“Rails Converge at One Point”: 8 Key Roles in the Development Team
The IT team structure depends on the project, its complexity, goals and growth rates. However, there is a typical set, which is commonly enough to develop and launch a product.
Together with Nickolay Kliestov, the co-founder and CTO at ITExpert, we figured out the key roles and their responsibilities in a dev team. Nickolay has been dealing with recruiting for managerial positions for top tech companies in Ukraine for more than six years.
He advised and helped hire senior professionals for clients such as Naftogaz, Raiffeisen Bank, and Parimatch, as well as other product and outsourcing companies.
How Does a Project Development Team Differ From an Interest Group
According to ITExpert’s CTO, a group of software engineers with common interests could develop a product on their own… in a perfect world. Scrum postulates that, which sounds logical regardless of the methodology. Unfortunately, the reality is not ideal and managerial roles are essential for monitoring processes and guiding technical teams.
The roles of the Business Analyst and Product Manager in a tech team are also critical. Every product has its ultimate goal and needs ideological inspirers. These people define the development direction, help others understand the client’s requirements, and prioritize tasks.
Finally, we got to team leadership and coordination. Responsible figures are the Project Manager who sets tasks and makes decisions or the Scrum Master who inspires the team and helps colleagues solve issues yet doesn’t decide for the others. Scrum is extremely popular among dev teams now. Programmers are eager to negotiate and make decisions on their own.
All three management areas are united by the Delivery Manager or CTO who is responsible for the whole product and coordinates the work of various departments.”
Do Roles and Positions Differ?
In Agile teams, everyone has core responsibilities, and employees often tackle tasks for which they have enough expertise. However, the boundaries between roles are not clear — a programmer can write code and be a passionate QA engineer at the same time, as they care about the software quality.
Development Team: Key Roles
Technical roles are about the right choice of architecture, technologies, and tools — literally everything that makes the product meet the goals from the technical perspective.
Responsibilities of the Software Developer
The developer role is mandatory in an IT team, but the number of such employees and the need for relevant expertise depend on:
- the solution complexity (the higher it is, the more Middle+ specialists a team needs);
- technology stack.
For example, one software engineer can develop a simple program or service using cross-platform frameworks like Flutter or React Native. If the team works on a product for iOS and Android, involve specialists with the appropriate skills like SWIFT and Objective-C, Java and Kotli, etc. If you need to develop the backend, look for relevant programmers who woj with Node.js, Python or .NET.
QA Engineer Responsibilities (Manual and Automation)
Quality assurance engineer checks the product for bugs (errors), tests the User Scenario, approves that the product meets the terms of reference and works flawlessly on various devices.
Unlike Automation QA engineers, Manual testers don’t write autotests. They manually test particular features or UI elements that might be the weakest links. Also, manual testing doesn’t allow specialists to check specific product features, for example, it can’t be used for load testing to see if the product will withstand the influx of more than a million users.
As for QA Automation, people in this position need to understand the development peculiarities, be able to code and:
- have basic knowledge of technologies and programming languages;
- be able to work with the version control system (Git).
Some people believe that the higher the tech team level is, the less it needs a QA role. Basically, experienced coders make fewer mistakes, perform unit tests, and can find and fix bugs themselves. But this is only one of the opinions on the IT field.
Responsibilities of the UX/UI Designer
Designers are responsible for the interface and product usability. They understand the needs of the target audience and make websites and apps intuitive and easy to use. All in all, users need to navigate smoothly, place orders quickly, and immediately receive the necessary information.
If the team is launching or scaling a product, the following roles may appear:
- Product Designer. They conduct user research, gather focus groups, analyze market trends, digital marketing metrics and see how design makes products successful;
- Marketing Designer. They are responsible for user acquisition, create landing pages, banners, and fancy ads for socials.
The key challenge for any designer is to make both the customer and users love the product. A UX/UI professional should be keen on exploring user behavior psychology and applying test results in design (building CJMs, highlighting insights after jobs-to-be-done interviews, and forming personas). They also produce visual details from push notifications to error pop-ups and sounds.
