How stable teams ensure success of your software project

The nature of work is changing as our World get’s more and more complex. We face a shift from individual assignments to team-based activities. This is due to the fact that most tasks and projects nowadays require complex, multidisciplinary skills to be performed. In the digital space take for instance the development of a web application (SaaS) for social recruitment. To get the job done you need at least a UX/UI designer, front-end developer for a chosen technology, back-end developer for a chosen technology, product manager (with subject matter expertise), project management (scrum master), and a growth hacker to prepare for launch & growth. That is six people that you need to assemble into a well vested team that is capable of doing an excellent job. To get this done recruiting and building the team will costs you time (on average 4–6 months) and money. And then in this case you’ll end up with six single-points of failure. If someone drops off or doesn’t perform a major issue arises. With we try to tackle these issues entrepreneurs and project owners are facing day by day. We do this by providing ready, stable and well-versed teams of freelance designers and developers. Let me share the most important things we do differently to ensure success in software development.

1. Keeping teams together

Teams go through the development stages forming, norming and storming to get to performing (Tuckman, 1965). Every time you assemble a new team it will take quite some time to get them to the ‘performing’ level. In traditional project management we tend to create a new project team for every project. This is how digital agencies, IT companies and consulting firms operate. Every team member is viewed as an individual resource and resources are bundled in a team to do a project. At Squads we do that differently. We prefer stable teams that evolve into high-performance teams over time. Our teams of 3–7 software professionals stay together for multiple engagements to get to an optimum. We don’t assemble a team for a project, we feed projects through these stable, performing teams. This increases the speed of execution and decreases risk and overhead. In most cases we can get projects started within 2 weeks after getting a project briefing in. Whilst others are still recruiting and on-boarding team members we are already half way through to a first working version of a software product.

2. Skills & competencies mixed

High performance teams are defined as a group of people with specific roles and complementary talent & skills. The team is aligned to a common goal with every member playing a distinct role in the success of the team. Our Squads teams evolve out of our community of professionals based upon skills & competencies. When a team recognized that it is lacking a certain skill they start recruiting from the community of pre-screened freelance professionals. New potential team members can start to work in the team for a trial period (normally 1–3 months). When after the trial everyone in the team is positive the new team member gets accepted into the team. This will only happen when there is proof that the new member strengthens the team with his/her skills & competencies. It also occurs that someone is skilled or talented but is not needed as a full-time team member. Niche skills are normally sourced through the ‘hired guns’ mode in the Squads platform. Core teams can hire these ‘guns’ for specific tasks that they find hard to perform. These specialists tend to work for multiple teams.

3. Shared responsibility

Research into high performance teams shows that they have a democratic leadership where everyone takes responsibility for both the individual tasks as the overall team performance. Open and clear communication is needed to support effective decision-making. In most of our teams there is no management overhead, although teams are free to appoint a project manager or scrum master in their team. In all projects the team should appoint a ‘guardian’ as the first point of contact to the client. This ‘guardian’ is sometimes managing parts of the project as well, but in most cases project management is a shared responsibility. And if that doesn’t work in a team because it has limited management capabilities, hiring someone to do the job is a feasible alternative. This can be done on a structural basis or in the ‘hired gun’ approach mentioned before. On Squads we make the performance of teams (reputation and performance ratings) visible to the teams and clients to ensure the right pressure on doing things right.

4. Systematic feedback & learning

Stable teams are great, because there is mutual trust. This makes the team a good place for feedback and learning. All the teams on Squads have their weekly retros to discuss ongoing issues, but also reflect on the way they work and perform together. The retro is a place to discuss what goes well and what can be improved. Everyone gets the opportunity to share his or her ideas. It is also the place where pairing sessions are planned to work & learn together in pairs on challenging tasks. Besides the retros the pairing sessions also are a great place for feedback & learning. One team member works-out-loud and the other can coach based upon what he/she hears. Teams build these systematic processes of feedback & learning into their way of working. This leads to performance of individuals and the team getting better and better over time.

Team retro with people from 4 countries working together

5. Tooling to support remote working

We support remote work at Squads. In our opinion it is the future of (digital) work. Our distributed teams can communicate, collaborate and perform regardless of time and place. This requires some tooling and organization, but once this is in place the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Our teams have access to the best talent Worldwide, regardless of location. Some of our Developers even live the digital nomad life and combine work & travel. As a result of this many of our teams have a good form of diversity in both culture and timezones. This leads to better decision-making and the practical benefit of 24*7 availability of at least one or more team members for clients. Remote work requires more working-out-loud and explicit documentation and sharing of work. Tools like Slack, Skype, Github, Trello and Google Drive make this possible. This has benefits that even work well for the co-located teams we also have on Squads. Work can be easily tracked and handed over.

The five points highlighted here are just some best practices we use at Squads. We believe them to have a big impact on team performance and the quality of project delivery. In our day to day operations we see the positive impact of these principles. We hope you’ll experience the same!

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