8 great tips for managing a software development team

11 min read
April 18, 2023

Properly managed teams with mature systems generally succeed 77% of the time.

How about those that are poorly managed? Their success rate is only 56%.

It’s a huge difference—showing how critical management is for ensuring a successful software team.

The problem is that managing a diverse group of people with different skills, personalities, and preferences is exceptionally challenging.

But we hope these eight management tips can help get you on the right path.

Set clear goals for your team

Clear goals are vital for any team, not just those in development.

It guides everything they do, how they do it, and why they do it. Without clear goals, your project timeline and costs are guaranteed to skyrocket. At worst, the project will fail.

Indeed, undefined goals and priorities are some of the top reasons most projects fail.

top reasons why projects fail

Source: ProofHub

As a manager, it’s your responsibility to set a clear goal when starting any project or giving out a task.

And you shouldn’t just focus on what the goal is. Provide as much context as possible as well. Include how the goal should be accomplished, by when, and why.

A good way to do this is to use the SMART framework.

This forces you to define each of your goal’s attributes (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound) and make it clearer and more actionable.

For instance, instead of saying, “I want to increase engagement for my app,” be more specific and give actual numbers.

Something like, “I want to increase my retention rate by 20% and reduce my churn rate to less than 10%” would be better.

Here are the other elements of the SMART framework and how you should implement them.

SMART framework

Source: Hydrate Marketing

Setting clear goals is also beneficial for managers. It makes them more trackable, thus allowing you to gauge a task’s progression accurately.

This will allow you to optimize development time and costs in the long run.

Know your team’s skills

Knowing your tools inside and out is required if you want to maximize their full potential. The same goes for your team members.

It’s your job to understand each developer’s skills, experience, and weaknesses in your software development team.

This enables you to match the right tasks to the right people—which is important if you want to speed up your development and lower costs.

Skill mismatch is a serious issue that could potentially cost you money. Assigning a difficult task to an inexperienced developer will likely produce more errors and take longer than senior staff.

types of skills mismatch

Source: International Labor Organization

Furthermore, knowing your team’s skills can also help you find hidden opportunities.

For instance, let’s say you’re developing a fintech app project and need a cybersecurity expert.

You might discover that one of your existing developers has experience in this area, saving you the time and cost of hiring an outside expert.

But managers shouldn’t just classify skills broadly as programming, UX design, or quality assurance. You need to go deeper.

For instance, you must separate developers as front-end, back-end, and full-stack (or your all-arounders). The skills these disciplines need are wildly different.

For instance, a front-end JavaScript developer will struggle if you let them create a back-end element using Python.

To do this, evaluating and keeping track of your developers’ skills is critical.

You should also make it a point to assess a person’s skill independently, as people tend to either underestimate or overestimate their proficiency.

soft skills comparison chart

Source: Visual Workforce

Skills are one of your most important assets, so it’s critical that you manage and nurture them effectively.

Provide as much context as possible

Many managers make the mistake of asking people to complete tasks without context or additional information.

Not only does such an approach cause people to make more mistakes, but it also gives a bad impression.

It sends the message that the person must follow their superior’s orders blindly and unquestioningly.

The thing is, people work best when they know why they’re doing something. It gives meaning to the task and makes people own the work, which is very important.

Ownership makes people care about the work so much that they’ll fulfill it despite obstacles. As Elizabeth Lotardo, vice president at consulting firm McLeod & More, says:

Everyone in every company is going to encounter failures and challenges, and purpose helps keep you grounded in the sense of gratitude and meaning in a way that financial metrics or quarterly targets just don’t.

When delegating any task, it’s important to give as much information and resources as you can about the task. For completeness, it should cover the four areas below:

effective delegation context

Source: Gitnux

Giving your team enough information to do their jobs properly is also critical to avoid one particular management pitfall—micromanagement. Let’s discuss that next.

Give your team enough autonomy

The worst thing you can do as a manager is to tell people exactly how to do their jobs. This habit is called micromanagement.

Micromanagement comes in many forms. It’s when you prefer to be involved in every single activity or demand all your suggestions be followed.

It’s also when you’re never satisfied with the delivered work.

Regardless of how managers do it, micromanagement leads to plenty of negative effects:

negative effects of micromanagement

Source: 7pace

To combat micromanagement, you should give your team enough autonomy to do their work.

Assuming you’ve given them enough context about the task, you should trust that they will accomplish it to the best of their ability.

Another tool you can use is the RACI chart, a tool that keeps track of all project stakeholders.

First is the responsible party, or the person directly doing the task. You then assign an accountable person to check or oversee the work done (usually a team lead).

Some people might also be affected by the outcome of the task and are therefore incentivized to give input and feedback.

These are the consulted parties. For example, these can be developers who will rely on the output of a previous task in their own task.

Finally, you have the informed party, who needs to be kept in the loop. This is often the manager.

RACI chart

Source: Forbes

A RACI chart is great for clearly laying out the approval chain of a task. It forces you to give up some oversight and control to others, reducing micromanagement.

