How to Actually Scale Development Teams

Scaling product development and delivery is one of the most crucial stages in the development of a successful tech business. 

A lot of companies face common difficulties associated with scaling, and it’s completely understandable. It can be challenging, no doubt, especially for companies that have gotten the groove of startup culture and working with small teams.

However, here’s something you should know early on: the more that you can reduce complexity, the better, and that starts by looking at your teams. Complex systems tend to get more complex as they grow. This is a serious enemy of an effective scaling process. Stay focused on the efficiency of your teams and team structures from the start. 

At 101 Ways, we have experience in tech development, as well as helping other businesses analyse their team structures and tech foundations. No two organisations or teams or the same, get in touch if you want our direct opinion on what’s best for you. In this article, we’ll be discussing helpful steps on how to scale a development team, as well as strategies for making each step happen right. Let’s dive in.

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Suggested reading: For an in-depth look at scaling development teams, along with your entire product development operation, check out our new whitepaper — Scaling and Accelerating Product Development.

What is scaling?

Before we go any further, we need to define our terms. Scaling is often seen as a solution to growth and efficiency gaps, and rightly so, but only when applied properly. Critical to understanding this is the difference between scaling and growth. 

  • Growth means adding more. Technically, whenever there’s an addition of more project managers, customers, revenue, or engineers, there’s growth.
  • Scaling enables growth. Scaling is more of a framework to enable such growth. Instead of haphazardly just adding more and more in the name of growth, scaling puts a structure to the processes, operations, and workflows where growth is needed.

Simply put, scaling is both a strategy and a process. It can empower organisations to grow efficiently and do more with less. As with most strategies, there’s really no ‘one size fits all’ solution. There are, however, tried and tested principles to ensure that your scaling strategies are robust, clear, and headed in the right direction. So, what are some simple steps you can follow to help you find the right solution? Good thing you’re reading this article. 

Step 1: Enable small teams to autonomously collaborate 

There’s a reason why some of the most successful tech companies rely on small teams, even as they have continued to scale and grow massively. Small teams work well together and can collaborate effectively with other teams to tackle large problems if placed in the right structure. 

Take Amazon, for example, whose founder Jeff Bezos has an infamous ‘Two Pizza Rule.’ To keep efficiency at the core of their scalability, Amazon teams are supposed to always be small enough so they can be fed with two pizzas.1 

This ‘small group’ principle is backed by research, too. 42% of employees working at companies of ten people or less were more engaged at work compared to their peers at larger companies.2 Pizza or no, teams that consist of fewer members (ten, at most) tend to communicate better and be more productive. The trick is to ensure that these many small teams are able to collaborate when needed, and don’t end up duplicating each other’s work.  

Strategies to help:

  • Look for ways to divide your development projects, e.g. delegating certain functions to specific teams. 
  • Enable regular communication between team leads to share ideas and make sure all of the teams are working towards the same goal. 
  • Focus on team structure and dynamics. Have the right people working well together in an environment that enables efficient problem-solving. 
  • Don’t just keep adding engineers. Be strategic in your approach. Scaling development teams involves knowing what types of skills and personalities to put together in a team to achieve the best outcome. 
  • Allow teams to self-organise. Agile teams work under the assumption that each member is a self-starter, accountable, and is an expert in their field. 

Step 2: Hire with the big picture in mind

You need people who work well together and have complementary skill sets. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time butting heads and getting in each other’s way. This applies on the team level and the big picture. For example, you don’t want a bunch of leaders fighting with each other — not all team members can be decision-makers. You need people who follow and lead, and who specialise in different things. 

You also need to make sure to grow your development teams in tandem with delivery teams and product management teams. The scaling of tech teams, in particular, needs to be in line with that of the wider organisation, to ensure that all teams work well together across common tech platforms.

So how does this translate to hiring? Briefly put, you have to hire team members who fit together, both in terms of their skills and their respective roles within the team, and then make those hires in line with business needs. 

Strategies to help:

  • Focus on quality. Even if we’re talking about scaling and growth, quality is still better than quantity. For example, it’s better to have a dedicated team of ten people who work efficiently together than a team of fifty that doesn’t know what they are doing.  
  • Think back to your product strategy. Understand what skills you need to deliver the product and factor that into your hiring decisions as you scale. For example, you might need to hire a varied mix of project managers, developers, product owners, designers, data analysts, and more, depending on your strategy.
  • Keep your business strategy and trajectory in mind when hiring, and building teams in general. 

Step 3: Align your people strategy with your technology strategy

Especially in software development teams, your tech strategy can deeply impact who you can (and should) hire. Technology has a big impact on how you scale because it will determine the types of developers and engineers needed, and what they will need moving forward. However, this is a two-way street. Remember to consider your existing team members, as well as the type of people you want to hire.

For example, teams who already have extensive experience with Java may do well to stick with it rather than adding a hot new programming language into the mix. Fundamentally, don’t try to bend your organisation to match technology. You will get much further if you make tech choices based on your people, and the people you want to hire, rather than the other way around

Strategies to help:

  • Don’t fall for edgy tech. This is not to say that you shouldn’t try anything new. However, smart teams should play to their strengths instead of spending time trying to adopt experimental new tech that may cost you more time and money. 
  • Use tech to support skill gaps. Machines were invented to support human efficiency. Think of tech this way too, and make tech choices based on skill shortages or supporting your current team with tech that will help eliminate tedious tasks that can be automated. 
  • Make two-way choices. When it comes to tech, choose two-way choices instead of one-way ones. This means going with options that can be reversed, or have its risks mitigated by a contingency plan. An example of a one-way choice is moving your entire infrastructure into the cloud, while a two-way choice is just moving a specific component into the cloud.

Never lose sight of your product and your business

Scaling software and product development teams can be challenging. However, with the right strategy, tools, and people, it can drive massive growth. Nonetheless, it’s still important to remember that when it comes to scaling and growth, there’s no template or magic formula.

Your organisation is unique, and your strategy should be. Your needs won’t be exactly the same as those of another organisation. It’s important to always refer back to your product and overall business strategies. These will anchor you to the most important needs of your organisation and help you make informed decisions when it comes to pursuing growth. 

101 Ways can help your business scale smartly by identifying the right product and business strategies. By finding the right people with skill sets and personalities matched specifically to your needs, we help build and strengthen your teams so that they can work better together. Our experts are also trained at identifying gaps in your tech stacks and operations and can support you in making the right decisions when it comes to these areas. 

In the words of 101 Ways CEO Zane Gambasin, “There are 101 ways to do anything. Sometimes, to find the best way, you need expert help.” If you think scaling your development team (or any team, for that matter) is something you need help with, feel free to get in touch with us.

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  1. The two-pizza rule and the secret of Amazon’s success
  2. Why Smaller Teams Are Better Than Larger Ones