Avoid these 7 mistakes when managing development teams

10 min read
April 18, 2023

According to research, 67% of software projects fail due to a lack of proper project management.

Managing a software team is rarely a walk in the park, and it’s easy to commit a myriad of mistakes that could damage team morale, slow down their work, or even cause the project to fail.

Here are seven of the most common mistakes—and how to avoid them.

Not investing in your own technical knowledge

One mistake IT managers often make is failing to keep their technical knowledge up-to-date.

Many believe their role is now more on the management side, so they leave all the technical nitty-gritty to someone else.

But as senior manager Elye found, this is flawed thinking:

I still tried to use the “old knowledge” to link to what was brought up and discussed. I started making a lot of assumptions and sometimes oversimplifying things rather than staying in reality. I could no longer understand the pain and challenges of developers. My inability to comprehend the complexity made me demanding, and I issued unreasonable expectations.

As you can see, technical and management skills go hand-in-hand.

You can’t manage a development team without understanding the nature of their work.

How would you help solve problems or pick the best course of action without software development knowledge?

And if you don’t keep up with the latest technologies, you might be adopting an old practice that would be detrimental to your team.

Indeed, a Wellingtone survey found that poorly trained project managers are the number one challenge most organizations face (and yes—that includes technical skills).

What are the largest project management challenges in your organization chart

Source: Workamajig

That’s why it’s crucial to set aside some time on your schedule to read up on the latest technologies.

You can ask your team what tools they currently rely on or would like to use, then delve deeper into learning about them.

Your developers would also be a good source of information concerning the latest trends in technology.

You can also attend workshops and seminars to sharpen your skills if you’re serious enough.

Certification can also be a good way to solidify that knowledge and have proof of your competence.

Refusing to delegate your work

Delegation is a manager’s most effective tool to streamline a project. But you’d be surprised how few leads do this well, or at all.

Many managers have trouble trusting others to produce great work, so they do it themselves instead. This is especially prevalent with project managers who were once developers.

Some have what is called a self-enhancement bias. They believe they’re better than others and want to take the credit.

Conversely, others lack self-confidence and fear that a talented developer will upstage them.

Whatever the reason, a lack of delegation means a manager won’t have time to focus on their true responsibility—managing the team.

It helps to look back at the real benefit of delegation. As Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer puts it:

Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.

So, how can you learn to delegate more effectively?

Here are some useful tips:

How to Delegate Effectively

Source: Dir Journal

One important habit to get into is allowing room for failure.

When you delegate, there’s no guarantee that the work will be 100% what you expected. People make mistakes—it’s only human nature.

As a manager, your role is to create room to correct and maybe even learn from them.

Of course, this assumes that you’ve taken the time to hire a competent and professional team. If you want to learn more about this topic, read our article here.

Failing to give the development team enough context

Whenever you assign tasks to your team, providing context is important. Failure to do this is a big disservice to your project.

That’s because people work best and are more inspired when they know why they’re doing what they’re doing. It also gives them a sense of ownership of their work and prevents them from feeling like mere cogs in a machine.

In his book, Start With Why, author Simon Sinek explains this quite well with this diagram:

The Importance of knowing your Why heres ours...

Source: Graeme Armstrong | Linkedin

Managers usually only give the what of a task—”make the app 30% faster” or “change the colors of UI.” Such instructions are largely uninspiring and boring.

But try adding a why behind it.

Let’s make this app 30% faster so that our users can use it right away. This could make them less frustrated and have a better experience.

It makes a world of difference, doesn’t it?

The best way to give your developers more context is to involve them in relevant meetings.

For example, when brainstorming the features of a new app project, encourage all team members to sit in.

Better yet, ask them to participate and pitch in their ideas. There’s nothing more empowering to a developer than working on an idea they contributed themselves.

Also, whenever assigning members to a task, try giving as much relevant information as possible.

Explain why their task is important, how it can contribute to the project, and what would happen if it failed.

Micromanaging the development team

We already discussed the importance of delegation in a previous section.

But while some managers don’t have a problem delegating a task, they find it hard not to micromanage their developers. This behavior is just as damaging.

When you tell developers exactly how they must do their job, you rob them of ownership. It could also demotivate your team, burn them out, or even get them to resign.

And the sad bit is that micromanagement is surprisingly prevalent:

micromanagement statistics 2023

Source: Joblu

On a larger scale, micromanagement can hinder your app development. That’s because the entire thing relies on you. So if you slow down and stop, the project does too.

