Software teams famously follow grueling schedules and put in mind-boggling hours to meet deadlines, deploy new programs, and support their organizations’ IT operations. Yet it seems there’s always more work to be done. Seems as though everyone is looking to improve the productivity of their software teams.
Hence the software industry’s relentless drive to optimize its own processes. Companies hope to squeeze more productivity out of the programmers operating at its core.
That drive is increasingly sophisticated, which may surprise observers (and participants) used to doing things differently. Managerial techniques that work well on the shop floor are woefully inadequate for the modern IT workforce, as demonstrated by new Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s thus far unsuccessful efforts to bring his workforce to heel.
Rather, the most promising developments for productivity in the software industry are technological. Most of them, anyway. Here’s what you need to know about nine tech trends shaping the future of software development — and what they could mean for you and your organization as your software teams seek to improve productivity.
These can do the trick even if you don’t know the first thing about coding.
1. Full Stack Preview Environments for PR Reviews
Even simple development projects can turn into slogs. More complicated projects that expand quickly can become unmanageable. And while growing your development team might bring milestones within reach, it also increases demand on team leads and raises the risk of serious bugs that require costly, time-consuming fixes.
That’s how things used to be, back when shared staging environments were the norm. Shared test environments work fine for two- or three-person development teams. However, much beyond that size, a single environment is a recipe for QA bottlenecks and delays — no matter how talented your devs are.
These days, growing software teams software to improve productivity will likely to rely on sophisticated preview tools that allow individual features to be split into their own staging environments. This, in turn, isolates feature development and makes it easier to sequester and fix minor bugs without holding up the entire project. Or worse…allowing a buggy program to slip through QA and go live before anyone realizes.
Every software team is different, but in practice, more sophisticated preview tools can dramatically boost productivity. You don’t have to look far to find examples like fintech startup Tilled, which saw a 44% increase in productivity after switching from a single-environment to Uffizzi’s ephemeral Preview Environment solution.
2. Comprehensive Calendar Systems for More Than Just Scheduling
Shared testing environments keep software development projects moving along, but they offer no guarantee that things won’t get lost in the shuffle.
They also can’t enforce good time management practices. That’s up to team leaders and individual team members themselves.
Comprehensive calendar systems can help. We’re not talking about the calendar tools that come preloaded on your company laptops and mobile devices. Those are helpful, obviously, but they’re simply not up to the task of managing a fast-moving, possibly fast-growing software team.
Calendar systems like Calendar.com have more sophisticated scheduling and appointment management tools: custom meeting templates, custom invite links, dynamic conflict prevention, and more. Those with built-in calendar analytics also help answer the “how” and “why” behind your team’s schedule, helping spot inefficient or downright wasteful uses of your team’s time. A better calendar system might not prevent every unnecessary meeting or check-in, but it should reduce scheduling bloat and redundancy — freeing up more person-hours for tasks that actually add value as your software teams strive to improve productivity
3. Asynchronous Video Tools
The 9-to-5 was on the way out in the software industry long before the pandemic, but it’s now officially a thing of the past. Night owls collaborate with early birds and vice versa.
Meanwhile, software teams are more likely than ever before to be truly global, rather than just “North American bicoastal.” Units based in India or the Philippines are expected to work hand-in-glove with folks based in the U.S. or U.K.
Requiring any amount of real-time, face-to-face interaction under such conditions — even over Zoom — is a nonstarter. Whether it entails lost sleep or interrupting prime working hours, bending employee or contractor schedules to accommodate standing meetings is a recipe for lost productivity.
That’s why most software teams now use asynchronous video tools like Loom to deliver information as needed.
“Async” video is particularly useful for dense presentations that might be difficult to absorb live anyway. It’s recorded, which allows the audience to rewatch and digest on their own time and at their own pace. And while it’s not the most efficient two-way communication medium, it’s easy enough for recipients to record and share their own responses.
4. Asynchronous Messaging Apps
“Efficient two-way communication” might as well be the elevator pitch for asynchronous messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams.
When it first hit the market a decade or so ago, self-contained asynchronous messaging apps felt like an iterative improvement over email. Today, they’re indispensable for software teams. They’re vital for the same reason asynchronous video is. It just no longer makes sense to hold daily or even weekly standing meetings or check-ins.
Asynchronous messaging is still an improvement over email. It’s more flexible, more mobile-friendly, allows for a wider range of communication styles, and evolves more naturally into real-time conversation when needed. Software teams that have resisted change up until now should get with the times.
5. Better Browser Extensions (Especially for Chrome)
Software developers love to fly their own flags and swim against the school. In some respects, anyway. Wherever their other product loyalties lie, most have adopted the browser of choice for the large majority of everyday web users: Chrome.
That’s because Chrome is a good product, and software people recognize a good product when they see one. Besides, Chrome arguably has the best array of productivity-enhancing browser extensions of any major web browser. From time management (Marinara: Pomodoro® Assistant, Todoist) to tab management (OneTab), the ever-expanding library of Chrome extensions is rocket fuel for developer productivity.
6. Custom Distraction Blockers
Even the best time management apps don’t eliminate distractions. That’s on the individual, though it helps to have a purpose-built app for the job.
Website blockers like Cold Turkey are virtually foolproof. You can’t get around them in Incognito mode, nor with a VPN. They’re also flexible. You can block the entire Internet during working hours if you wish, cut off the two or three sites that give you the most trouble, or something in between. You can layer blocks as well — always blocking some sites while leaving others reachable except during crunch times.
7. More Collaborative Sandboxing
Growing software teams need to collaborate frequently — if not quite in real-time, then at least on a day-to-day basis. But that’s easier said than done for individuals and units in different parts of the world. And while asynchronous communication tools can help get everyone on the same page, they can’t convey information at the density necessary to stress-test development ideas.
That’s what sandboxing tools like CodeSandbox are for. Like multi-environment preview platforms, they prevent bottlenecks during the software development process — in their case, earlier on, as dev teams wrangle with big-picture ideas.
They’re also useful teaching tools. More experienced coders can share constructive feedback with less experienced team members. This makes the learning curve more manageable and minimizing the extent to which headcount growth drags on productivity.
8. Smarter, Easier to Use Code Search
Combing through code line by line can be a calming, even meditative experience.
That is, if you’re not on a deadline. Or if the rest of your team isn’t waiting for you to find what you’re looking for.
When time is of the essence, code search tools like Ack and Searchcode put billions of lines of code in hundreds of different languages at your fingertips. You can use them to pull examples to show your team or insert into your own work. This reduces the time it takes to work through otherwise mundane development tasks.
9. The “Slow Work” Movement
You’ve heard of the slow food movement. What about the slow work movement?
The software industry is notorious for encouraging a “burn the candle at both ends” mentality. This works until it doesn’t. In a still-tight labor market, developers who feel overworked and underappreciated are more likely to change jobs than tough it out.
Getting rid of these “underperformers” is at best a temporary victory. Training up their replacements takes time and hinders productivity. Not replacing them and asking more of those who remain compounds the burnout problem and may hasten others to the exits.
Slow work is a mindset, not a technology. But it’s greatly assisted by technological solutions like calendar systems, time management apps, and asynchronous communications tools. These tools help software teams work on realistic deadlines and collaborate at their own pace. This increases the quality of their work and the enjoyment they get from producing it.
Mental health apps can help too. Many organizations comp employee subscriptions to apps like Headspace and Calm, reckoning it’s a small price to pay to avoid losing valued team members or devoting scarce resources to fixing preventable errors.
Featured Image: Christina Morillo; Pexels.com. Thank you!