How to Manage a Team of Developers: 5 Proven Strategies

Anyone who worked with developers knows that managing a software team is tricky. Even though software tasks are typically clearly defined, at the end of the day team leaders are dealing with a group of people. A group of very knowledgeable people each with other own traits and motivations. 

No wonder more than half of business and IT executives anticipate their software projects to fail: management failure to interact with developers is a major contributor to many setbacks.

But why managing developers can be so challenging? Why can’t you simply assign tasks, establish deadlines and watch smart people do their job? Because the issues that hamper effective software development often lie deeper than a failure to follow instructions. 

are all can be major factors leading to a failed software development project. In fact, these issues can sabotage any leadership effort even before it takes a particular form. 

In this article, we cover how to successfully manage a team of developers and what strategies can help managers achieve peak performance within software teams. 

Establish Ongoing Communication and Feedback

A well-established communication is vital for any effective management as it allows people to express their progress, collaborate, or voice concerns and issues. But for software development teams a proper communication is paramount for two more reasons. 

  • Many development teams are remote and distributed. Effective communication in remote teams is a challenge on its own. Remote managers often struggle with picking up clues on whether their leadership is efficient because they don’t interact with their subordinates face-to-face.   
  • Development teams can be negatively affected by lack of communication as by an abundance of it. 
  • Too many meetings can give managers a more-or-less clear idea of what’s going on but will ruin developers’ flow and focus. Imagine a developer who starts their day with a 1-hour report meeting where they have to spend 5 minutes talking about their progress and the remaining 55 minutes listening to the others. Then they have to spend 30 more minutes to pull their ideas in order and try to get some work done before dinner. A productive day doesn’t exactly look like that. 
  • Too few meetings can also be a problem. Too few meetings will provide developers with space and time they need to work but may result in misinterpretation or misadjusted priorities. Simply put, without enough guidance from managers developers may work on the wrong tasks in the wrong order. 

That’s why you need to establish balanced and effective communication between managers and developers without causing productivity issues on both sides. There’s no once clear solution for every team, so start with identifying whether you have a surplus or lack of communication and fix accordingly. 

How to fix lack of communication in your development team: 

  • Encourage weekly townhalls and meetups. Non-formal meetings between team members and managers help developers feel more comfortable when reaching out to their leaders on their own’s initiative. 
  • Monthly and one-on-one. One-on-one sessions serve many crucial purposes that we’ll cover later, but one of them is establishing ongoing and transparent communication between devs and their team leaders. 
  • Implement Agile frameworks. With its rigid, but balanced set of meetings, Scrum can fix any communication issues within a development team as long as you’re implementing the framework properly
  • Use Geekbot. Hundreds of software teams use Geekbot to conduct asynchronous daily meetings directly in Slack. With Geekbot, developers don’t have to spend hours in long-winded meetings and instead can type in their responses directly in Slack for managers to review later.

Here’s how to use Geekbot to conduct short and to-the-point asynchronous meetings with developers directly in Slack or MS Teams:

  1. Open Geekbot dashboard and choose a meeting template, e.g. “Daily Standup”:
  2. Choose when you want your development team member to receive standup questions in Slack [and who will receive them]:

    Tip: Questions can be sent according to the user’s local time. This is especially useful for teams distributed over several time zones so that everyone can answer questions at the same time of day.
  3. Your team members will be notified by Geekbot at the scheduled time to answer standard standup questions. If you need more questions, you can add them or edit the standard ones.
  4. Once everyone has answered the daily standup questions, Geekbot will automatically organize the responses and send them to any Slack or MS Teams channel you choose. You can view everyone’s answers, follow up with Slack threads, and review any previous responses.
Slack broadcast channel

The opposite issue of “too much communication” equally hurts the developer’s performance and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

How to fix over the top communication with developers: 

  • Reduce the number of meetings in the morning. Morning status meetings are a productivity-killer. Get rid of them or turn them into asynchronous using Geekbot. 
  • Review the efficiency of your meetings. Put together a list of all meetings you’ve conducted with developers during the last week. Scale the meetings in terms of their efficiency from “0” or “I don’t remember what we discussed” to “10” or “crucial” and then ask your developers to do the same anonymously. Get rid of all low-efficiency meetings.
  • Use Geekbot. Geekbot was developed to solve the problem of useless numerous meetings as it turns any 30+ minute meeting into a 1-minute one while preserving its efficiency and without interrupting developers from their work. 

