While the software development process often requires experts specializing in certain sub-disciplines to work on specific features, software development collaboration is way more potent than it may seem. Up to 85% of developers already use source code collaboration tools like GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket.
And as consumer demands evolve and organizations pursue agility by expediting quality assurance and other tasks for faster delivery, collaboration becomes even more vital to ensuring that quality isn't compromised.
With that in mind, you might be curious about the relevance of software development collaboration and how your organization’s unique business needs can be met by applying it. We are going to break down the concept of software development collaboration, its benefits, and the best way to go about it.
What Is Software Development Collaboration?
This is basically a scenario in which one or more members of a software development team work together to complete a specific task or collection of tasks. Depending on the complexity of the task, the team members collaborating may or may not be from the same discipline.
Additionally, Software Development Collaboration isn’t restricted to coding. It can also include other less technical tasks like planning the process of correcting software defects and consulting specialists in the industry you’re building software for.
In fact, technical documentation is a key part of software development collaboration. It details the manner in which the software product is supposed to work including all the libraries, Application Programming Interface (API) routes and endpoints, Software Development Kits (SDKs), integrations and other resources needed.
Through collaboration, information that is known to disparate contributors in the software development lifecycle can be merged into a more comprehensible document that keeps developers and all other stakeholders on the same page.
And beyond detailing internal development processes and requirements, documentation can help end-users and marketing teams too.
Why Is Software Development Collaboration Important?
- Firstly, software development collaboration enables an organization to achieve consensus on the goals to be achieved and what is required to achieve them. This may seem like something that’s ironed out at the start and doesn’t need revisiting, but the reality is far from that.
From time to time, changes and new features will be requested, the funds available for the project could fluctuate, and market forces could create the need for earlier releases. Collaboration helps ensure that all stakeholders are eventually in agreement on the changes to be prioritized with respect to the time and money needed.
It also limits the chances of having features that do not coexist harmoniously, making the product slower or bulkier and generally less stable.
- Secondly, software development collaboration can increase efficiency within development teams. Some development tasks are pretty straightforward but still large in nature and require plenty of man-hours.
According to a 2020 Forrester survey, employees stand to save 5-10% of their time when they use collaboration tools. Having two or more people collaborating on the task can help to move it along faster, especially for a startup that still has a very small team
- Thirdly, software collaboration can minimize errors and produce a more balanced mix of ingenious ideas and other relevant insights. With more people working on a particular feature, there’s a greater chance that one person will spot their teammate’s coding mistakes and they’ll be corrected before testing.
Another team member may also suggest a shorter or less risky way to embed certain functionality into the product. This could improve the final results, making for a more lightweight product with a resonant user experience.
- In the case of broader collaboration, software development organizations are more likely to deliver a product that solves the user’s greatest problems in the manner they prefer. For example, if you’re creating a point-of-sale terminal SaaS product, there might be contention over how many individual customer orders it should be able to log at a time.
With the expertise of someone in the field of accounting, someone who has been a cashier or supervised cashiers, you’ll know the scenarios you need to cater to. They can tell you how often they have to put one shopper’s order on hold as they process another shopper’s goods.
This way, you’ll know whether to give the software product this capability and also how many orders it should be able to put on hold. The same goes for other operational details like the variation in user permissions for accessing and altering records.
For those with cross-platform dreams for the apps they design, collaborating with iOS and Microsoft programming experts could help them achieve this goal. If a developer's software engineering prowess is largely in one OS, it'd be wise not to rely on them solely to deliver a consistent user experience across different platforms.
You're better off having them collaborate with someone who's an expert in another OS that you're also building for. This mentality extends to open source software too. If internal collaboration hits a ceiling, you can learn from what other people are doing with the shared source code and improve the product faster.
Best Practices for Software Development Collaboration
There are various minor actions you can take repeatedly to encourage software development collaboration like sharing a workspace, but let’s look at the five core practices without which you’ll likely fail:
Team members who communicate openly with each other and with the senior leaders reduce the number of scenarios where people have conflicting intentions. If a leader requests for changes, the developers need access to all the relevant details from the original request.
This helps them let the leaders know what should be prioritized and what will need more time irrespective of what is being demanded first. By doing so, there’ll be no surprises if a tweak on a certain feature is completed before some other functions are incorporated into the product.
Open communication also builds trust since people get into meetings knowing that their counterparts aren’t withholding opinions on what they think is the right approach to building a specific component.
And in the cases where a developer is revising code from another developer, it’ll be easier for them to get to single out areas that need their contribution if they’ve been thoroughly briefed.
Organizations should institute procedures that enable asynchronous communication without team members missing time-sensitive communication. Every developer should know who to speak to before making changes or which medium they should check for any additional instructions before they start.
This can all be made easier with communication tools like Slack which enable users to send messages and share files in topic-specific channels. Identify exercises that require a more interactive environment, then secure tools that offer presentation and video conferencing features so that team members can explain their solutions more naturally.
Choose The Right Tools
When choosing the right tools for software development collaboration, you have to look at various processes and the output they generate. If you’re working with a programming language, find out how easy it is to track changes from within that tool.
