5 ways to increase your software development team productivity

I never heard someone say they wished their software development team was slower.

Ask any founder, and chances are they will say something along the lines: we have lots of ideas, but we don’t have time to build them all.

There are many benefits to increasing software development team productivity. My favorite is this: the ability to enable a business to test more ideas.

Building ideas faster is not the only reason to increase a team’s productivity, of course. Improving an existing product can be a way to stay ahead of the competition. Taking that into account, I would like to share some of the best ways I found to increase productivity in software development teams.

Involve the engineering team early on

Most companies follow the same pattern playbook when building new features. It goes like this:

  1. The company has an idea
  2. Business, marketing, and sales create a strategy around it
  3. Product specifies how the feature works and its scope
  4. The design team specifies the appearance and UX
  5. The software development team implements the feature

The time it takes from a new feature idea to travel from points 1 to 4 varies. It might take months. With luck, it might take weeks. When the software development team starts working on the feature, it’s usually too late and expensive to explore alternative approaches.

Most systems have technical constraints. Some things are just hard or impossible to achieve without major changes. A feature, which in theory is simple to implement when looking from the outside, might encounter one of these constraints.

Some approaches a software development team can use to deal with such constraints are:

  • Change the tech stack to remove the constraint
  • Use a workaround to implement the feature, despite the constraints
  • Get blocked by the constraint and push back the feature scope, forcing the idea to go through points 1 to 4 again.

All these scenarios have the same outcome: the team delays the development and release of the new feature.

Do you want to release new features faster? Involve the engineering team early on. Stakeholders such as product, marketing, and sales teams can gain insights into the technical constraints that may impact the scope of new features. It enables stakeholders to adapt the feature or scope to take these constraints into account.

Involving the engineering team early can also heavily influence the feature scope. There might be already a tool or library that does exactly what the feature requires. This alternative approach can save the company time and resources, while still delivering a great product.

Balance “shipping” and “improving”

It's natural to want to keep delivering new features to your users. After all, that's what they're expecting and it's how you'll continue to grow your product. But here's the thing: constantly shipping new features without taking the time to improve and optimize your existing codebase is not sustainable.

Think of it like a game of Tetris. If you're constantly adding new blocks to the top without clearing out the ones at the bottom, eventually the blocks will pile up and the game will come crashing down. The same is true for your software. If you don't take the time to improve and adapt your architecture to support new features and growth, your system will eventually degrade and become harder to maintain.

The solution? Balance shipping new features with time dedicated to improving and optimizing your existing code. This could mean refactoring certain parts of the code, or it could mean taking a step back and redesigning your architecture to support better the direction your product is heading.

Prototype before committing

It’s hard to know what you don’t know. Especially when the team is not familiar with the tech stack or the problem they are trying to solve.

Creating functional prototypes is an effective method to boost confidence in the progress being made, as it provides insight into the available options and their comparison. This helps the team grasp the difficulty of the issue, the performance that can be expected, and potential areas of worry.

A prototype that is quickly created for the purpose of evaluating different tools can prevent months of wasted effort by using the wrong tool.

It can be tempting to try and specify the system in great detail and cover every unknown, but in reality, this is not possible. By creating a functional prototype, the team can explore the unknowns and make informed decisions about the direction of the project.

Test automation

Moving fast comes with a cost: the risk of introducing bugs or breaking something that’s working. When teams are adding new features, they end up changing parts of the existing code. That might lead to unexpected behavior.

The solution? Automated tests.

Automated tests check critical parts of the product. It acts as a quality assurance tool, catching any bugs or errors before they reach the end user. The team can continuously run them, especially when working on new features.

The team can progress without introducing bugs or spending time testing the entire system.

Another benefit of writing automated tests for new features is to exercise critical thinking about edge cases. The team considers all possible scenarios and their outcomes. This leads to fewer bugs and less time spent fixing them.

Focus on core business

It's easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest technologies and tools. Although exciting to the team, it’s often not good for team productivity.

What’s really important? Deliver what’s core to the business. It helps the team to avoid overengineering the solution. Remember, your company may not be Google yet, and you don't need to run using the same tools and technologies that they do.

There are many problems that software teams face, like sending messages, handling payments, etc. These are problems that have already been solved, and there are tools to help. It's better to use these tools and focus on building unique features for your business instead of trying to build everything from scratch.

In conclusion, it's essential to monitor the team’s productivity. Making small changes can make a significant impact on the performance of the team. Remember, progress is not always linear, but small consistent actions will add up to big results in the long run.

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