Large projects and complex tasks can only be successfully managed with the proper PM practices, principles and tools. The larger the software team, the more attention management needs.
The way a team was formed influences the choice of project management tools and practices.
The concept of "whole team" is more suitable for working on several projects at the same time, but for the development of one large project, "skill-based split" is a must.
A one-size-fits-all solution is to focus on the product's features: unique functions, basic functionality, methods of implementation, etc. Your team needs to be balanced based on this data because that way, it will be able to provide full specialization.
A properly chosen method of forming teams makes them more flexible and efficient. In this way, you can assign a responsible person to each task, divide the workload in a balanced way, and effectively use management tools such as Jira, Wrike, Zenkit, etc.
Challenge 3. Architectural Planning
Software architecture is the fundamental technical organization of the system, and it provides stable structures that meet predefined, non-functional requirements.
In the process of scaling, two challenges can arise:
- The larger the program, the more developers have more difficulties with the architecture design decisions.
- The application's architecture may simply be incompatible with the new development team, and they will not be able to provide smooth scaling.
In both cases, one experienced person should be responsible for the software architecture, and that person is the software architect. In extensive projects, these issues can be addressed to several specialists with extensive expertise: decision architects, functional architects, etc. One way or another, the team needs a specialist in this field.
You should also pay attention to the methods of working with architecture. In the case of large projects, it is vital to coordinate and communicate architectural solutions, including through personal communication with architects.
Challenge 4. CI/CD
Concerning the continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) pipelines, the number of CI per n commands is usually equal to n + 1 (one for the team + one for integration). The more CI pipelines are added, the more complex team coordination.
Because of this, consistent scaling is challenging, especially if the dedicated team needs to communicate with others. Large-scale development also increases feedback loops, so many find themselves at a point where the development team has no idea about the problems users are facing.
Automation of all processes, including testing. Active involvement of DevOps techniques and attention to infrastructure components will help add new elements to each project without losing communication.
Another solution to this problem can be the use of infrastructure automation and the integration of its automation tools with CI and CD tools. Also, the isolation of individual software components helps to successfully manage infrastructure without being tied to the scale of the project or team.
Challenge 5. Process Organizing and Communication
When scaling software teams, the number of communication channels increases. When they are not coordinated, important information can simply be lost somewhere in the chain. This leads to the entire team's failure and slows down the development process significantly. So, communication is key.
Open communication with a clear organization is a must for advanced team management. Therefore, before you start, you should evaluate all existing communication channels, sort out unnecessary ones and develop a strategy that would effectively connect all the links in the chain.
An example of such a strategy is the creation of the “Scrum of Scrums” team. A separate coordination group will receive important information and pass it on to different departments.
It’s also essential to appoint responsible people for each task, schedule regular meetings and set up alerts to respond to emergencies.
Challenge 6. The Right Tools Set Up and Configuration
Whether you are scaling the team by outsourcing or hiring staff, the issue of the right development tools remains vital. It’s necessary to choose the best options for new employees.
There are several points to consider in this regard. The first one is communication tools. Ensure all developers use the same communication channels like Slack, Google Meets, etc. Think about the right way to use them, including filtering emails and search systems.
The second point is managing tools. Whatever option you use to manage the project and assign tasks, the program must be installed, customized, and available to all team members. Each participant should know on which board he can find his tasks.
Team scaling is an integral part of product development. Sooner or later, everyone has to face this issue. The reasons can be different: from testing difficulties to development delays.
In the process of scaling, you should pay attention to some vital points:
- A clear plan development team scaling and product development roadmap.
- Optimal team structure and project management methodology.
- Renewed teamwork organizing, effective communication channels.
- Well-functioning CI/CD.
- Work within the software development life cycle.
Each software has unique features and needs, so the choice of new team members depends on many factors. We’ll be happy to help you with your team scaling and strengthening. So contact us in any convenient way, and we'll be pleased to answer all your questions.