How to build great development teams

Przemek Lewandowski - Co-founder & CTO at Sunscrapers

Przemek Lewandowski

5 March 2018, 5 min read

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What's inside

  1. Mind the senior/junior proportion
  2. Invest in mentorship
  3. Empower your team
  4. Know when specialization brings most benefits
  5. Build a motivating culture and celebrate success

Every fantastic product started with a great team.

Smart managers no longer see team members as mere cogs in a machine and hire exclusively with the right skills in mind. Building a great team means that you will be focusing on finding individuals who fit your team culture and balance the rest of the team.

As a manager building the team, it might seem convenient to pick team members and stick them to any position where you think they will do best.

But that's just not how teams work.

Here are 5 tips to help you build a fantastic team of developers that will get your project off the ground.

Mind the senior/junior proportion

When building a development team, you will choose from three different kinds of developers: senior, mid-level, and junior coders. Your team needs all of them to deliver optimal productivity – but in the right proportion.

Senior developers can mentor other team members and bring in a deep understanding of application architecture. They will also help keep your team productive and teach that skill to others. Junior and mid-level developers, on the other hand, will be the ones to develop features, fix bugs, and perform other duties under the guidance of senior mentors.

Since junior developers have limited vision, they rarely understand how the choices they make today may impact the entire team productivity in the future. Even if they close a lot of the tickets, they may be creating a drag on the team productivity by applying quick fixes, missing root causes, and leaving technical debt behind them.

Avoid hiring only junior developers. The right proportion of senior to junior team members will ensure that your team has a defined direction and delivers code at optimal speed.

Invest in mentorship

Once you've got senior developers on board, it's time to think about how you can use their expertise to improve the learning performance of other developers.

At Sunscrapers, we practice pair programming because we believe that's the most efficient way for developers to boost their skills quickly. Code reviews serve the same purpose because they help us understand what works and what doesn't.

If you want your team to improve quickly, encourage mentorship practices.

Identify the team members who can serve as outliers of best practices and set an excellent example for the rest of the team. Senior developers with a lot of experience on their back will be able to lift up the productivity of the entire team, serving as force multipliers by mentoring junior developers. Senior developers are able to come up with simple solutions to complex problems, but also teach that skill to other developers in your team.

By equipping your team with a strong mentorship culture where pair programming and code reviews are performed regularly, even newbies will quickly become productive contributors.

Empower your team

Development teams often clash with other teams in projects. That happens because developers are often treated like a group of people who merely take orders from other teams rather than real collaborators. To take full advantage of your development team, you need to empower team members and let them be heard.

Allow developers to set out their professional roadmap and choose technologies that are best suited for specific tasks.

Being held accountable for their decisions will boost their motivation and give them a sense of ownership in the project.

Organize regular meetings where management and development teams can meet to plan and work out problems. Let developers create their priorities, share their successes and respond to management teams to make sure that everyone is moving in the right direction for the company.

Know when specialization brings most benefits

Some teams can benefit a lot from cross-training. Cross-training means that you shake out the roles in your team once in a while to make sure that team members are better equipped to handle unexpected issues.

However, at some point cross-training will no longer bring returns that justify pulling your specialists off their primary domain to boost the versatility of your team.

It's important to cross-train your team but don't let it go too far. Specialization in a development team brings amazing productivity gains.

That's why you should be hiring with specialization in mind rather than building a team of general developers. It's great when multiple developers can work on the same area of your product, but keep in mind that each developer should have their deep specialization.

Build a motivating culture and celebrate success

Keeping your team's morale high is essential to reducing stress associated with the work and avoiding burnout. It's smart to celebrate your successes right after they happen. For example, you can host a shipping party that marks a significant release.

If you end up working on a tight deadline over the holidays, take your team out on a day of fun to blow off the steam and turn that project experience into a positive memory.

Building a productive development team can be challenging, but these 5 steps should help you when hiring developers for your project.

Have you got any questions about building development teams? Reach out to us a or leave a comment below, we're always happy to share the experience we acquired from building teams for different projects.

Przemek Lewandowski - Co-founder & CTO at Sunscrapers

Przemek Lewandowski

Co-founder & CTO

Przemek is the co-founder and CTO of Sunscrapers. After graduating from the Warsaw University of Technology, he worked as a software consultant. At Sunscrapers, Przemek acts as the technical leader who supervises high-quality service delivery, helps to solve problems, and mentors other team members. Przemek is a passionate community activist, he leads open-source projects, volunteers in projects like Django Girls London, and organizes/speaks at tech events like PyWaw.


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