Software development team structure – how to organise it?


Software development team structure – how to organise it?

The idea for a software is not everything – a well-cooperating team is equally important. Read about software development team structure and roles in it!

Even in the most successful IT organisations, having an idea for a top-notch software is not enough. A well-cooperating and communicating team of programmers is an equally important element. Moreover, it is a factor that affects the effective implementation of the project and proper software development. Read about different software development team structures and specific roles in it.

Few organisations manage to create a work environment that produces first-class products. For this to happen, it is necessary to build a specific structure of the programming team. It plays a vital role in the success of the end product.

The prerequisite for a successful team structure are people and relationships between them, where each member has a defined role and tasks, and the whole is managed with a specific methodology. This article explains how development teams structure their work and what roles and responsibilities each team member has.

Popular models of software development team structure

There are three models of the development team in product development. It can be the classic (general), specialised, or hybrid model. 

1. Classic (General) 

In the classic model a team consists of programmers with general competencies. Each of them has partial experience in many areas of product development, but none have deep knowledge in any particular area. All are usually responsible for the comprehensive development of the entire project or a single function.

This model works when each team member understands the product well and is competent enough to do their job independently.

2. Specialised 

It is a team dominated by specialists with relatively poor knowledge of general development issues. However, everyone has a deep enough knowledge of their area of expertise to be fluent in particular tasks and be responsible for their project element. Such a team can quickly build complex, high-quality systems. It's pretty common in development teams.

However, in teams where everyone works individually, communication problems might arise due to a lack of general knowledge about the product. As a result the final components might not fit.

3. Hybrid 

The hybrid structure of the project team is a combination of specialists who build separate components and programmers with general competencies– who ensure that the system is integrated. Such teams work on the project as a whole and can narrow down the scope of their interests if necessary. The occuring challenge for hybrid teams is agreeing on specific issues as they work in different niches and specialisations.

Although it may be challenging to coordinate a team of people with varying approaches to workflow, the product development process is the most effective in a hybrid structure. However, building a hybrid unit is time-consuming and quite costly.

Popular models of software development team structure: Classic, Specialised, Hybrid

CLASSIC software development team structure

The reality is that almost every business has limitations – time or budget. That's why most development teams are classic teams. So we will take a look at the typical structure of a classic team. Its most common roles and responsibilities are:

Business Analyst (BA)

Classic development team structure: Business Analyst (BA)

This professional is responsible for formulating input data to define goals and strategies, analysing and documenting the requirements of fundamental processes, and establishing rules and procedures that meet quality requirements.

Business analyst is committed to successful customer approval from the early stages of the product development cycle. The role requires a multi-faceted understanding of the business from a technical, financial, and economic point of view.

Software architect 

Classic development team structure: Software architect

Once BA has identified the requirements, the software architect takes over the design of the technical architecture. They have extensive hands-on coding experience and knowledge of software architecture patterns.

Software architect is responsible for identifying the appropriate technology stack, platform design, application layer architecture, and coding standards definition, as well as resolving both functional and non-functional software requirements.

Project Manager (PM) 

Classic development team structure: Project Manager (PM)

The specialist is responsible for planning and executing tasks throughout the product life cycle – from idea to software release. They care about building relationships between the client and various departments of the organisation. They oversee individual processes, delegate tasks to other team members, and ensure everyone is on the right track.

Developers (Front-end / Back-end) 

Classic development team structure: Developers (Front-end / Back-end)

The core of the team are of course the developers – responsible for translating functions and requirements into the lines of code that make up the software. Depending on what part of it, they are divided into front-end and back-end developers. While the front-end developer works on the customer-facing elements of the product, the back-end developer cares about its functionality, which is everything the user cannot see. They both work together to create the application in its entirety.

  • Front-end is responsible for developing the visual layer of the software with which the end user interacts. One of its main areas is software interface development, but they also need to know how the front-end communicates with other layers, including middleware and back-end. 
  • Back-end writes code to implement basic software logic, set up databases, application server compatibility, and integrate external APIs.

UX Designer 

Classic development team structure: UX Designer

This professional designs how users will interact with the product. They formulate a detailed analysis plan to help design easy-to-use navigation and front-end interfaces. They ensure that all product functions solve people's problems and achieve business goals, and as a result, decide how the product will look and work.

The primary purpose of a UX Designer is functionality and usability. It includes the study of potential behaviours and experiences of application users and the creation of their personas, as well as an in-depth analysis of the competition.

User interface (UI) designer

Classic development team structure: User interface (UI) designer

In some team structures, the UI role may be redundant when there is a front-end developer, although many teams prefer to have both. Designing the user interface is an extension of the user experience design process, in which UI is responsible for the comprehensive graphic design of the software interface.

