TMCnet Feature
January 11, 2022

3 Ways to Boost Collaboration in Your Software Development Team



Think back to the group projects you worked on in high school or college. The team’s success depended on everyone pulling their weight and communicating effectively throughout the project. Software developers work under similar demands and circumstances, but the stakes are notably higher. Developers face more than a bad grade when software projects fail to meet quality standards or budget and time constraints. 



Potential loss of business, reputation, and morale aside, developers also deal with the challenges of managing multiple projects at once. Good teamwork involves much more than check-in meetings and emails, given a project’s numerous details. Groups need tools, workflows, and processes to keep everything together. This article discusses ways to raise the collaboration bar among your software developers. 

1. Centralize Project Information and Tracking

A surefire way to knock a project off track is by failing to provide transparency. It’s not a good sign when developers wonder what they should do or whether it’s OK to proceed. Although some team members will reach out to leadership or peers to figure out what’s next, this can create problems. Information and communication become fragmented, leading to further confusion and potential animosity and division.

A critical part of a project leader’s role is to provide direction. Without project management tools, it’s hard to centralize assignment information and deliverables. When teams rely on emails and phone calls to keep things moving, something or someone will get left behind. Project management software allows everyone to see and give feedback on deliverables, ask for help, and track every detail.

Communication features also facilitate group collaboration, including mapping out a project’s timeline, reviewing user feedback, and brainstorming solutions. If some developers work remotely or have different schedules, centralized tools let them pick up where others left off. Such tools also bring the efforts of external contractors and internal software teams together on assignments.

2. Define Workflows, Project Roles, and Procedures

Encouraging and developing team cohesion starts with a common purpose, objective, or vision. In traditional command-and-control cultures, it’s the leader who determines the group’s goals and hands them down. However, this approach doesn’t always promote collaboration among employees who must work in sync to be successful.

The opposite of top-down leadership is the bottom-up approach, where staff members become active participants in decisions and goal setting. Democratized decision-making processes can promote and influence team collaboration. Developers get to shape the direction of a project and point out details management might miss. Employees also get to exercise more control over their work and feel more personally invested in the outcome.

It can be beneficial to use a combination of top-down and bottom-up leadership styles. One of the risks of the bottom-up approach is role ambiguity, where there aren’t distinct lines of authority and responsibility. Role ambiguity and conflict can happen when clearly defined work processes, project roles, and procedures are lacking.

Role ambiguity, in particular, harms individual and group performance. When contributors aren’t sure where they fit in, they’re at risk of becoming dissatisfied with the job, co-workers, and supervisors. Employees start to disconnect from the team, reduce their collaborative efforts, or stop contributing altogether. It’s a good idea to involve developers in decisions that impact their work on a project. However, it’s up to you to set clear expectations for processes, deliverables, and individual roles.  

3. Make Time for Review and Feedback

With project management software, it’s easy to give real-time suggestions on milestones or details within a string of code. Yet the fast-paced nature of software development and working on multiple endeavors can make it difficult to provide comprehensive feedback. Taking a step back at the end of each project to review what worked and what didn’t helps prevent future missteps.

Going over learned lessons identifies strengths and weaknesses in processes, documentation, methods, and tools. Reviewing a project’s overall ups and downs can also promote future collaboration by rallying the group around a common cause. Be sure, however, to approach the review and feedback process with an understanding that it’s about improving procedures. Without this baseline, feedback sessions might turn into a series of personal attacks or negative comments about work styles.

Strong real-time moderation is one way to avoid this. Another way is to ask each team member to submit their feedback list separately. Then you can filter those comments to set the review session’s agenda.

Besides review sessions, try working with each developer individually on portions of a project. Team members can also do this with peers to overcome coding or programming challenges. An experienced developer could work with another member who’s new to the group. As employees complete tasks together, they can exchange ideas and suggestions. Those who are new will learn the ropes, while senior developers will reinforce what they know and develop mentoring skills.  

Bringing It All Together

When teams aren’t cooperative and lack solidarity, it’s frustrating for everyone involved. Project managers can feel helpless as they lose control and make multiple attempts to glue everything back together. While building a collaborative culture isn’t a one-and-done process, implementing a few tools and methods will get you there.

For any software development team, project management software is a must. But the right tools will only help your group collaborate successfully if they have solid leadership and cooperation principles behind them. Establish and communicate well-defined roles and workflows and encourage transparent feedback on projects’ successes and shortcomings. By bringing the development team together to solve common problems and achieve group objectives, cohesiveness and collaboration can take hold.



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