Choosing the Best Approach to Split Teams Product Development

0 13 min read Project Takeover


Tech & Business

More than 70% of new products fail to meet expectations, not because they have bad concepts but because of a lack of coordination between split teams.

So, when it comes to product development, one important decision could be the difference between a market-dominating success and an expensive flop: how you divide your development resources.

Let’s look at how splitting product development increases efficiency, which approach you should choose, and how you can apply it to your business.

What Is Splitting Product Development?

In the context of software, splitting product development involves strategically allocating resources between two key areas: core development and experimental development.

Core development focuses on refining and updating existing software features, ensuring stability and customer satisfaction. In contrast, experimental development is geared toward pioneering new features or entirely new software products to meet emerging market demands.

The latter aims to strike an optimal balance between maintaining a robust, reliable software suite for current users, while also innovating to capture new market opportunities. This ensures both short-term competitiveness and long-term growth for a software company.

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Advantages of Split Teams in Software Product Development

The strategy of splitting software product development has proven indispensable for many leading software organizations. Let’s understand why:

1. Streamlined Development Cycles

Dividing teams to work on distinct aspects of a software product — such as frontend and backend — helps to parallelize tasks, eliminating development bottlenecks.

For example, while one team works on optimizing the database schema, another can focus on improving the user interface.

2. Accelerated Time-to-Market

By splitting responsibilities, different teams can work on various project components simultaneously, hastening the development process.

According to a PwC study, this approach can slash time-to-market by up to 20%, a significant advantage in the fast-paced software sector where “first-mover” status often wins the market.

3. Increased Productivity

Teams honed in specialized skills — like API development or machine learning algorithms — deliver more efficient and effective results. A McKinsey study found that such focused expertise can ramp up productivity by 25%.

For instance, a team dedicated solely to security could reduce vulnerabilities, cutting down on the costs and time spent on quality assurance by up to 15%.

4. Improved Risk Mitigation

By distributing tasks, the potential impact of any single point of failure is minimized. So, if one team hits a roadblock, perhaps due to a failed integration, the overall project can still proceed.

This compartmentalization allows for adjustments to be made with a reduced ripple effect on the project timeline.

When to Split Product Development Between Teams

when to split teams in development

When a project grows in complexity, size, or scale, it’s necessary to split product development across numerous teams for effective management and timely delivery. This split allows for more specialized attention, faster delivery, and efficient resource utilization.

But when should you split product development between teams? Let’s find out below:

1. Missing Deadlines

When projects frequently run over their deadlines, it’s often a sign that your team is overburdened and might benefit from breaking into specialized groups to speed up development.

2. Frequent Delays

Prolonged delays may indicate a shortage of specialized skills or resources. You can reduce these delays by dividing team responsibilities among employees with the necessary skill sets or among highly skilled teams.

3. High Human Error

A high error rate usually indicates that your employees are overworked or anxious, which leaves them unable to recheck their work. Distributing tasks among various teams can help you reduce stress and, as a result, the number of mistakes made.

4. Low Efficiency

If your team’s efficiency has been falling over the past six months, such as after a merger and acquisition, it may be a sign your team is overworked.

However, by delegating development tasks to specialized teams, you can streamline workflows and increase your team’s efficiency.

5. Bottlenecks

If one person on your product development team performs quality testing and has to test five applications at once, they may be overloaded, which means the apps won’t proceed to the next person in line, reducing business efficiency.

You can manage these bottlenecks by assigning development tasks to several teams. This enables concurrent work, reducing dependency-related delays.

6. High Risk of Team Failure

Failure in one area can jeopardize the overall product if one team is in charge of a diverse project. However, distributing the task among numerous teams reduces the likelihood of a single point of failure and raises the chances of overall success.

7. Insufficient Testing

If your team doesn’t have enough time to perform testing and your users are complaining about bugs, you need to split your development team to ensure your product is rigorously tested before it launches.

This will help them create a more robust product that doesn’t fall apart at first use. They’ll also do it quicker.

Risks of Split Teams in Product Development

split teams development risks

While dividing product development into teams has numerous advantages, it also comes with several risks.

For instance, miscommunication, variable quality, and delays can all jeopardize the project’s success. So, understanding these hazards is critical for developing risk-mitigation measures. But they aren’t the only risks of splitting product development.