By comparison: while the front-end developer focuses on developing the presentation layer that ties the user interface to the back-end layers of the application, the UI has the graphic design skills to build the front-end elements. In addition, UI designs, e.g., icons, navigation buttons, and widgets, and develops the application's branding, including the logo and product colours. 

Quality Engineer (QA) 

Classic development team structure: Quality Engineer (QA)

The professional tests the product to ensure it works well and meets the customer's quality standards and business requirements. QA is like the ultimate project editor – they have to take care of minor details.

This specialist detects errors fast enough for the team to fix them before the product reaches the user. In addition to the functional aspect, QA also checks other aspects of the software, such as:

  • response time and portability – to be able to deploy it on different platforms,
  • performance and capabilities – to make it work in exceptional circumstances. 

DevOps Engineer 

Classic development team structure: DevOps Engineer

Like UI, DevOps Engineer doesn't always exist in the team structure. However, their presence enables efficient collaboration between all development activities. And perfectly optimised workflows.

This engineer implements DevOps practices, introduces methodologies and tools to automate flow, manages application server infrastructure, delivers scalable and reliable cloud solutions as required, optimises publishing cycles, etc. 

AGILE software development team structure

The agile team structure seems to be more modern and less bureaucratic than a traditional development team. An Agile method is an iterative approach that creates self-managing teams that enable better collaboration.

Agile structures focus on providing the team and the client (with whom they have direct contact) with flexibility and freedom. Such cooperation requires the involvement of the entire team and quick decision-making and adaptability to rapid changes. While traditional and agile team structures differ in operations, both models also share common roles.

Product owner (PO) 

Agile development team structure: Product owner (PO)

The product owner is responsible for the process of product creation. He/she is someone who has deep knowledge about the user and the product and ensures that the final service meets the customer's needs.

They support and coordinate the team's work and ensure that all product requirements are met. In addition, PO defines the product strategy, including financial projection, considering risks and market opportunities. 

In an agile structure, they represent all sides of the project when making product decisions, according to the needs and vision of the project and the company's goals. PO, therefore, acts as a link between business stakeholders, the development team, and the end user. The role requires a thorough understanding of the business goals and user experience. 

Product Manager / Scrum Master 

Agile development team structure: Product Manager / Scrum Master

Both product manager and scrum master are a typical part of an agile team structure. Depending on the methodology, one or the other specialist is an executive development team member. It is someone who owns the process, coordinates the team's work, and manages everything that happens in the group.

Unlike product owners, they mainly work with an internal team from a technical point of view and manage all phases of the software development cycle. Moreover they: 

  • conduct market research to support product development; 
  • forward project updates to the product owner; 
  • manage the activities related to the product launch in cooperation with other teams, such as marketing and sales.

Development team

Agile development team structure: Development team

It is a group of in-house or dedicated developers who work together on a project. Like a classic team, the Agile development team may be composed of front-end/back-end developers, UX designers, and QA testers. In an agile structure, geveryone works on the product in close cooperation.

Classic vs. agile software development team structure – differences 

The main difference between classic and agile team structures is how people work together and what responsibilities they have.

Classic team

A classic team can work on several projects at the same time, and there is no limit to the size of the group. Making decisions, introducing changes, or solving problems takes longer because project management is top-down.

It's a process that requires you to complete one stage before starting the next. Classic team maintains a defined workflow sequence and hierarchy, and any changes need a rigid approval cycle. A company evaluates individual performance. 

Agile team 

Agile teams focus on one project at a time and have 3–9 people per team. Its members share ownership of the software design, resulting in a higher degree of ownership and transparency. It is a self-organising and self-managing team.

The simplified structure allows them to innovate on an individual level and solve problems internally, as respective roles entitle you to make quick decisions or changes. A company evaluates team performance.

Classic vs. agile software development team structure – differences

In summary: factors defining software development team structure 

The clients and their needs should be at the core of building a development team. Their expectations define how complicated the project is, and what team will better take on these challenges. Team structure depends also on the budget and deadlines.

If the product is well-known and based on commonly used technology, you can create a team just of people who have the right experience. Thus, the classic team structure may be a good choice. But, if the idea is new or problematic, you may want to have a team ready to take a risk. Here, an agile team will be more effective. 

Additional issue is a need for specific competencies or technologies. Some projects do not require strict specialisation, but others need a group of specialists with deeper knowledge of some area. Therefore, all decisions related to team building must be based on thorough analysis of the client's and the future software users' needs.

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