The Role of Development Teams in Startups

Among the many departments that make companies work, the Tech Department has a special role. It is the department in charge of execution and deserves special attention.

After working in a few startups, you realize how they share some basic structures and behaviors. Some of them positive, some of them not so much. In most of the startups, you will find teams dedicated to Development, Design, Product Management, Marketing, Social Media, SEO, Finance, Human Resources, etc.

Among those, the Development team deserves a special consideration. It is the team in charge of execution. Coding, releasing apps, and being ‘on call’ when something goes wrong at 3.30am on weekends, all are part of the Development team work.

Usually, every team in the company creates requests: a new pop-up for Marketing, those keywords for SEO, adjust the Social Media share buttons, those 3 pixels here and there for design, and that new big feature from the Product Management team. The Product Manager gets those requests in the shape of tickets (or tasks or whatever you call it), prioritize them, and, ideally, negotiates with the Development team what will be done next.

All good? I think you missed it.

Every team has a different point of view. Every team tries to improve or fix what, in their point of view, should be improved or is broken. That is good. But, usually, the Development team tickets either don’t exist or get under-prioritized.

That is the origin of a lot of problems: technical debt, hard-to-maintain code, low developers morale…

When Marketing team requests a new pop-up is because they want to increase the number of subscribers.
When SEO team requests for some adjustments is because they expect to increase the organic traffic.
When Design team requests that 3-pixel move is because it will improve the usability of the site.

The developers know what is inside the app. Which parts are not running fast enough, which parts need to be updated, and which parts might be problematic in a not-so-far future.

The Development team is usually treated like an execution-only team. But we should take their opinion into the planning. When we ignore them, we are increasing the technical debt and the chances of the application to go down from time to time.

Borrowed this image from kumnitcreative.com

What’s the solution?

Every department sees itself as irreplaceable. Everyone thinks the company would simply disappear if they are not there. Well, it is not like that. In a startup, every piece is important. It doesn’t matter how good your product is if you don’t reach users. It doesn’t matter how many users you reach if you are not solving a problem. And it doesn’t matter how well you solve a problem and how many people you bring in if your application is down.

Avoid the execution-only treatment. The Development Team has a knowledge that nobody else has inside the company. Use it. Make your machinery work better. You, most likely, have a few great engineers working with you. Let them do a great job.

Encourage your Development Team to speak up. Invite them to join the planning meetings. Push them to create tickets they think are needed. And include their thoughts into the roadmap. Doing some maintenance from time to time can bring a lot of benefits and make everything work better in the long-term.

Keep the balance. No code is perfect. No infrastructure is 100% reliable. Neither marketing campaign is. Nor SEO strategy. However, giving a well-deserved special treatment to the Development team will help to improve your tech, improve its morale, and, at the end, to have a more reliable easier-to-maintain fast-paced project.


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