Follow Agile Methodology and Frameworks

Agile methodology is the backbone of many software projects. Frameworks such as Scrum were built by developers for developers, and address many problems that waterfall-type software projects used to have: low flexibility, too much red tape, low transparency, and inefficient processes. 

Although flexibility is one of the core values in Agile methodology, some teams take this flexibility too far. 

Scrum, one of the most common agile frameworks, consists of meetings and ceremonies with clearly established structure and guidelines, yet some managers start to “adapt” Scrum ceremonies to their needs. 

Here are some of the common changes that negatively affect the efficiency of Scrum and Agile:

  • Daily stand-ups are being turned into status meetings
  • Daily stand-ups are becoming long meetings with no clear focus
  • Retrospectives are not being conducted regularly or at all
  • New tasks are being added in the middle of the sprint
  • Scrum Master is not present or worse, the manager promotes themselves as a Scrum Master

The result of these adjustments is a fake agile environment that benefits neither developers nor management. For example, removing retrospectives hinders the software team’s ability to continuously improve, whereas turning daily stand-ups into status meetings or micromanagement sessions leads to disengaged developers, lower trust towards management, and reduced team ability to self-organize and collaborate. 

All the mentioned issues affect relationships between developers and managers and can completely undermine the benefits of practicing Agile. In the worst-case scenario, you get a pseudo-agile development team that neither improves nor self-organizes while having major distrust towards management.

Here’s how to surface and fix pseudo-agile processes in a development team:

  • Learn more about Scrum ceremonies and their purpose. No random meetings, each has its purpose. Compare to what you’re doing now. 
  • Learn about common fake-agile mindsets and see if that applies to your team
  • Talk to your developers and ask what you could do better (anonymously in a low-trust environment). Retros are boring? Daily standup meetings in the morning are bad?
  • Hire an experienced Scrum Master

Spot Issues Quickly

It’s hard to predict what exactly will undermine your ability to manage developers effectively. But one thing is certain: there can be so a plethora of work-disrupting issues.

Sometimes the issues relate directly to the development process, for example, a reluctance of a developer to use a certain tool or conflicting priorities. Other times the root cause of issues will be buried deeper, affecting many facets of a developer’s work. 

In one company, there was a long but subtle struggle between developers who prefer new Agile methodology over those who wanted to leave everything as it was. Another company, after the rapid transition to remote operation, found its developers struggling to collaborate without regular face-to-face meetings. 

Each of these issues can disrupt your leadership efficiency. Worse yet, some of the issues are difficult to detect.

The good news is that you can establish effective processes to resurface all kinds of issues within your team at once.  

  • Run regular one-on-one sessions. Ongoing 1-on-1 sessions with developers offer many benefits for both managers and developers: increased mutual trust, higher performance, and team alignment. Moreover, they help managers to spot any problems early, try solutions, and track progress between sessions.

    If you struggle to make your 1-on-1 sessions stick or feel like they are taking up too much time, check out how our Geekbot 1-on-1 feature helps you save time and facilitate consistent and extremely efficient 1-on-1s with your developers.
  • Conduct well-being surveys. Well-being surveys are like regular health checks for your team. When conducted properly, they allow you to detect team-affecting issues regularly and at scale.

    The best part is that you can conduct these meetings asynchronous and on autopilot. With our well-being templates, you’ll regularly have feedback from every developer on your team without wasting any time, yours or theirs.
  • Implement retrospectives. Retrospectives are one of the pivotal Scrum ceremonies that were designed to help the agile teams continuously improve their performance and address any issues that affect their productivity.
    Conducting regular retrospectives naturally leads to solving issues that prevent effective management as long as your retrospectives are focused and regular.

    A typical retrospective meeting takes at least one hour per week, but if you struggle finding that much time check out for you can run asynchronous retrospectives directly in Slack.

Facilitate Culture of Learning and Trust

Naturally, some of your developers will know more than others and sometimes such a knowledge gap can make a manager’s job harder.

