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Managing a Development Effort, Part 4

Hire the right developers

Once we understand what a good piece of business software needs to be able to do, we have to assemble the right team to do it.

In the world of software development, there are many points where your project can fail, and this is one of the big ones.

I have witnessed differences in developer productivity of no less than tenfold. However, the real difference is more extreme than that because developers who aren’t focused on your project can easily sink it.

If you are not a software developer – and even if you are – it is very difficult to accurately gauge how long a particular task should take. And without being a developer, it is impossible to judge the quality of the final work.

The common scenario is one where a given task is supposed to take, for example, one week. At the end of that week it is not complete, and for what seems like good reasons. So, another week is allowed to pass. At the end of that week, again, unanticipated difficulties crept up that necessitate another extension. Or worse, that one change that you requested, which seemed small, you are now being told is the reason why another week is required.

Without being a developer, there is no way to judge the reasonableness of time estimates and requests for time extensions. So, you simply must accept whatever you are told.

And if you are not watching the developer regularly, as is the case if you are very busy or if they are working remotely, then you will become suspicious of his or her work ethic. You will begin to pressure the developer for checks and balances or try to implement results-based compensation schemes. The developer will not appreciate these obvious votes of low confidence and a negative behavioral cycle will ensue.

The factor that’s missing in this common example is trust. The most important developer hire any software project manager can make is the one of lead developer. This person must have a track record of on-time delivery and he or she must have former employers who rave about them. More than any of this, they must be someone you can trust. If you are not able to hire this person, the chances your development project will be successful are low.

But if you can hire that great lead developer, that person in turn will help you with making great subsequent hires. They also will help you to gauge timelines and work quality. The other thing the lead developer can help you with is establishing a culture that encourages honest productivity.

Company culture might be your most important retention tool for good developers.

Read part 3: Managing a development effort, part 3: Capture the moment, the user’s penny jar

Read part 2: Managing a development effort, part 2: The customer is always right

Read part 1: Managing a development effort, part 1: It takes two types

This was originally posted on the Central Penn Business Journal.

More Stories By Treff LaPlante

Treff LaPlante has been involved with technology for nearly 20 years. At WorkXpress, he passionately drives the vision of making customized enterprise software easy, fast, and affordable.

Prior to joining WorkXpress, Treff was director of operations for eBay's HomesDirect. While there, he created strategic relationships with Fortune 500 companies and national broker networks and began his foray into the development of flexible workflow software technologies. He served on the management team that sold HomesDirect to eBay.

During his time at Vivendi-Universal Interactive, Treff was director of strategy. In addition to M&A activities, Treff broadly applied quantitative management principles to sales, marketing, and product line functions. Treff served as the point person for the management team that sold Cendant Software to Vivendi-Universal. Earlier positions included product management and national sales trainer for Energy Design Systems, an engineering software company. Treff began his professional career as a metals trader for Randall Trading Corp, a commodities firm that specialized in bartering and transporting various metals and coal from the then-dissolving Soviet Union.

Treff received his MBA from Pepperdine University and a BS in chemical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University.