Effective Software Teams: Making Tools Work For You, Not Against You

Effective Software Teams: Making Tools Work For You, Not Against You

Rome wasn’t built in a day, people often say. Neither does good software! It takes lots of time and teamwork to ship software products to the world. As the digital revolution matures, the use cases of software becomes increasingly complex in nature. Nowadays we use software to ensure thousands of business-critical servers guarantee 99.999% uptime, serve an uptick in traffic by as much as 10x the daily amount, and ensure billions of financial transactions goes perfectly smooth.

To keep up with the complexities of building good software, dev teams need to utilize many tools to streamline their work processes. Example categories include project management tools like Jira, version control systems (like Git) and management (like GitHub), and communications software like Discord/Slack.

In this article we’ll explain how to enable effective software teams in two parts: collaboration guidelines and in utilizing all kinds of project tools.

1. Effective Collaboration

In basketball, a team roster consists of 5 people playing at any given time. Each player is assigned to a different position, such as Point Guard, Small Forward, etc. Players with short body height can go for the Point Guard position while taller ones may choose to be a Power Forward or Center. Point Guards specialize in ball control and assists, while Power Forwards can help drive the ball to the rim or catch a rebound. This way, every teammate can contribute in their own way.

Akin to a basketball team, software teams consists of people with diverse and complementary skillsets. Team composition varies across company sizes and product requirements, but usually a team consists of a project/product manager and a bunch (usually 2–6) of developers. On a larger company, teams may include a product designer and a data analyst.

Let’s explore each of these roles in detail.

Product Managers

Product Managers (PMs) are often referred to as the “glue of the team.” Their main job is to translate product requirements and into clear and detailed requirements and communicate them to other team members (not just developers). The feature needs a branding update? PMs will communicate to designers on what copywriting is best suited for the new branding. Need to A/B test a certain user flow? PMs should work together with data analysts to test and generate reports to be presented to other stakeholders within the company.

Aside from communicating requirements, PMs are responsible to manage the expectations of external stakeholders. If the CEO wants a feature done in half the time, PMs may need to push back and explain their rationale of why it’s better to ship a good product even if it takes a longer timeframe. Therefore, PMs not only need to earn the respect of fellow teammates but also the more senior management teams.

Software Developers

Code is the lifeblood of any tech company, and software developers are the ones responsible to write good code that adheres to the business requirements. Developers must collaborate with PMs and designers to ensure that the final product is in line with the business objectives.

Developers bring technical expertise to plan the architecture of the systems and to build components of the system. Due to the non-technical nature of PM positions, many PMs don’t have adequate technical insight to judge whether a feature is feasible or not. Hence developers must be critical of the requirements given by PMs and explain any technical concerns they might have, to avoid further complications down the line.

Product Designers

Product designers help transform requirements into living representations of the user experience. They provide design expertise to give feedback on requirements and help craft the best user experience for a product. Due to the close proximity of their work to the user, designers usually interact with PMs and front end developers.

The designer must provide the user’s point of view when discussing user interface components. To be able to provide good feedback, designers are expected to have strong empathy and communication skills to better understand the users of their product. In highly competitive product segments, such as e-commerce, bad user experience can make a customer switch to a competitor product.

Data Analysts

Data analysts provide the analytical horsepower needed for the team to test, validate hypotheses, and gain feedback from their customers. Data analysts are also tasked in crunching large numbers of data using various tools like PowerBI or SQL. They transform product data into clear takeaways that inform future business strategy. Data analysts must work closely with PMs and business teams to find potential improvements to be made to the business.

Each team member can contribute to the success of the product. By respecting each other’s strengths and differences, software teams can put their skills to practice and bring out the best in everyone.

2. Effective Usage of Tools

Teams can be empowered further by the proper usage of tools. Tools help amplify human capabilities to help them achieve more things in a shorter timeframe or through a simpler process. In this section we are going to talk about some of the tools modern software teams use to improve their productivity.

Project Management Tools: Asana

Sample view of Asana boards

Project management tools are software designed to help individuals and teams organize and track their work throughout the development lifecycle.