Consider a scenario when there’s only one developer on a team who knows how to do a certain task and is reluctant to teach others. Managers start being dependent on this person and that may produce a very unhealthy working relationship. Or imagine when a new developer learns a new trendy framework and doesn’t want to learn a legacy software that your company operates, especially by themselves.

These and similar issues can be solved by facilitating a culture of learning and trust in your team. Learning and trust often go hand in hand, especially in the development industry: there’s always something to be learned from fellow engineers and such a learning experience naturally leads to a higher level of trust in software teams. Teams with high levels of trust naturally enjoy high levels of collaboration and allow managers to set tasks without being afraid that someone on their team can’t or won’t handle them as engineers will eagerly help each other or learn something new. 

Given that trust, learning, collaboration, and management go hand in hand, here are the tips that will help you improve all at once:

  • Promote open communication. No topic, be it a criticism of a legacy platform, or frustration with too many meetings, should be taboo on your team. Let your team voice their opinions openly and solve the underlying issues. In teams with a low-trust environment consider using anonymous surveys to encourage honesty.
  • Encourage new knowledge. Organize webinars with established professionals in your industry, hire experts who can help address specific problems your team struggles with while sharing their knowledge, greenlight small projects that use new and experimental technology, facilitate pair programming. The list goes on. 
  • Watch out for criticism. There’s a big difference between criticizing someone’s code and criticizing someone. The former leads to code improvement and optimization, the latter to low trust and defensiveness. Promote among your developer the notion “I am not my code” and quickly resolve situations when developers feel attacked for some reason.
  • Surface low-trust issues with custom surveys. Although trust issues in teams can be hard to pinpoint, questions such as “When was the last time you helped someone on your team?” or “Would you ask a manager to solve a workplace conflict” can give a pretty good idea of where you stand right now.

    Use Geekbot to create such surveys and automatically gather developers’ responses in Slack. Anonymously, if required.

Make Developer’s Life Easier

Most developers, at least those who chose their profession deliberately, love coding and solving complex problems and are very good at it. But non-technical tasks, routine tasks, and irrelevant tasks are not necessarily something they signed up for. When you assign too many such tasks to your developers they start losing motivation and energy, and that ultimately affects their main coding work. 

Managers have resources and opportunities to shield their developers and enhance the quality of their work. Here’s what you can do:

  • Handle non-development work. Protect developers from administrative tasks that are more valuable to you than them. If you need this excel sheet or report filled, consider outsourcing these to a virtual assistant. 
  • Reduce the number of meetings. The problem of too many meetings plague many modern teams and even managers themselves consider most of the meetings a failure. 
  • Automate recurring tasks. If your developers have to do the same thing every week that’s a good sign this process can be automated or outsourced. Your developers’ time can be spent more efficiently. 

If you want developers to perform at their peak potential, you need to obtain servant leadership mindset. 

The idea is not to force developers to do something they dislike, all while putting company interest before anything else. Instead, you help your developers produce their best work by removing obstacles and resolving challenges.

If your remote development team uses Slack or MS Teams, Geekbot will help you conduct efficient and fun asynchronous meetings, foster deeper collaboration, and save hours of developer’s work in the process.

Try our 10-member free version and join thousands of teams such as Github and Shopify who took their remote development performance to the next level with Geekbot!

Frequently asked questions

How do you manage a big development team?

To efficiently manage a large development team you need to break it into smaller functional teams and assign a team leader for each one. The goal of a team leader will be to organize the work of their team and help resolve both inside and outside issues that affect teams’ efficiency. In Scrum, such an approach is named Scrum of Scrums and proved to be useful in large enterprise settings.

How do you handle nonproductive developers?

To handle nonproductive developers you must first surface the underlying issues behind the lack of their productivity. Among the possible causes are toxic team relationships, lack of purpose, lack of communication, or weak work ethic. You can spot these issues by conducting regular 1-on-1 sessions and well-being surveys with your employees.

What makes a successful development team?

The hallmarks of a successful development team are a high level of trust and collaboration, transparent leadership, effective task completion, ongoing performance improvement, and the ability to quickly resolve issues that affect team’s productivity.

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