Let’s discuss some other problems and challenges of dividing product development among many teams:

1. Complexity of Communication

Managing a small, close-knit team is easier than keeping track of progress across numerous groups. Plus, since split teams are typically isolated from each other’s progress, they might skip over project tasks that they didn’t know about or make iterations that cause issues.

2. Inconsistency

Splitting development among too many teams can lead to the creation of various prototypes, especially if several teams are working on similar tasks. This can lead to inconsistencies and issues later down the line.

3. Administrative Expenses

While a manager is typically enough to manage a single team, more than two or three teams require multiple team leaders and supervisors. You may also have to hire another manager or two to ensure the teams stick to the project plan.

4. Vision Fragmentation

If split teams don’t have any centralized supervision, they may pursue their objectives too strictly, losing sight of the overall project goal. This can lead to incorrect product development and revisions later down the line.

5. Redundancy

Multiple teams working independently may unintentionally duplicate efforts, wasting resources, time, and effort.

To stop this from happening, you must hire managers or supervisors to monitor work and ensure it meets the project’s standards and requirements.

6. Slowed Decision-making

When teams are split, decision-making can become time-consuming, delaying project milestones and time-to-market. To keep things on track, managers must respond quickly and ensure each team understands what it needs to do.

Agile Frameworks for Product Development Teams

While splitting product development can be risky, it can also improve product quality, business ROI, and customer satisfaction. Plus, if it’s implemented correctly, you won’t have any cause for concern. And that’s where agile frameworks come in.

Agile frameworks encourage collaboration and provide a well-organized yet pliable blueprint for steering complex endeavors. Let’s look at several agile approaches and understand how you can use them to synchronize tasks among several teams:

1. Scrum of Scrums (SoS)

Scrum of Scrums is an agile technique that enables multiple teams (consisting of five to nine members each) working on a complex project to connect. It also streamlines communication to ensure that the software output of one team integrates with that of another.

Under this methodology, teams coordinate and tackle problems through a 15-minute SoS meeting held daily, twice weekly, or once a week. The SoS Master leads the meeting, with each team represented by a product owner and developer.

However, while SoS maintains speed and flexibility, it does suffer from potential inconsistencies in implementation across teams.

2. Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)

split teams development approach dad workflow
DAD Workflow

Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) is an agile approach that uses a people-first, learning-oriented approach to address all aspects of the product life cycle. It essentially concludes that every organization has its own way of working and that they should modify agile methods to suit their needs.

DAD can include the following roles:

  • Stakeholder
  • Product owner
  • Architecture owner
  • Team lead
  • Team members
  • Independent tester
  • Domain expert
  • Technical expert
  • Integrator
  • Specialist

However, DAD’s multifaceted nature may make it challenging to grasp initially. Also, the lack of rigidly defined roles could lead to confusion without decisive leadership.

3. Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) is a framework that implements and scales Scrum to multiple teams working on a complex product. It uses ten principles to apply the elements and purpose of Scrum across an organization, enabling it to create more responsible teams.

The framework is also divided into two configurations:

  • Basic LeSS (2-8 teams)
  • LeSS Huge (8+ teams)

Most organizations start with Basic LeSS, gain experience using it, and get feedback from their employees before moving on to LeSS Huge.

4. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is an organizational and workflow roadmap that supposedly helps companies implement Scrum and lean agile practices on an enterprise level. It consists of four levels:

  • Portfolio – At this level, the organizational goals and strategies are determined by the CEOs, executives, and leaders.
  • Large Solution – At this level, proposals are created for the vision of the company.
  • Program – At this level, the proposed solution is broken down into objectives and delivered as a potentially shippable increment (PSI).
  • Team – At this level, five to ten teams made up of ten members each work together to deliver the business value goal they had been assigned using an iterative approach with two-week-long sprints.

SAFe claims to excel in centralized coordination and governance, supposedly aiding multiple teams in aligning their efforts toward a common goal. However, in practice, it often proves to be overwhelming and impractical for smaller businesses. Furthermore, the introduction of specialized roles can significantly inflate operational expenses through the necessary upskilling efforts.

Which Scrum Approach Should You Choose

Choosing the right scrum framework is more than a personal choice; it’s about matching your team’s approach to the project’s complexity, scale, and organizational structure.