In software development, project management tools are critical for ensuring that product teams stay on track of their progress and deliver software in a timely manner. Asana is one of the leading tools in this category. With Asana, users can create tasks, assign them to team members, set deadlines, and categorize tasks into projects.

Asana supports various visualizations of tasks through lists, boards, and calendars to cater to different team preferences. It simplifies collaboration by allowing project members to comment on tasks, attach files, and integrate their workflow with other tools. This helps to ensure information is centralized and easily accessible.

Courtesy of asana.com

One of the main ways software teams can use Asana is by utilizing their board feature to create a Kanban board. Here teammates can move around tasks according to their current state, such as “todo” or “code review.” Asana also boasts over 200 app integrations to services such as Slack, Teams, and Figma. These integrations, when used properly, can greatly reduce workflow overhead by automating tasks such as notifying a teammate about a newly created issue.

Version Control Tools: Git

Version control systems are fundamental to software development, providing a way to manage changes to code and other project files over time. Akin to making change histories on a Google Doc, version control helps multiple developers work on a project collaboratively. It allows developers to push code changes from their respective branches and merge them into a main branch to be sent into production.

Git is the most widely known and most used VCS tool today. Git tracks all changes made to the codebase, enabling developers to revert to previous versions if necessary and see how a project has evolved over time. Git helps software teams to enable a more structured collaboration process.

GitHub is a web-based interface that offers all the version control features of Git and adds its own features to support project collaboration. Github acts as a cloud repository to host your Git projects, thus reducing hassle for developers to manage and collaborate on a shared project. Github also provides a nice user interface (UI) for developers to conduct version control management. The superior user experience and interface helps developers ship code faster and in a more enjoyable way.

For software teams, GitHub’s pull request model is a staple of collaborative work. Github allows users to create comprehensive code reviews and discussion before merging changes into the codebase. It is also tightly integrated with the branch protection mechanism that Github offers. When merging a change in Github, users can create conditions that must be fulfilled before a merge can happen. Branch protections prevents unwanted changes from happening in the production codebase and enables a clear process in adding code to the company’s codebase.

Effective Code Changes Using Git Commit Messages

Effective Git commit naming can enhance productivity by making the commit history more readable. Clear, concise commit messages can quickly convey the essence of changes, improving the shipping velocity of the whole team. Commit messages such as “Fixing mongodb config error” is more useful for teammates who are skimming through commit histories rather than “fixed a bug.”

Adopting a standard convention for commit messages, such as using prefixes like feat:, fix:, or deploy: before the commit message, can improve workflows even further. In addition, making small, focused commits related to specific features or updates simplifies understanding the codebase. Having a more disciplined Git commit is a small effort yet high impact activity that can help software teams identify bugs and iterate faster, thus delivering more value to users.

Communication Platforms: Discord

Communication is a staple need in efficient software development teams. Thus, tools that facilitate easy communication, like Discord and Slack, have become increasingly popular. Initially designed for the gaming community, Discord has evolved to serve as a robust platform for software teams in need of a communication platform with many features.

Discord offers its users the ability to create specific channels. You can create a channel for backend, frontend, and many other categories.

Discord allows for the creation of server-specific channels, which can be dedicated to different topics or projects, enabling team members to focus discussions on relevant subjects. This organization mimics the structure of many project management tools, where tasks are segmented by category or phase, but in a more conversational and spontaneous context.

One of Discord’s standout features for software teams is its rich integration capabilities. Teams can integrate their development tools, such as GitHub or Jira, to receive real-time updates on commits, pull requests, or issue changes directly in a Discord channel. This ensures all team members are kept in the loop on project progress without having to leave the app.

In addition, Discord supports voice and video calls, and screen sharing within the app, which can help in discussions and pair programming efforts. This suite of features makes it an appealing choice for software teams that value flexibility and fluid communication.

In summary, effective software teams require proper collaboration approaches where each member of the team contribute according to their strengths. It also demands the proper usage of tools to improve workflow such as project management tools, version control systems, and communication platforms.