What properties are recorded and which ones have to be manually laid out by the developer elsewhere? In what formats are its files produced and how easy is it to review these files in other environments.
Once you’re aware of the communication or comprehension gap between what a tool produces and how that information has to be handled, you can then move on to other organizational details.
The other major consideration to keep in mind when selecting tools is the extent to which they mirror existing communication regimes and enhance them. Let’s say there’s usually a delay between the time a change is made to a piece of code and the time when other concerned parties are made aware.
It would be prudent to pick a tool that has features like automatic notifications sent to a user’s various inboxes. Aside from automation, you can also benefit from tools that have built-in analytics. Such features enable you to observe team member activity in near real-time and compare it to the outcome.
You’ll be able to see how long it took someone to complete their part in an approval process and whether the exchange of more messages helped get a task cleared faster. The tool will give you unprecedented visibility into the state of communication within the organization.
You’re always in the know of who has received a message and who hasn’t, who is yet to put out a message or share some required resources and a lot more. From Podio to Airtable, Wrike, Trello and Redbooth, there are numerous project management tools and other team collaboration solutions out there.
This is why it’s crucial to take note of organization attributes like the number of remote workers on a project and their availability throughout the week. This could help you select a tool that fully facilitates your workforce’s approach to a software development project.
To learn more about the ideal collaboration software for your organization, check out our curated list of the best team collaboration software.
Document Relevant Activities
One mistake that many software developers make is to assume that everyone finds their approach to work and subsequent work product coherent. However, this isn’t always the case and when two or more people are working on a specific product component, they should be able to follow and understand each other’s actions with minimal inquiries.
A good way to achieve this is through creating comprehensive documents that clearly lay out every action taken when performing a task. Luckily, some software products automatically generate logs and other pieces of information regarding what’s taking place within their environment.
But in cases where this isn’t possible, developers need to write down all the notable discoveries and changes made, along with any instance of veering away from the normal/planned approach to feature development.
They should also create more specialized docs to record very technical and statistical information on how the product is behaving, the context within which it has been designed, and the parameters within which it is being run.
These documents help new contributors to easily pick up where the previous person stopped or reuse certain resources without first scrutinizing the entire body of work afresh. The documentation should also be securely stored and made accessible to all concerned parties to achieve a single source of truth.
They should also be regularly updated to reflect changes in work product and have pointers to other related documents to simplify code management, and more specifically, version control. The advent of Wikis has made such efforts much easier, especially the part of sharing information.
Keep in mind that proper documentation isn't all about recording what's happening. Create a roadmap to serve as a guide on where you're going and what you're trying to deliver. This will serve as a point of reference when trying to draw conclusions from documentation of previous and ongoing tasks.
It can help you determine whether you're on track or behind schedule. Documentation can also simplify task management since you'll have clear records of who's to work on what, and who's to review it, and consequently, what changes should be made.
Thanks to tools like Jira and Confluence, you can create a knowledge base that converges all the information that team members need in one place.
Shorten The Feedback Loop
For a sizable team of developers to collaborate effectively, feedback has to move fast throughout the development lifecycle. This all starts with ascertaining the areas where you may need other members’ opinions. It shouldn’t just be about presenting work product to a colleague and asking them to tell you what they think about the whole thing.
Team members should be a little more targeted about the areas of concern when soliciting feedback. Furthermore, those who have been asked to critique the work should do so quickly and ensure they get the message to the right recipient on time. This will in turn encourage continuous integration and delivery.
Efforts like pair programming and code reviews go a long way in speeding up the feedback process, but they aren’t always that way by nature. Participants have to go in with these three important questions; What am I trying to learn? Who might be able to offer advice? How am I expected to respond once given feedback?
To streamline the feedback process, it helps to involve every potential participant as early as possible. Just like you can inform consumers that an upgrade will be available on one operating system before another, you should also inform contributors about the progress so far, and the point at which their input will be needed.
To achieve effective collaboration, the model of project management should serve as an example. Leaders must show that they are willing to listen to their subordinates, even when their contributions sound like wishful thinking that is oblivious to financial constraints and other challenges.
On top of listening, they need to identify all the bottlenecks that slow down the team’s response to requests. They should revisit every approval procedure and build a new workflow that eliminates the need to secure permission in cases where there’s minimal risk involved and the customer value realized is negligible.
Leaders need to work with their team members to find out which low-level decisions are easy to reverse, and which ones would leave the organization in a deeper hole if rushed. If leaders show their subordinates that they are willing to listen to them, the team members will be more likely to listen to each other too.
Flexible leadership is also particularly important for organizations whose collaborative efforts rely on a methodology related to DevOps or agile software development. This is because they could find themselves having to transition into product owners to remain relevant.
Collaborative software development requires both organizational and technical skills. There are parts of it that are about getting along with people, and other parts that are about using the right tools effectively.
The global online collaboration market is projected to increase from $12.4 billion in 2019 to $13.5 billion in 2024 and software development won’t be exempt from the impact of this trend. This is why you should be looking into the best software development collaboration solutions for your organization, which you can find in this SSR guide.