Here’s how to make a decision:

1. Traditional Scrum

Easy to use and known for its flexibility, traditional Scrum is appropriate for small teams working on simple tasks. However, if projects or teams expand in size, this structure may become obsolete.

2. Scrum of Scrums (SoS)

Scrum of Scrums (SoS) is appropriate for larger projects handled by numerous small scrum teams. It promotes cross-group collaboration while remaining agile. However, there is always a risk of communication difficulties within teams.

3. Nexus

This approach is ideal for groups of three to nine teams working on a single product. It lowers inter-team dependencies while sharpening attention on the end product.

However, because its effective implementation necessitates a fundamental understanding of Scrum practices, not all team members may be qualified to use this approach effectively.

4. Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

LeSS is designed for larger organizations that want to preserve agility while not increasing complexity.

Even when numerous teams are involved, the framework remains adaptable. However, you might need to hire skilled scrum masters to manage LeSS.

5. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

SAFe was designed for large, complicated projects involving numerous departments, with the promise of aligning everyone in the organization to facilitate collaboration among massive teams for complex projects.

Yet, it often demands extensive training and can introduce unnecessary communication complexities.

Making Your Choice

You can use the following criterion to better align your team with the best Scrum approach for the project, assuring its success and the long-term health of your development environment.

1. Evaluate Your Team

software development teams delegation

The size of your team can quickly point you in the direction of a more appropriate framework. If your team is large (15+ people), you can use more complex agile frameworks like SAFe to split them.

SAFe will align everyone in your company, making sure that large teams can work together on complex projects. However, if you’re working with a smaller team, SoS can help you promote cross-group collaboration while remaining agile.

2. Complexity Matters

The complexities of your project have a direct impact on the scrum method you choose. So, if your project is complex and has many parts, you can choose a more complex approach to ensure zero duplication or wasted efforts.

For instance, you could use SoS and LeSS for larger projects that need to be handled by several small teams.

3. Corporate Culture

Your organizational structure and culture can either help or hinder the implementation of more complicated frameworks. Look at how your organization is structured before choosing an agile framework for splitting product development.

For instance, LeSS can be used by large organizations that want to reduce complexity while increasing agility. This can help them meet project deadlines while delivering the highest-quality product.

4. Investment Scope

Training and implementing complex frameworks like SAFe takes time and money. If you don’t have a lot of time or a high enough budget, consider a simpler approach like traditional Scrum or SoS.

How to Structure Your Product Development Team

Factors like role clarity, fluid collaboration, adaptability, goal alignment, multi-disciplinary skills, customer focus, and decisive leadership each add unique value to your team’s performance and adaptability.

Let’s understand how each aspect can be strategically utilized to build united and effective teams:

1. Collaboration

Transparent communication is the bedrock of successful team interaction. It fosters innovation while keeping team members on the same wavelength. So, encouraging collaboration across teams is crucial to development success.

You can ensure that by using tools like GitLab or Jira alongside Slack or Microsoft Teams. This ensures a shared workspace for code, tasks, and discussions. Regular sprint meetings are also essential for sharing updates.

2. Flexibility

separating product development between teams balance

As projects grow in scope, so should your team — smoothly and without interruption. To ensure that, implement agile methodologies that ensure your team adapts to changing project scopes without friction.

Moreover, you should implement modular coding practices and containerization, like Docker, for seamless scalability and maintain documentation to make onboarding of new developers easier.

3. Alignment

Teams that work together to achieve common goals achieve better results. You can align everyone’s work with project and business objectives by using version control and CI/CD pipelines.

Moreover, you can use frameworks like OKRs to set, track, and measure goals, ensuring team efforts are in sync with organizational targets.

4. Multi-Functional Capabilities

Diverse expertise within teams can greatly speed up problem resolution and eliminate bottlenecks. So, look for or train team members with diverse skills and then place them in relevant teams.

For instance, you could place a lead developer with DevOps skills to oversee code quality and deployment in every team. This will keep everyone on track and help you ensure the code produced by developers is free of bugs before it moves on to other teams.

5. Leadership

Good leadership is the glue that ties your teams together, especially during difficult times. So, ensure your managers understand the project scope and how to work with every team.

