Identifying key roles and structure for software development teams

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Between 2020 and 2021, poor-quality software cost U.S. businesses about $2.41 trillion.

Why? Sometimes it comes down to software having a poor user experience, but more often it’s due to a lack of structure within software development teams. 

So how do you choose the right people for software development teams? And what development methodology should you use? We’ll show you the basics below.

What is a software development team?

A software development team is a team of developers, right? Yes — but also, not quite!

While that is the simplest definition, the reality is that a software development team should be a team of specialists and generalists put together with the project in mind. This means that you need to pay careful attention to the team’s structure and each role within it so that you have the right blend of skills to make the project a success. A large part of this is knowing how to properly manage a remote development team. It's important to cultivate a balance between specialists and generalists within the team.

So who needs to be on your team? We’ll explore this topic in-depth later on, but for now, remember that most teams aren’t made up of only developers. You’ll likely also need a project manager, business analysts, people in quality assurance, and specialized developers like UI/UX designers, DevOps engineers, and front and backend developers.

The easiest way to look at it is to consider the full project lifecycle: not just the creation of the product itself, but its business feasibility, what you’ll need to do to market it, and so on. You’ll need team members who can address each of these areas.

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Factors that influence the structure of a software development team

Unsure where to start? There are a few factors that will influence the structure of a development team, so let’s take a look at these first. 

Project size and complexity

The larger the software development project, the more team members you’ll need to handle all of the work — that much is a given. But also, don’t forget about the project’s complexity. More complex projects will need more types of skill sets, even if the project itself is relatively small.

Type of software

Are you designing system software for a particular operating system, or are you creating a fancy new customer-facing app that features lots of bells and whistles? There are many different types of software — and the type you’re working on will greatly influence the right team structure.

For example, most system utilities have fairly basic user interfaces — and that means the bulk of the work will likely be in the back end while investments into frontend development will be minimal. But in something like a shopping app? User interface is paramount to keep customers coming back.

Client or stakeholder expectations

Every project has a stakeholder, be it the end client, internal stakeholders within your development agency, or the project manager. Whoever your stakeholders are, their expectations will have some bearing on your team’s structure. If they’re expecting a highly complex product or tight turnaround times, you’ll need a bigger product team.

Project budget

Wouldn’t it be nice to never worry about budgets again? As awesome as that would be, the truth is that budgets are always a limiting factor. Keep yours in mind, and be realistic about team size and the types of team members you can afford.

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Key roles in software development teams

Now that you know some of the biggest determining factors to building a team, it’s time to look at various software development team roles. Each of the following specialists will likely be part of your software development process.

Product owner

The product owner is usually the key stakeholder in the project. If you’re a development agency working for external clients, then the product owner will be the end client. But let’s say that you’re designing new features for your own app. In that case, the product owner is the person within your agency in charge of the app.

Either way, product owners are the ones with the vision for what the final product should look like. As such, they’ll define the scope, and often, they’ll play a key part in ensuring that you’re meeting requirements and deadlines. They may also assist in hiring the rest of the team.

Project manager

The project manager is the team lead in charge of the engineering team. While product owners focus on the broader scope of the project, project managers handle the day-to-day in software development project management. That means project planning, creating and assigning tasks (and deadlines for those tasks), facilitating effective communication between everyone involved, and providing the resources that each team member needs to complete those tasks.

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Business analyst

Every project has a certain set of business needs. Software needs to meet current market needs and fit with the product owner’s business model. Business analysts look at customer trends, the product owner’s business model, and other factors to ensure that the end product stays within budget and generates revenue once completed.

Frontend and backend developers

Frontend and backend developers play a key role in most engineering teams. Backend developers handle the “behind the scenes” programming — the coding and architecture that keeps the software running. They typically rely on multiple programming languages (like Ruby, Java, or Python) to create their deliverables.

Frontend developers handle the “front” of the product. They work with both UI designers and backend developers to get the user interface up and running. This means accounting for all the ways that users can interact with an app — and it also means developing code to ensure that apps will work across multiple platforms.

UX/UI designer

UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) designers create the entire user experience. As such, UI and UX designers focus on creating a great interface with features that flow together seamlessly to ensure user-friendliness.

Quality assurance engineer

Ever been frustrated by a buggy piece of software that never fails to throw roadblocks in your way? Chances are, the quality assurance team either wasn’t doing their job to the best of their abilities — or the software development team didn’t include QA specialists.

That’s what QA engineers do. They consider the scope of the project and the requirements set forth by the product owner — and they test the product to make sure that it not only fits the owner’s vision but also works as it should. This process includes extensive bug testing to identify problems that others on the team may have missed. It also means analyzing the product to learn how to improve it for even better usability.

