How to make software engineering teams 50% more effective

Gartner Australasia Pty Ltd

By Laura Starita
Friday, 03 September, 2021

How to make software engineering teams 50% more effective

High-performing software engineering teams deliver 53% better outcomes in employee experience and productivity compared with low-performing teams.

This is according to the 2020 Gartner Software Engineering Team Effectiveness Survey, which reveals the factors that determine how effective software engineering teams are at delivering on goals for stakeholder value and responsiveness. But what tactics account for this improvement?

Many software engineering leaders believe that the reporting line for a team member or their physical location determine success, but our study found that neither have an impact.

Leaders are also prone to credit agile, DevOps and automation for high performance. Yet agile and DevOps are so widely adopted that they provide little differentiation. Software engineering leaders must look elsewhere for opportunities to improve.

They can find those opportunities with tactics that drive autonomy and accountability for software engineering teams. When leaders allow teams to shape engineering standards, promote critical skills, and act as servant leaders to remove roadblocks and liaise with stakeholders, their teams produce superior results. 

Empower teams to shape standards

Software engineering standards are important for reducing risk, cost and complexity. If they’re too restrictive, however, they can prevent teams from achieving broader business objectives. To optimise the benefits and limit the restrictions, software engineering teams must take part in creating standards that work best for them. The result makes them 23% more effective than their counterparts who don’t participate in standard-setting. Currently, only 41% of software engineering teams are involved.

To shape standards, teams should gather input from across the software engineering organisation, evolve the standards as technology and business needs change, and review and provide recommendations to deal with situations where standards don’t fit. Take care to address user experience, architecture, database design and integration standards, as these issues exert strong influence over team effectiveness.

Promote critical skills

Software engineering leaders who ensure teams have the critical skills and competencies they need to achieve their objectives independently eliminate delays and improve outcomes. Since skills needs are always changing, good software engineering leaders prioritise the skills and competencies that enable teams to successfully perform their day-to-day workflows. At the same time, they encourage team member versatility so that anyone is capable of contributing to a variety of activities. Gartner’s study shows that teams with versatile members are 18% more effective than teams made up of specialists.

One way to develop versatility is to encourage your team to take on new roles that allow them to develop skills outside their current area of expertise. Teams with members who do this are 11% more effective.

Practice servant leadership

When a variety of team members are forced to spend time coordinating activities or fulfilling administrative responsibilities, it takes away from value-adding activities. Teams whose leaders, ie, scrum masters and managers, take on those activities, in contrast are more effective. When leaders identify and resolve roadblocks, for example, their teams are 16% more effective. Likewise, when leaders take on coordination with stakeholders like project managers or governance partners, they up team effectiveness by another 11%.

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