Maintaining an in-house software development team can be tough. You must hire skilled developers — no easy feat in today’s economy, where talented programmers remain in short supply — and then manage them on an ongoing basis. You must also ensure that your development team is nimble enough to respond to changing business needs and that it can adapt as your technology stack evolves.
Given these challenges, it’s no surprise that most organizations now outsource application development instead of relying on in-house teams.
Outsourcing, however, isn’t always the best approach. On the contrary, information technology organizations that invest in in-house development for some or all the work can realize lower overall costs and a competitive advantage by creating domain-specific expertise. Keeping development in-house can help organizations address unique security requirements and maintain full control over the development lifecycle and roadmaps. For businesses with specialized technology, security and operational needs, in-house development is often the best strategy.
Getting the most from your in-house development team presents some steep challenges. Here’s how my company keeps our team efficient and productive, even in a business environment that is constantly changing.
5 Ways to Maximize In-House Development Teams
- Scale by hiring skilled developers.
- Upskill the developers who are already on your team.
- Focus development on the features customers want most.
- Invest in quality assurance.
- Use AI tools to refine data and make it easier for developers to use.
Hire Smartly and Upskill
Scaling teams is a key challenge for in-house development teams, especially when working with a bespoke technology stack. There is no simple solution to this challenge, but you can take steps to maximize your ability to find and hire development talent. For example, we invest significantly in engaging with college students, allowing us to identify promising developers while they are still in training.
At the same time, we invest in upskilling the developers who are already on our team so they can take on additional responsibilities. We train our engineers in the latest cloud development and security skills and knowledge. Embedding security into our designs and practices is fundamental to what we do.
We also rotate engineers among different teams so they learn new technologies that are important to our business. This strategy allows us to align the work for every developer with their interests and to build reusable skills within our teams. Three times a month, we hold a technical brown bag lunch, where we cover issues like development for cloud and how it differs from on-premises due to costs, or how to design for performance and scalability.
Focus on Customer Value
Figuring out which features customers want most is a constant challenge. To address it, we quantitatively track how our customers use our product, which functionality they use most often, for example, and how usage patterns vary across different customer demographics. We evolve these metrics as we develop the product.
Additionally, we identify customers who are power users and occasionally set up calls between them and our developers to gain additional insight into what customers want. Our marketing team also conducts customer advocacy interviews with our users to learn more about what they like and don’t like.
Looking at third-party applications and interfaces helps us gain perspective on how best to meet user needs, too. For example, we might examine how Wayfair or Amazon are evolving their user interface constructs to inform how we could change our own product interface in ways that better meet customer needs. We want our business-to-business product to be as easy to use as consumer products.
Invest in Quality Assurance
Quality assurance operations are distinct from development operations, but if you want a successful in-house development team, you need a great QA team, too. Our QA engineers complement our in-house developers by helping them deliver the highest-quality product while also strategizing over how best to handle scale and efficiency challenges.
QA automation is one of the key ingredients in effective development operations.
In addition, we have invested heavily in QA automation, allowing us to test our applications thoroughly while keeping our team lean and efficient. This ensures that as our product feature set expands, our ability to test the entire product does not increase and we can maintain a monthly release cadence.
We use test harnesses to simulate error and failure conditions by injecting failures into the system or making our network experience a brownout or a blackout. You can’t automate every software test, but you can automate most of them, and QA automation is one of the key ingredients in effective development operations.
Use AI Strategically
When used properly, AI can accelerate development and help in-house developers work more efficiently. Using AI tools to churn out code has become a hot use case for AI in development since the introduction of solutions like Copilot.
AI can be a useful solution, but the quality of the results it delivers hinges on the quality of the data it ingests. In-house development teams working on AI applications have much to consider from the data perspective. To leverage unstructured data, they need ways to find it across data silos, enrich it with new metadata as needed to support search and leverage AI tools like Amazon Macie and Rekognition to further refine the data.
Keeping in-house development teams happy and productive will only become more important as the tasks they work on grow more complex and as new paradigms, such as those driven by AI, change the way developers work. The more IT organizations and enterprises can upskill their existing developers and give them the right tools and processes to succeed, the better they can leverage their teams to build products and features that bring value to the business.