You should also use oversight tools like project management software to monitor progress without micromanaging to ensure the final product matches your requirements and satisfies customers.

How to Manage Potential Challenges

Managing several software development teams presents a complicated set of difficulties that, if not addressed correctly, can hamper productivity and derail schedules. Let’s discuss some major issues and their solutions:

1. Time Zone Differences

remote work home office

Time zones cause communication and decision-making to break down, resulting in delays that jeopardize project success. Fixing these time zone concerns can increase productivity by up to 20%.

But how can you navigate time zone issues? Let’s look at five ways you can do that:

  • Conduct stand-ups at mutually agreeable times.
  • Use tools like Slack for asynchronous communication and Jira for project tracking.
  • Leverage real-time dashboards and staggered deadlines to keep teams aligned.
  • Implement a “follow-the-sun” model for 24/7 development.
  • Prepare for time zone variables to ease cross-regional approvals.

Aside from the above, you should also plan for time zone differences. This simplifies cross-regional assessments and approvals, reducing the difficulties of geographically scattered teams.

2. Knowledge Drain

The loss of organizational knowledge can be costly. However, by implementing systematic knowledge-transfer processes, they are 35% more likely to retain crucial information.

Some systematic knowledge-transfer processes include the following:

  • Document code reviews, key algorithms, and architectural decisions.
  • Regularly hold code walkthroughs and “tech talks” to share knowledge.
  • Capture insights through exit interviews and incorporate them into a central knowledge base.
  • Cross-train team members in different tech stacks.
  • Utilize a knowledge management system like Confluence for storing and retrieving key information.

Through these strategies, the impact of losing organizational knowledge can be minimized, contributing to a more efficient product development process.

3. Cultural Obstacles

type of employee training and development

While diversity may improve performance by 35%, it can also lead to miscommunication, delays, and disputes if used incorrectly. Addressing these impediments necessitates unique strategies, such as the following:

  • Cross-cultural training to synchronize team expectations.
  • Adopting universal coding and documentation standards.
  • Ensuring leadership representation from diverse cultures.
  • Being flexible with time frames, considering time zones.
  • Employing culture-sensitive conflict resolution techniques.

With these approaches, the loss of knowledge and cultural barriers can be mitigated, leading to more efficient software development cycles.

Split Teams Product Development Case Studies

Case studies demonstrate the problems, techniques, and outcomes of dividing product development over numerous teams. Let’s look at some of them below:

1. Spotify

Spotify was rapidly expanding and wanted to scale its product development activities quickly. But with only one team, progress was slow and inefficient.

So, Spotify implemented a “Squad” structure, dividing its development workforce into smaller, cross-functional teams. Each squad had 6-12 members with a mix of roles, including developers, designers, and QA testers.

Every “squad” was organized around a customer/product outcome. This resulted in faster decision-making and a 30% boost in product development.

2. Microsoft Azure

A centralized staff maintained Microsoft Azure’s enormous codebase. However, the project’s sheer size resulted in bottlenecks and sluggish updates.

To stop this from happening, Microsoft went with the LeSS strategy to divide its workforce into smaller teams, each in charge of different features or components.

Units were reorganized around specific feature sets, like security and UI, allowing for independent code deployments. The new structure reduced system outages by 40% and accelerated feature releases by 50%.

3. Intel

Intel was struggling with high turnover, lack of skill overlap, and low communication within teams. So, the company decided to introduce Scrum to improve product delivery while uniting test teams.

The company placed each team (consisting of five to nine developers) under the oversight of ScrumMasters, which were managed by product owners. After three months of deployment, the organizational structure was rearranged according to the following:

  • Business owners
  • Products owners
  • Technical owners
  • ScrumMasters
  • Teams
  • Transient
  • Conduit
  • Story Owners

This split helped Intel reduce schedule slips within a year, decrease cycle time by 66%, and enable the company’s managers to make decisions based on actual team accomplishments, which led to successful outcomes.

The Takeaway

Product development efficiency and agility are more than industry buzzwords; they’re key business requirements. And although dividing development into specialized teams isn’t generally applicable, its benefits are difficult to overlook.

Through this strategy move, leading firms such as Spotify, Microsoft Azure, and Airbnb have measurably improved their game. So, if you want to push your product development from decent to innovative, a multi-team strategy could be just what you need.

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