7 Habits of Highly Effective Software Development Teams

An effective team is not an accident or by chance, it is about the small habits of the team and how they connect and make progress together.

Each person understands their role in the team and takes ownership of their responsibilities. They understand each other and work toward a well-defined goal. Each individual is on the same page about what is expected.

Individuals not only try to give the best they can, but they also push other team members to be their best selves. There are a lot of things that an effective software development team does right.

Here is a list of 7 top habits for effective software development teams in no particular order.

1. Connect with each other

An effective team starts with building and maintaining trust and respect for each other. To achieve that, a good team tries to invest time in knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This allows them to be more effective with their work plans.

They keep a good balance between the personal and professional sides of things. Their relationship is not just one-sided. They know what a person is like in their personal life, which allows them to understand each other on a professional level as well. The team also knows when to get the job done and puts personal matters on hold.

They have fun together. Enjoying each other’s company and working with each other is important.

2. Velocity vs. Visible Progress

In software development, it is very easy to get lost in the weeds and keep refining one feature or an API that shows no progress. Effective development teams understand the balance between the work to stabilize the features and the user-facing side. At the end of the day what a user sees is what the product is.

In the project lifecycle, it is important to keep a balance between what is delivered and what you are doing behind the scenes to make the product more stable. Most of the time we go through weeks working on the invisible side of a project and that makes it difficult to share a project with the Product Owner / Client.

Here are some questions an effective team starts before planning the work:

  1. What is our next deliverable?
  2. In the next meeting, what are we going to demo to the product owner?
  3. What is the priority for the week?
  4. Which feature is most important right now?
  5. Are there any dependencies for further development that we need to account for this week?

Once the team has answers to these questions, it becomes very easy to align the team on what is important and what needs to be finished.

3. Small Goals

Small goals are important for each individual to focus on the important things. It is easy to get lost in the requirements of a big project and that can introduce feelings of difficulty and confusion.

Here are a few things that are important to define a small goal.

  1. Specify with a clear problem statement.
  2. Have enough details about what needs to be done.
  3. Set a deadline.
  4. If the goal will take more than a week, break it down even further.

It is important to share these goals with the team so that everyone has accountability for the work they are doing.

The effect of goal setting on the efficiency of a team is not widely explored, but still, there is some research on team efficiency by setting goals. In this context, small goals are like individual goal setting and arguably, it is a great way to create a sense of control and growth.

For our teams, setting these small goals is powerful. It keeps each team member accountable and creates transparency about what everyone’s role is and what they have to achieve.

4. Everyone has one goal

With team members having their own individual goals, the team is still in alignment with achieving one single goal. So even though they are working on different parts and different technologies they are all trying to achieve one unified goal.

For a small-sized project, the goal can be getting the project done successfully, and making sure of all the requirements. Or, for a large-scale project, the goal can be achieving the sprints or features in a week or two. The goal will totally depend on what you are working on and how big it is. There needs to be one single goal and the definition of that goal should be the same for each individual on the team.

One of the ways we do that is by documenting it in the release notes document of the project. We share this with the client which helps make sure the team and the client are on the same page with the expectations.

In our case, our goal mentioned in that document is a list of features that we are planning to move to production for the next release. We might have different people working on different features but everyone is working toward the release mentioned in the document.

The important thing to keep in mind is, even the unified goal should not be too far in the future. As the duration of achieving the goal increases, keeping everyone aligned with the goal becomes difficult.

5. Communication

Communication is a key aspect of being on the same page and avoiding rework and especially conflicts. With the hybrid work style that we are in right now, communicating over chat or just voice makes it difficult to send the right message all the time. This can lead to confusion about the requirements or even miscommunication among team members.

We prefer over-communicating because that helps us stay in sync with the requirements. When there is a complex topic involved, just have at least 3 people in the mix, so that more perspectives can be added. Do not go over 6 to 7 people in a virtual meeting, as that will just extend the length of the meeting to be able to hear everyone out.

It is all about balance and the more clearly we communicate with each other, the better. Small things can save a lot of time. Like sharing the meeting notes in the team group when 2 people discuss an important topic. This eliminates communicating the same thing to someone else in the team later.

Keep a single channel for each type of information, so that everyone knows where to find the information. This can be your

  • PMS (Project management system) for keeping up with project requirements.
  • Slack for team discussions.
  • Release notes document to set the goal.
  • Master document for all the links to the project-related documents and meeting notes of conversations with the client.

6. Give feedback

Sharing feedback is one of the most important habits of an effective team. All the members of the team don’t shy away from bouncing around ideas. This not only helps each member of the team grow but also improves the quality of the product.

There are two sides to feedback. One is giving feedback and the other is taking feedback. Everyone on the team understands the importance of giving feedback at the right time and taking feedback in a positive way. Feedback becomes very powerful when you are striving to keep improving.

They even like to take feedback from outside of the team. When you are on a team it is easy to become part of groupthink, so taking in feedback from outside can help get a fresh look at things.

7. Not Self-Focused

Team members who understand that not every character in the movie is a hero, but everyone is important, help create effective teams. A good team player doesn’t focus on himself/herself and self-growth in isolation. An effective team focuses on the growth of the overall team which benefits everyone.

These effective team members want each other to do well and take pride in one another’s success. They don’t blame each other when things go wrong and they don’t take self-credit when things go right.

A good team has a combination of diverse skill sets and the weakness of an individual is not the weakness of the team. They balance each other out with one another’s strengths. While working together, they get the best out of each other. Not by covering each other’s weaknesses, but by focusing on each other’s strengths.

Take away

Forming or being in an effective team is all about the small habits being done right. Each team is unique in its own way. There is no formula that makes a highly effective team. You will have your own habits and tricks of forming a good team. These habits talked about here will get you started with being intentional about finding or creating a highly effective team.

A team, at the end of the day, is a group of people and wherever there are people, there are challenges. Once a group has overcome a few challenges together and started to understand each other, making these few habits part of the daily work can make the team highly effective. Clients will enjoy working with effective teams!

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