Soft skills are no less important than hard ones. Critical thinking, good taste, espertise, and the ability to collaborate are must-haves for UX/UI experts. They might not know all the technical or business aspects of the product, yet for creating an outstanding interface and awesome user experience, one needs the knowledge and expertise of the entire team.
Team Coordination Roles: Project Manager and Scrum Master
These are people who help all developers move in the same direction and distribute tasks correctly to make teamwork as efficient as possible.
Responsibilities of the Project Manager
One backlog, 100 tasks and seven developers — to avoid a catastrophe, the Project manager selects a suitable methodology, prioritizes tasks, and helps the team achieve the desired result. They are responsible for the project, team, and risks. Note that Classic Scrum doesn’t include the PM position.
Choosing the right team coordination methodology (Scrum, Kanban, or Waterfall) is halfway to success. The other half is about setting up autonomous teamwork, establishing communication between stakeholders, and planning changes and deadlines using PMI, PMBOK or PRINCE2 methodologies.
The Project Manager also does these tasks:
- Monitors project risks to anticipate issues and pre-determine solutions;
- Outlines the scope of work for the tech team and forms a backlog based on the deadlines, budget, and expected quality;
- Collects the latest project statuses — work done and plans for the future;
- Works on current issues in communication with the team, customers and other stakeholders, updates documentation and revises plans.
Missed deadlines, overspending, and the lack of specialists on the project are the main risks in project management. For example, candidates on the market may want a higher salary than was allocated, specialists may quit at any time or get headhunted by competitors. All this hinders the project from being released.
Soft skills like emotional intelligence, abilities to listen, communicate and resolve conflicts are essential for the Project Manager. Communication makes up almost 80% of the PM’s job. Hard skills and technical background are also important, yet a PM doesn’t have to be the first know-it-all in a team.
Skills from the PMI talent triangle are must-haves for any PM:
- technical management (knowledge and skills related to a specific domain of project, program or portfolio management),
- leadership (knowledge and skills related to managing people),
- strategic and business management (knowledge and skills related to a specific area that allows a person to manage a team better).
Responsibilities of the Scrum Master
Scrum is one of the most popular Agile frameworks used by large technology corporations like Amazon, Netflix, Etsy, and Spotify.
Agile teams that use Scrum often have a separate role — the Scrum Master. Project Managers are mostly responsible for the product and workflows while Scrum Masters are in charge of Scrum rituals and artifacts — stand-ups, daily meetings and facilitation.
It is not necessary to make this role full-time, even if a team works according to the framework. For instance, at MacPaw, Scrum Master’s responsibilities are shared among the team members. What’s more, not everyone strictly follows the framework artifacts, many prefer to customize them. Finally, the result is what matters the most.
- leads Scrum and Scrumban teams using Agile methodology and Scrum or Kanban practices;
- takes part in team planning and prioritization, parts all the tasks into sprints;
- organizes Planning Poker or Scrum Poker for evaluating tasks in Agile teams of up to 50 people;
- holds meetings — sprint planning, daily meetings, demos and retrospectives;
- responds flexibly to changes without loss of quality and disruption of deadlines.
Knowledge of Agile frameworks, engineering, and product practices is paramount for the Scrum Master. As for soft skills, we need to mention systems thinking, coaching, planning skills, conflict management, and providing constructive feedback.
You don’t need to hire both a PM and SM. Sometimes PMs are hired for large projects with a stable hierarchy of IT specialists, where orders come from top to bottom and the business needs a specialist who will work with the product, tech team, and their Product Owner. However, this is not a common practice.
Hiring a Scrum Master is effective if the team is only starting to implement the methodology and the project is constantly changing. Teams that have hands-on experience with Scrum may appoint any member to this position.
Business Management Roles: Product Manager, Product Owner and Business Analyst
These are specialists who explain business points to the development team.
Product Manager Responsibilities
The Product Manager is responsible for the development and management of the product. This professional determines the strategy and users’ pain points and communicates with customers and the team. They are often responsible for the successful launch of the product on the market, its scaling and monetization. Startup founders commonly act as PMs.
