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16 ways to build a better dev team

Paul Heltzel | June 21, 2016
The secret to building and maintaining a great development team requires transparency, flexibility, and yes, good vibes

For all the talk of rock-star developers, we all know it takes a strong, coherent team working in concert to get the best work done. So here’s the question: What does it take to establish a great team of developers who create great products and work well across departments?

We reached out to tech executives and engineering managers who have done exactly that and asked them to share their hard-earned wisdom of team building.

From finding the best fit for your next hire to keeping your team fresh and motivated, the following collective advice will have your team coding at its best.

1. Empower your engineers

Engineer teams can often find themselves at odds with management, business development, or marketing on any given project -- often because they are treated like order-takers rather than collaborators. To get the best from your developers, let them be heard and have a say in what they work on.

“The team should be allowed to determine their own professional road map and what technologies are most suitable for specific tasks, while at the same time being held accountable for their decisions.” -- Jeff McConathy, vice president of engineering for consumer services, Trulia

At online real estate site Trulia, management and development teams meet quarterly to plan and work out issues, says Jeff McConathy, vice president of engineering for consumer services.

“The process is employee-driven,” McConathy says, “with teams responsible for creating their own priorities and road maps and presenting them to senior management and leaders across the company. Each team also shares their successes and [what they’ve learned] over the past quarter. This helps each team determine their plans and prioritize projects, and allows ... the management team to ask questions and ensure each group is set up for success and moving in the right direction for the company."

Employee-empowerment measures can also ensure engagement and help retain top developer talent.

“The team should be allowed to determine their own professional road map, and what technologies are most suitable for specific tasks, while at the same time being held accountable for their decisions,” McConathy says. “Ask teams to focus on specific high-level goals, then let them run with ideas and execution. This is true empowerment, and at the end of the day, we all like to work in an environment where we can make a difference and learn new things.”

2. Remember your roots

Engineering managers all too often find themselves pulled away from their first love: writing code. But the problems with overemphasizing the “management” aspect of a dev manager’s work profile run deeper.

“Companies need to position managers as strong technical mentors to their teams.” -- Sam Lambert, senior director of infrastructure, GitHub

 

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