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Aligning software development goals with business strategy

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(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Pressmaster)

Equipped with a complex range of skills, software developers who have been in the profession for a while usually keep their technical goals top of mind. They often know which programming languages and development methodologies they want to pursue, and that’s understandable.

These professional goals are undoubtedly important, but they’re not the only thing you need to think about from a business leadership perspective. It is also important that these individual goals align with the broader strategic goals of the organization.

At present, many software development teams face a constant risk of burnout because of poor time-management and lack of alignment with business goals. Often, the lack of transparency, clarity, and alignment leads to a large portion of their efforts being wasted.

This article will discuss the importance of aligning software development team goals with those of the business, before looking at the best practices to go about achieving that.

Why should leaders align technical goals with business strategy?

As organizations across every industry embark on their digital transformations, developers are in high and growing demand. There are now an estimated 18 million developers in the world, each contributing an average of $51,000 to GDP annually. However, according to a survey by financial services firm Stripe, almost a third of developer time is wasted on debugging, fixing, and maintaining bad code. This translates into a negative impact on global GDP of $300 billion per year. Given that developer salaries often exceed six-figures, it shouldn’t be hard to see why this is a serious problem for businesses investing in software development initiatives.

Unsurprisingly, developers want to be in a position where they can spend the bulk of their time working on new code and improving existing code, rather than redoing work over and over. But these activities only account for about a third of developer time. The rest of the time is spent managing, testing, and maintaining code, while almost a quarter is occupied by meetings and operational tasks. When a developer has mastered a specific set of skills, such as a particular programming language and methodology, the problem becomes even clearer. If they’re spending over half of their time working on non-design and non-coding tasks, as they typically do, then those skills aren’t being utilized to their fullest potential.

Around 55% of developers seek out training to meet upcoming needs in their industries and to advance their careers. Yet, all too often do their training and professional goals fail to align with the goals of the business. This lack of alignment is exactly what leads developers to waste their efforts on tasks that should instead be given greater clarity. Armed with clearer business goals that are driven by analytics and transparency, they can ensure their efforts are living up to expectations.

What sort of business goals should senior managers set?

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing software development is the widespread misconception that developers live in a bubble. Often viewed as a solitary and exclusively technical activity, teams frequently lack a broader sense of togetherness. However, committing to a universal goal helps build a sense of community and motivation by stopping departmental silos from forming. Setting challenging, yet clear and attainable goals can further increase engagement by adding overall clarity to the project.

The key to running a successful software development team is to connect business goals to an agile development process. Instead of focusing purely on technical goals, both leaders and developers should keep desired outcomes in mind. This is why, for example, many developers write user stories, which focus on the desired outcome from the end user’s perspective. A user story is something that both developers and business leaders can understand, making it an intuitive approach towards setting goals and milestones. Whether it’s developing a specific feature or a minimum viable product, user stories work as a foundation for setting goals, since they are focused and attainable.

Some goals might be broken up into smaller milestones, but it’s important that all these goals drive measurable results throughout every level of the organization. For example, the primary goal might be something as broad as increasing e-commerce sales. This can be further broken down into technical subgoals, such as integrating new payment methods to reduce shopping cart abandonment or streamlining the user interface design. With this sort of framework in place, every individual task contributes to the primary goal. This way, it will be easier to allocate resources effectively, while individual team members have clarity into what they need to do to accomplish their daily tasks.

Best practices to follow when setting goals and tools that will help

Common professional goals among software engineers include earning industry certificates or degrees, increasing their proficiency in specific programming languages, or learning a new development model. Aligning business goals with these professional goals requires identifying the best team members for each role and providing the necessary training and career pathing resources. This also requires leaders to have a clear understanding of the differences between various roles, including those that are often confused, such as user experience design and user interface design.

While managers are expected to have a clear picture of their overall business strategy, they cannot expect to define suitable internal goals for software developers if they don’t have the right insights. With the right tools at their disposal, they can track productivity and engagement to learn what’s working and what isn’t.

An integrated approach to development process analytics gives managers complete visibility to help their teams maintain healthy codebases and make the right decisions when it comes to setting goals. It reveals which tasks team members are struggling with, which ones they are spending the bulk of their time on, and gives a clear view of code quality and maintainability.

Final thoughts

It’s essential for decision makers to define goals that are mutually beneficial to both individual developers and their companies. Currently, the widespread problem is that internal goals are not clearly defined enough, thus increasing cycle times and reducing code quality. This leads to a significant waste in resources that could be better allocated elsewhere.

Developers don’t, or at least shouldn’t, operate in a bubble where there is little or no alignment between their professional goals and those of the company. Instead, through the use of productivity tracking, managers can easily define realistic goals that everyone can work towards.

Ferreneik Betton, Head of Content, BlueOptima