The role is somewhere in between technology, design and people management, so the list of competencies is impressive. The main soft and hard skills are:
- analytical and critical thinking, as the product must be data-driven and hypotheses have to be constantly questioned;
- strategic thinking for creating a strategy, roadmaps and understanding of the project development vector;
- basic design, as making a quick mockup saves time on communication with designers and determines how quickly the feature will go live;
- communication skills for productive collaboration with developers, designers, marketers, data analysts, and other team members with different technology stacks, approaches and mindsets.
The Product Manager is responsible not only for the generation of features but for solving user problems. One wrong decision is enough to alienate most of the target audience from the product. Let’s take a look at McDonald’s example.
One day, the fast food chain launched a special offer — guests could make any burger they wanted, with any ingredients and sauces. The majority of customers just added bacon to the traditional Big Tasty. After that, McDonald’s released a new product — Big Tasty Bacon. The moral of the fable is that it’s risky to completely redesign a core product concept. Launching spin-offs is more beneficial. This won’t make customers churn and will help you acquire new audiences.
Product Owner Responsibilities
Agile framework implies a stand-alone Product Owner position. The role has a lot in common with the Product Manager. If you check the keyword “Product Owner” on job platforms, PM vacancies will appear and vice versa.
The Product Owner’s key responsibility is to make the product meet the customer’s expectations. Such a person analyzes user feedback, communicates with the team and nurtures comfortable working conditions.
They determine the mission and vision of the product, its value and features set, work with engineers and technologies, and are also in charge of introducing the project to the market. So, this person does everything to deliver the product while the PM is working on strategy, market research and communication with clients.
Duties of the Product Owner include:
- organization of work processes in the product development team;
- informing colleagues about client requests;
- sharing feedback about the backlog with the PM, working with Gantt charts;
- progress evaluation (control of implementation).
The need for a Product Owner often depends on Scrum implementation. For example, Amazon, Spotify and Atlassian do not use this framework and do not have such vacancies but they are open to Product Managers.
If a company develops a large product and many teams are involved, having a Product Owner will be advantageous, as this specialist will take over some PM tasks. Both PO and PM can work in tech teams simultaneously.
Responsibilities of a Business Analyst
If you have ever seen Business Analyst vacancies, you definitely got confused. There are two stand-alone types of analysts — IT and non-IT. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
In non-IT areas, the Business Analyst identifies issues and offers data-driven solutions for product development. Once a business experiences difficulties, it’s time to address a BA. That indispensable person researches business needs, generates requirements and coordinates changes.
The four stages of BA work are as follows:
- Period of stable company operation.
- Pre-changes period.
- Finally, changes.
- After-changes time.
The Analyst collects and analyzes data, studies product metrics (user acquisition, engagement, and retention), monitors the impact of changes in the product on user behavior.
NB: The business analyst does not implement changes on their own. This person finds issues within a company, collects information about stakeholders, compiles a list of problems, plans changes and observes their implementation.
The Business Analyst in IT helps to understand what product the client needs and how to describe it correctly, as development decisions must fit the end user preferences. Also, BA does these things:
- maps current technical processes;
- takes part in user testing sessions;
- writes technical documentation (user stories, vision, SRS, release notes, user manuals);
- introduces decomposition and functionality modeling (UML, BPMN).
BA role requires experience with flowcharts (MS Visio, Lucidchart, draw.io), UX tools (Balsamiq), User Story, Use Cases, UML and BPMN diagrams.
Most often, Product Owners evolve into Business Analysts. Outsourcing and outstaffing companies hire strong specialists, as they tightly cooperate with different clients. Product companies don’t typically have this role or it is filled by a person in another position, as the end user is the main customer, which simplifies everything.
Okay, Google! What Positions Do I Need in My Business?
There is no perfect structure for the dev team. In some cases, the listed specialists will be enough for delivering great products, in others, you’ll also need an AI or Machine Learning engineer, a 3D artist or a UX copywriter.
Outline goals first. For instance, ‘Creating an MVP (minimum viable product)’ may be such a goal. Next, list the requirements for the development team — its composition, competencies and responsibilities.