Remove obstacles for your team

We’ve already established that a manager doesn’t exist to control every task or aspect of their team.

Rather, one of your bigger responsibilities is to ensure that everyone in the team can accomplish their tasks as smoothly as possible.

Part of this is helping remove any obstacles that prevent that. Here are some of the top ones, according to Techliance:

IT work time wasters

Source: Techliance

For instance, according to psychologist Gerald Weinberg, constantly switching between two tasks reduces a person’s productivity by 20%.

As a manager, you can reduce this by carefully planning schedules to ensure developers get uninterrupted time to code.

You should also assign another person for your developers’ miscellaneous tasks like preparing documents.

Giving your developers the right infrastructure—such as equipment and software—can help them work more efficiently.

For instance, if they’re using underpowered workstations, developers might need to compensate for the slower speed during coding, which will take time away from their task.

Also, you should hold meetings properly, as inefficient meetings are big time wastes. In fact, a study showed that the average person wastes 31 hours every month on unproductive meetings.

Let’s talk about meetings next.

Hold regular one-on-one meetings

Meetings are a double-edged sword. They can be very dangerous and detrimental to your project if conducted haphazardly.

But if executed well and with intention, meetings are some of your best management tools.

Such is the case with the one-on-one meeting.

These are critical because you can have a deeper conversation with each team member. That lets you learn about their issues, needs, preferences, and goals.

Such data can help you manage the person’s work more efficiently.

Indeed, Julie Zhuo, an ex-Facebook VP, frames the importance of one-on-one meetings like this:

why one-on-one meetings are important

Source: Jell

The key to a good one-on-one meeting is preparation. But in this case, the person should be the one to prepare.

They should outline the issues and points they want to raise. After all, the one-on-one meeting should be about them.

In line with this, your role in a one-on-one meeting is to listen more. In these cases, it’s useful to remember the 90/10 rule: managers should listen 90% of the time and only talk for 10%.

And you should use your talking time to ask the right questions. The best questions should prod deeper and encourage the person to share more.

And finally, do offer help and guidance, but don’t force it.

Encourage open communication

If you had to name only one critical component of a successful team, it’s communication.

Indeed, a McKinsey study shows that it can increase productivity and well-being by nearly 5 times, especially in today’s remote work world.

benefits of clear communication

Source: McKinsey

Effective, open communication is the only way to keep everyone on the same page and resolve any problems that may arise.

It also helps foster trust and teamwork, making everyone perform much more efficiently over time.

So, how do you promote open communication?

First, you need the right tools for every aspect of project management. All of your communication channels should cover both real-time and asynchronous approaches.

For instance, Zoom would be great for real-time meetings but is ill-equipped for more informal one-on-one communication like quick follow-ups.

A tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams would be a better alternative.

business collaboration tools

Source: Whatfix

It’s also beneficial to foster an open-door policy with your team. This allows any member to talk to the manager directly regarding any work-related issue.

The goal is to build a habit of openness and trust among your members, so they would report issues immediately instead of keeping them in.

Finally, try to be more inclusive in your communication.

To find out why, take a look at this statistic:

workplace communication inclusivity

Source: Pumble

Part of your communication policy should be accommodating language and cultural differences. Not doing so puts you at risk of miscommunication or, worse, creating conflict within the team.

Acknowledge your team’s hard work

Recognizing a developer’s hard work and achievement is a very powerful motivator. It keeps team members feeling valued and motivated, which makes them work harder.

And this statistic by the Employee Engagement and Modern Workplace Report shows you just how effective recognition can be:

why employee recognition is important

Source: Hypercontext

When recognizing wins and achievements, it’s best to do it publicly. It’s human nature to want to be praised in front of your peers, as it’s a great confidence booster.

Plus, public recognition can foster a positive culture.

However, some people might be more reserved and would prefer being commended privately. A simple thank you note or a small gift would be appreciated in these cases.

Speaking of gifts, it’s a good idea to give tangible incentives to people for their hard work. This gives the impression that you’re serious about giving recognition, and it isn’t just lip service.

And it doesn’t have to be expensive—a small discount coupon or monetary reward should be enough.

The best tip to manage your team

We hope you’ve learned a thing or two about effectively managing a software development team.

But we believe all of these are worthless if you don’t have the right team in the first place!

When a team doesn’t have the right expertise, work ethic, or communication skills, even the best manager will have difficulty getting them to produce fantastic work.

That’s why spending time and attention hiring your developers is important.

If you’d like to know more about hiring a great team, check out our primer here.

Written by

Marin Luetic


A seasoned software engineering executive, Marin’s role combines his in-depth understanding of software engineering processes (particularly mobile) with product and business strategies. Humbly boasting 20+ years of international experience at the forefront of telecoms, Marin knows how to create and deliver state of the art software products to businesses of all sizes. Plus, his skills as a lifelong basketball player mean he can lead a team to victory. When he’s not hopping from meeting to meeting, you’ll find Marin listening to indie rock, or scouring the latest IT news.

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