Being a great developer is a quality that has many more facets than just technical prowess and knowledge of development patterns. When it comes to large projects with multiple roles, stakeholders, and areas of responsibility, it often turns out that many formally excellent developers are forced to work hard to fill the gaps in their soft skills and ability to work as part of a whole rather than being a lone warrior. It is in such projects that certain ambitions need to be toned down and the collective goal becomes more important than working by a personal code of conduct. Below is an attempt to summarize the 10 most important skills that make team truly effective in getting things done.
- Good communication
Your developers can be uniquely skilled, but if they are doing things that no one really needs, they aren’t doing any good. Effective, regular, transparent, and unambiguous communications are absolutely vital for a successful collaboration between a customer and a service provider, especially if we are talking about an outsourcing contract with the parties separated by thousands of miles and multiple time zones. Quality is just as important as frequency, so it is imperative that you establish a very regular communications pattern and make sure that meetings are carried out by people with a good command of the customer’s language in order to grasp the subtleties and undertones of every conversation.
- Working as a whole
Internal communications within the team are just as important as external ones. Without an established chain of command, a properly set up task distribution model, reporting, and planning, no team can expect to work as a well-designed mechanism that remains in sync at all times, let alone operate synergistically. Team members are supposed to be fully informed what their colleagues are doing, what direction the team is heading, how the roadmap looks, and what hurdles they may face in the future. All of these objectives require crystal-clear communications inside the team: between the team lead and other engineers, between the QA Lead and his or her subordinates, between the PM and the rest of the team.
- Being ready to help and mentor
Readiness to offer a helping hand and share knowledge is absolutely vital for mixed teams comprised of people will various skill levels. A thoughtful team lead who does not just criticize and reject pull requests without providing explanations doesn’t make it easier for other team members to get better – or even feel good being a part of the team. Therefore, collaboration on all levels and a healthy team spirit are the prime components of a productive group of IT professionals working on the same project. Junior developers don’t have a chance to mature into seniors without having experienced colleagues by their side who will advise and guide them in the right direction.
- Openness to new ideas
Unfortunately, it’s not at all uncommon for programming veterans to become so firmly established in their development practices that new initiatives get shunned or rejected altogether. Following a familiar path may be easier than exploring new methods and approaches, but it’s doesn’t always provide the shortest route between A and B. An efficient team is able to dynamically adjust to proposed alternatives and even sacrifice some their work-in-progress for the sake of producing a more scalable, better-performing, and stable solution. Improvement proposals may also come from various sources, including less experienced team members, and should never be discarded right away.
- Focus on the customer’s business values and goals
Architects and team leads occasionally tend to think of their own decisions as final and unchangeable, then lock themselves up in a “cocoon” until they manage to deliver what they hope will become the next big thing. While getting truly creative and building their masterpiece, they don’t seem to care much about the customer’s timid attempts to liven things up a bit and produce some intermediate results that can be demonstrated to stakeholders, the board of directors, investors or other interested parties. Sometimes, you don’t need to overcomplicate things and build a mothership of an application to meet the customer’s objective. An effective team is driven by a desire to start delivering business value and onboarding users as early on as possible instead of building something beautiful and colossal for years.
- Ability to manage expectations
The ability to manage your customer’s expectations in relation to delivery dates, the scope of each delivery, and the overall project budget is vital for maintaining a productive relationship. Even if your cooperation model does not require strict budget management, detailed reporting is always a must, as are regular conversations about the overall direction that the project is moving in and the impact that new requirements have on the timeline and the initial, often approximate, estimate. Prepare release scope documents in advance, don’t keep your customers in the dark, provide them with regular spending projections, and never assume that a time-and-materials contract is your carte blanche for going totally wild with the customer’s time and money.
- Effective time management
We already know that internal communications are super-important, but don’t let them occupy a lion’s share of your team’s time. Endless planning meetings and calls with multiple stakeholders on the customer’s side can really undermine the team’s performance if everyone participates. Therefore, meetings should be attended only by those who are absolutely required. From the work planning perspective, effective time management translates into better task prioritization, day-to-day scheduling, and getting things done in due time.
- Readiness to acknowledge mistakes
Being able to acknowledge a mistake is a sign of a mature person, but the principle is equally applicable to teams. There is no point in refusing to accept the fact that a particular decision was wrong, especially if the customer’s money and the success of the entire project is at stake. Long disputes will only hamper progress and push back important delivery dates. This is why it’s important that the team can admit having picked the wrong path, regroup, and make up for the lost time. Personal ambitions should be set aside and everyone should concentrate on regaining momentum and delivering the final product and meeting the customer’s expectations.
- Ability to make commitments
Although we are all reluctant to make commitments and take responsibility, this ability is absolutely crucial for the success of any project and, more importantly, any business relationship. Without commitments on either side, any undertaking is an exercise in futility and is doomed to fail. As software development professionals, you are supposed to adequately assess your capabilities and provide the customer with development estimates at the beginning of the project and later down the road, making corresponding adjustments based on changes made to the scope. That’s when expectation management comes into play and that when you have to either stick to the initial commitments or present new ones backed by plausible argumentation.
- Quick learning
Agile development is all about flexibility at all levels: processes, roles, and technologies. If a situation requires that a particular technology or framework be used for the project, the team should be prepared to take a deep dive and learn the ropes very quickly. The same applies to time tracking and task management tools, as well as coordination patterns, coding standards, and deployment policies. Quick learning guarantees minimum idle time and enables the project team to adapt to the changing project environment.
As you can see, most of the top qualities of an efficient development team equally apply to those of efficient individuals. If a team has worked together for a good while and has established really good interpersonal relationships like the ones we have at Cortlex, most of the benefits will come by default. If you manage a team of your own, you should foster these qualities as much as possible. If you are looking to hire a team, you should be looking for them right from the start – it’s the most surefire way of making sure that your project ends up in the right hands.