Admittedly, balancing between micromanagement and autonomy is a tricky task. But one approach that could help is a regular reporting system.

For example, you can have daily 15-minute meetings to catch up on what everyone’s doing.

This enables you to gauge everyone’s progress and (if needed) give advice or help to those struggling.

If you’re prone to micromanagement and perfectionism, make an effort to adopt a more positive leadership approach that fits in with your team.

In the book Leadership That Gets Results, author Daniel Goleman reveals several you can choose from:

leadership approach that fits in with your team

Source: CEO World

But all these strategies won’t work if you don’t put trust as the foundation.

You need to trust yourself that you hired the right people and trust your team members that they have enough skills to get the job done.

Focusing on productivity over quality

Productivity is an often abused word these days. Most managers think that if a team is always working, they’re doing something right.

That’s not the case at all. It’s possible to be productive on the wrong things, which will only speed up project failure.

Thus, focusing on productivity over anything else is dangerous, and it will likely quickly burn out your team.

In fact, putting in more working hours is actually hurting productivity, as this chart shows:

A graph of the productivity when working overtime

Source: Philippe Bourgau

Now, we’re not saying that improving productivity is bad. It isn’t.

Our point is that increasing productivity should not be done at the cost of your developers’ well-being and the quality of the product.

The best way to do this is not to increase, but to maximize each hour worked.

For example, you could help your developers get into a flow state where they’re mentally immersed in their work.

This could help them produce better output in a shorter span without the risk of burnout. A win-win!

You can introduce flow states by minimizing distractions, such as unnecessary meetings throughout the day.

You can also keep the office environment quiet and conducive to focused work.

Productivity level chart

Source: Actitime

You can also adopt a software development methodology that prioritizes both productivity and quality.

In our opinion, the Agile methodology is great for this purpose. Thanks to smaller iterations, developers are forced to focus their energies quickly, thereby giving short bursts of productivity.

Ignoring the importance of giving feedback

Giving feedback is one of the most effective management tools in your arsenal, so you need to use it well.

However, some managers don’t do this enough. Some are afraid it will hurt the morale of the developers. Others fear it will lead to conflict or aggression.

Indeed, a Harvard Business Review study concluded that 37% of managers are uncomfortable with giving feedback.

employee feedback

Source: Semos Cloud

However, if you don’t give enough feedback, you’re limiting your developers’ growth. They won’t be aware of their mistakes and, therefore, won’t be able to improve.

In the long run, this will affect the quality of their work.

So, what are some tips on giving feedback?

First, it’s best to give feedback one-on-one and face-to-face. This avoids putting the person on the defensive and gives them room to process your feedback.

As a manager, your job is to make them feel relaxed during the session.

You should also pair the feedback with suggestions or possible courses of action. This shows the person that you’re not just nitpicking but are serious about helping them improve and grow.

But the best strategy is to balance positive feedback with constructive input. Let’s discuss that next.

Neglecting to celebrate the small wins

Celebrating small wins and recognizing developers’ achievements is a fantastic way to raise their morale. So, you shouldn’t be stingy with praise when appropriate.

And while it’s best to give feedback privately, the opposite is true with praises. They’re best doled out in public, as recognition from peers is a big confidence booster.

Plus, it also inspires other members to strive as well.

As the great Dale Carnegie put it:

People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise, and rewards.

In the long run, celebrating small wins can also bring tangible benefits for the project and organization, such as:

celebrating small wins stat

Source: Spring Works

Better yet, consider having a proper recognition program. Words are great, but actual perks and benefits have a greater impact on morale and productivity.

Monetary incentives are the easiest. You can implement a tiered structure where the staff gets bonuses for achieving small wins or exhibiting positive behavior.

Or you can offer experiential rewards such as hotel stays or spa sessions.

But when doing this, it’s important to have clear guidelines.

You don’t want to be seen as biased and favoring certain team members—that would be the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.

What’s the best way to avoid these mistakes?

The best way to make sure you don’t make these common management mistakes is to hire the right team.

A development team with the right skills, work ethics, and communication skills will be far easier to manage. And maybe you won’t commit as many of the mistakes listed in this article.

But if you’re struggling to find the right team, why not consider DECODE?

With dozens of successful projects under our belt and 70+ talented professionals in our team, we think we have what it takes to make your next project a winner.

Interested? Get in touch with us today, and let’s talk.

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Written by

Marin Luetic

Head of Partnerships

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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