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Why “adding a developer” to your development team is not always the answer

date

07/11/2022

reading time

4 minutes

author

Kato Coppens

Nowadays, there’s very little debate about one thing: for an enterprise, investing in digital revolution is the only way forward. But what about the people? And the development team?

Companies and government institutions are reforming their processes, products and services to answer to the new and emerging expectations of their target clientele. That means lots of investments in digital transformation projects, but the rollout and implementation of those projects doesn't always go as planned. 

First of all, delivery deadlines set early on in the project can later prove to be impossible or the application doesn't perform as expected. Besides that, it's possible that certain features fall through the cracks and don’t get developed... And it goes on and on. That’s when alarm bells start ringing and you start hearing the call: “We need more developers!”  But do you really? Are additional developers really the solution for your failing project? Instead of setting all your sights on recruitment, we advise you to first take a look at the bigger picture (read: the development team) and then ask yourself the following questions.  

How’s the cooperation going, both within and outside the development team? 

Very often, what organizations need, are external teams with the right skills to support them in the development of digital projects. In many cases, it takes gathering experts from multiple agencies to bring the project to a good end. 

Unfortunately, simply putting specialists together won’t lead to success. For a large-scale IT project to succeed, the team members have to understand each other. And on top of that, the environment in which the team works has to meet certain requirements too.

1. What are the dynamics within the development team?

First of all, external development teams are groups of talented professionals who, in most cases, have never worked together before. It means you need to be aware that these very different personalities and individual social skills are important factors to take into account going forward. It's a fact, a development team can only be called a team when everyone communicates smoothly. Next to that, there has to be an atmosphere of understanding between this collection of different people and personalities.

2. Is the organization open to change?

Secondly, a digital transition is also a big change for an organization. Generally, there is awareness that the change is a necessary one. Unfortunately, just awareness is not enough. The ADKAR model of change management identifies the importance not only of awareness, but other factors too. The “desire to support the change”, the “knowledge of how to change”, the “ability to demonstrate skill & behavior” and the “reinforcement to make change stick”.

ADKAR model for development team
Figure 1: ADKAR model of change management

That's why the Scrum methodology focusses on good cooperation between the development team and the sector specialists (“the business”). Both parties have to be actively involved in defining good requirements, setting the priorities, the business value, validating developed items, etc. Without mutual trust and active involvement on both sides, it won’t happen. 

As soon as there is a desire to move forward on the digital path as an organization, and actively cooperate towards that goal, the first and biggest steps have already been taken.

How efficient and logical is the functioning of the development team? 

“You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.” 

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett’s well-known remark about pregnancy could also be applied to software projects. Why? Because you cannot simply divide it up into chunks that can then be completed in parallel. A high-level analysis, thorough preliminary study, architecture and action plan are fundamental elements before you start. The order of the steps in the process has to be correct if you want to get towards a successful development at all (and that too, goes for both pregnancy and IT projects).

Two things perhaps even more important than the process are (1) maximizing focus and (2) minimizing “passive time”. 

1. Maximizing focus

On the one hand, being able to focus requires, by definition, that you ignore a huge number of things. In the words of Tim Ferriss: “What you don’t do determines what you can do.”

That realization should really be the starting point of every good sprint planning

In a sprint planning, the team decides with the representatives of the business what will be worked on in the coming sprint period (usually a period of 2-4 weeks). But even more important to decide is what will NOT be worked on. The goal of a sprint planning is, on the one hand, to generate focus for the team, and on the other to create predictability for the business - because the business will want to know what is going to be worked on now, and what is going to be worked on in the next sprint. 

As you’ve probably already noticed yourself, the hardest part of focusing is not the focusing itself but making the decision of what to focus on. And then actually staying focused on it. You have an important role in this, whether you are customer or organization. By staying closely involved in the sprint planning, you get to help decide what to focus on. And by respecting the sprints, you contribute to keeping your development teams focused

2. Minimizing “passive time”

As a final point, we want to point out that sometimes something that you are absolutely sure is true turns out differently when you look at the data. Value stream mapping is a tool you can use to reveal whether it’s really the work that is taking too long, or whether it might be the passive time that is actually slowing delivery down. Examining how much time is truly spent on items can provide valuable insights and show you what the team can do about it. To read more about how, see our article on Value Stream Mapping.

At The Value Hub, we are extremely dedicated to supporting development teams within a company. We strive for change management that takes the whole organization hand-in-hand through the process. That’s how we ensure that the cooperation goes smoothly, both with the team and within the team. In combination with monitoring the value stream and organizing projects based on the Scrum methodology and Agile project management, we are continually working to optimize both process and focus

Conclusion 

Are the dynamics in and around your development team working? Is the project proceeding optimally, with minimal passive time? And are you still having problems delivering? If so, then it might actually be time to start adding extra developers. But there might be other possible solutions that would be a better choice for your specific situation.

about the author

Kato Coppens

As a Functional Lead and Scrum Master at The Value Hub, Kato knows the ins and outs of teams, teamwork and common problems. She shares her experience and helps out teams with enthusiasm and passion.

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