DevOps engineer

“DevOps” is short for “development” and “operations.” DevOps engineers are the ones who create the environment for software developers to build in. Throughout the development life cycle, they work behind the scenes to make it easier for developers to develop.

DevOps engineers also focus on software security throughout the development process — and also once the software launches.

Determining the right project management approach

There are lots of types of project management styles out there, but where software development is concerned, we can broadly break them into two categories: The waterfall approach and agile methodology. We’ll show you the differences below.


The big difference between waterfall methodology and agile methodology is the projects’ overall scope and deliverables.

Waterfall methodology tends to focus on the software product as a whole. The project itself gets broken down into distinct phases, with certain deliverables due by the end of each phase. At the start of the project, the product manager or owner delivers their vision for the final product. From there, the development team creates a plan for the entire project from start to finish, then works from that plan. Everything happens in a specific, sequential order, with quality testing happening toward the end of the project so that developers have time to make any needed fixes.

Under the waterfall method, product owners are typically less involved in the development process, only interacting with teams once major milestones have been reached.


Agile methodologies include things like scrum, Kanban, extreme programming (XP), and lean development. These individual agile methodologies have small differences, but they share a few things in common that differ strongly from the waterfall methodology.

Where waterfall styles focus on the product as a whole, agile teams tend to look at smaller chunks of the project, and they typically work in two- to four-week sprints to do this. It’s an iterative approach to product development that accounts for apps and platforms constantly expanding with updates and new features.

On agile software development teams, everything is planned in order of priority rather than dividing a project into sections. Each sprint represents the highest priority feature or upgrade, and members of the team accomplish individual tasks in order of priority to reach the sprint’s goal.

Since many agile teams are self-managed, project managers (or scrum masters, on scrum teams) act almost as dedicated team support. They support the project’s success by helping with the planning and making sure that everyone else can work effectively.

This methodology tends to be more flexible than the waterfall methodology. You can expect more interaction from product owners — and likely changes to the project scope as you go along, too.

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5 steps for building an effective software development team

We’ve covered the basics of structuring an app development team — and now it’s time to actually build that team. The steps below outline the broader tasks you’ll need to do to put together a software engineering dream team.

1. Define the roles and skills needed

This is not only the first step to building a team but also one of the first steps to planning and managing a software development project. 

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For now, we’ll stick with team building — and the first step here is to assess the project as a whole to determine the skills you’ll need. For example, in an app that requires a robust user interface, you may need more frontend developers and UX/UI designers. Or maybe you have a lot of backend work on an app with a simplistic interface — then you can think about outsourcing a simple UI design to freelancers while hiring more full-time backend developers.

Don’t forget about the project timeline. If it’s tight, consider hiring extra people to help finish the work faster.

2. Assess cultural compatibility

What do you value more, individual successes or intimate teamwork? Do people within your agency tend to reject top-down management models, or are they more comfortable in a more strictly regimented environment?

Consider these questions — and other aspects of your organizational culture — as part of this step. The answers here will help you determine what project management approach to take in the next step.

3. Determine project management approach

Now that you know who you’ll need to hire and have identified key characteristics of your internal culture, it’s time to determine your approach. In general, waterfall styles work better for large projects and larger teams who are working on projects with a clearly defined endpoint. Choose one of the agile methodologies for small teams that rely heavily on close teamwork and have workflows focused on smaller features or a project backlog.

4. Establish communication practices

These days, establishing communications practices is about a whole lot more than sharing emails and phone numbers. Ideally, you’ll choose software development project management tools with communications in mind.

Whatever tools you do use, make sure to draw up a set of clear expectations. Define where and when meetings should be, when you expect updates on project progress, methods for team members to contact and collaborate with each other, and so on.

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5. Use tools that promote collaboration

Modern collaborative software typically comes as a platform with everything from communications to task management built in. Look for platforms that can help you plan projects on a broad scale and at the task level. It’s even better if these platforms offer built-in communication and collaboration tools — or integrations with popular communication apps like Zoom or Slack — so that team members can leave comments, share their work, and hold conversations.

No matter what tools you choose, software development is all about teamwork — and your tools should facilitate that rather than standing in the way of it.

This is where apps like Teamwork save the day. Agencies can use this app to manage multiple projects — and you can see everything related to the project all from within the Teamwork platform. That includes not only the broader project plan, but also the smaller tasks and sprints. Everyone can see what everyone else is working on — and they can use the platform to collaborate with ease. 

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Foster strong project communication with Teamwork

Whether you choose an agile methodology or the waterfall method to develop software, keep in mind that ultimately, teamwork is the most important component to delivering software that the end user will love.

Teamwork helps facilitate exactly the kind of collaboration it takes to do just that! Whether you’re a developer working on a single project or an agency with multiple projects to manage, this platform has all the tools you need to manage the project and give everyone the communication tools they need to stay in the loop.

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