The one crucial ingredient underpinning our transition to a digital-first economy, more than any other, is software.
That’s why software engineering has become one of the world’s most in-demand professions.
In the UK alone, the median salary for the role has increased 13% year on year, as businesses look to stay ahead of the competition and attract the very best IT talent. But the high salary often isn’t consistent with where software developers stand in the business; many organisations still view them as suppliers, rather than as crucial players in their success.
Based on the current speed of transformation, we know demand for software engineering is only going to increase. So business and technology leaders need to urgently consider vital cultural changes to help better integrate software development teams within the wider organisation. But what exactly should they be?
The development dilemma
Agility has quickly emerged as a competitive advantage, as businesses strive to deliver on customer expectations quickly and effectively. That’s heralded the rise of DevOps, which aims to write high quality digital solutions more efficiently, and have the ability to continuously update in a secure and low risk way.
The practice is already accelerating feedback loops in the software development of digital solution on a wide scale, meaning new software is brought into production as fast as possible and with reduced risk. As a result, today’s successful businesses are now releasing software updates multiple times a day. The figure even runs well into the tens of thousands for tech giants like Amazon and Netflix. However, other businesses are struggling to keep up with the speed the market demands, largely due to a lack of clear communication, ways of working and integration between software developers and the wider business. It’s a dilemma that needs immediate attention if businesses are to remain at the competitive edge.
Developers are too often left to deal with huge monolithic pieces of work, which require them to write code for months on end without it being road-tested. This inevitably leads to mistakes which are found only once the updates have already been released to market, creating a ripple effect throughout the organisation. It’s an all-too-common scenario that demonstrates business leaders’ clear lack of clarity and understanding about the colossal value adopting a DevOps culture can deliver for the wider business, including its customers.
Take financial institutions looking to introduce a new offering, for example, such as a new mortgage product. Without a collective approach to development, getting the back-end systems up and running for a product can take up to six months. But modularising the options and breaking down the functionality can shorten timelines to weeks, as we encountered on a recent project.
Business leaders must look to create unified, cohesive and cross-functional teams that work together on projects that are broken down into simplified and localised components that can be easily integrated together without a negative impact on each other. It might seem like a small strategic change in working practices, but its impact on the speed and efficacy of software development can be enormous.
Revisiting personalities and processes
The role of the software engineer has changed. It is no longer about writing code in isolation, without much regard for or knowledge of how it benefits the business. Developers work better when they have clarity about the direct impact their work will have on achieving business goals and on the bottom line. It’s down to business leaders to communicate these challenges and goals (in other words understand the “Why”) to help software developers understand what they’re trying to achieve. But doing so in a way that moves towards a better working culture requires a new approach to building and managing software development teams.
The first step is casting aside the negative stereotypes many have of software engineers and celebrating the intellectual and cultural diversity within their teams. Diversity of personnel brings diversity of personalities, which is crucial to creating more inclusive cultures that accept and welcome all characters with open arms. While this may seem obvious, what is often overlooked is the impact diversity can have on stimulating and increasing innovation.
Improving the diversity of development teams helps unlock multiple ways of responding to and analysing the challenges brought forward by business leaders. After all, each individual has an array of different soft and hard skills based on their learning, development and experience. So, encouraging individuals to bring their characters and personalities to their roles is crucial; it ensures each and every stakeholder in the development process is empowered to contribute, feels inherently valued, and is able to challenge existing assumptions, helping deliver a more robust end product.
Recognising and harnessing this spectrum of skills also helps bridge many of the barriers to development that exist within businesses. Some software engineers, for example, might struggle to communicate technical updates in a way the wider business can understand, but tapping into another individual’s strong communication skills can help unite teams – and entire businesses – around one, holistic digital strategy.
Channelling change to deliver better outcomes
Clearly, cultural change is needed to embed software engineering at the core of modern business. But revisiting project management practices is also imperative to continually deliver software that provides value to the business, the world of Scientific Management and Waterfall delivery methods is no longer appropriate for the development of digital solutions. With such a heavy reliance on digital services, businesses – and consequently developers – need to be able to make changes with minimal effect. So, eschewing monolithic projects and encouraging cross-functional teams is essential. Not only does it reduce the need for sweeping software updates, but it negates the risk of a project failing to meet the initial brief, which could ultimately impact the entire business.
By reviewing organisational processes, and bringing the wider business and software developers together, we can create teams that deliver digital solutions effectively and quickly, so that every user, whether internal or external, reaps the benefits of a more sophisticated approach to software engineering.
About the Author
Alistair Doran is Principal Consultant – Digital Transformation & DevOps at Exponential-e. Innovation is at the core of Exponential-e, and has been since our inception in 2002. We wholly own our superfast Network, and our fusion of complementary technologies – a carrier-class Network and Cloud infrastructure – means we can deliver enterprise applications at wire speed for a superior end-user experience.
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