Assemble a Competent Web Development Team: Roles, Skills, and Qualities
It takes a village to develop a good web application that achieves your business objectives. However abundant your resources, the people directly involved in the development process can make or break the final software. Knowing their roles, skills, and qualities is essential to setting realistic expectations and building a good relationship with the team. A good relationship comes in handy in case of problems or confusion: you’ll know who to contact, whose work is affected, and how adjustments can be managed. Here are the typical roles in a web development team and why you need them.
Leaders: Project Manager & Solution Architect
A web development project has two sides - the business side and the IT side. A project’s leading roles also require a combination of business acumen and technological know-how. Project managers and solution architects act as a bridge between the technical staff and the business people like you. While the project manager leans toward the business side, the solution architect contributes a technical expertise.
One may argue that a web development project only needs one leader; the preference for a manager or an architect lies in the kind of organization. If you value technical leadership, then you may opt for a solution architect. On the other hand, if your company emphasizes management, opting for a project manager is a wise choice.
The two roles have differences that complement each other. Senior Architect Rajat Bhatla suggests that a symbiotic relationship between the two - a joint leadership - would best benefit a large, complex project.
Both are valued for their ability to negotiate project requirements between business and technological interests. The leader who can shield their team from changing requirements, or involves their developers in estimations, often garners the most satisfaction from team members.
The project manager keeps the big picture in mind. They discuss requirements with clients and plan the project blueprints, including the scope, timeline, budget, resources, communication strategies, testing, and maintenance. They also ensure that the project stays close to these blueprints by coordinating activities, managing people, tracking milestones, deliverables, and managing client expectations. They are often the point of contact for the project.
Core competencies: mastery of project management methodologies (Waterfall, Scrum, or Kanban), leadership, extensive technical knowledge, people management.
Gergely Orosz at The Pragmatic Engineer has discovered that tech teams have mixed opinions about having a dedicated project manager. Teams at public or venture-funded companies prefer to manage their own projects and would opt for a product manager instead. On the other hand, teams at non-venture funded or non-tech companies would rather have dedicated project managers with the same approach mandated across the organization. Another tip is that Jira, a well-known project management software, is very unpopular despite the heavy reliance on it. So a project manager who wants to keep their team happy should look for alternative software and respond to their team’s need for autonomy.
The business analyst’s responsibilities are sometimes fulfilled by the project manager, especially for small projects. They share the same skill set: excellent communication to manage the relationship between the client and team members, and the problem-solving prowess to discover the most effective and viable solutions. A business analyst focuses on managing stakeholders’ relationships by ensuring that the project fulfills business requirements, while the project manager prioritizes managing the project.
Suppose you are a client with a large project. In that case, you’ll likely have regular contact with a business analyst to discuss the business side of it. This includes changing market conditions, product quality, adjusting requirement specifications, in-depth budget analysis, potential financial risks, etc. Meanwhile, meetings with the project manager are scheduled for you to get updates on important milestones, deliverables, and any team-related changes. In offshoring projects, business analysts tend to have the best language aptitude among the team members to undertake translations and cross-cultural communication.
Core competencies: business analytics and administration, communication, problem- solving.
Also known as a project architect, the role of a solution architect is relatively new and evolving. The need for such a role comes from the increasing demands for multiple, interconnected technological solutions for contemporary businesses. As web development projects get more complex and IT roles get more specialized, senior tech workers are called upon to provide a blend of business and technical leadership as solution architects.
Their responsibilities revolve around researching and designing a system of solutions to satisfy complex business requirements. As former senior software engineers, solution architects are much better equipped than project managers to make technological decisions. Their leadership includes choosing the right tools, assembling the right people, identifying risks and challenges, and organizing the workflow. On the business side, they translate technical terms and concepts for non-technical stakeholders, ensuring the project fulfills its business goals. A good solution architect can juggle business requirements, stakeholders’ expectations, and technological capabilities.
Core competencies: full stack web development with a strong specialty, people management, communication, project management.
The UI/UX designer is also a relatively new role, necessitated by the need to keep users happy and loyal. Without good UI/UX design, your web app may end up with a boring interface that confuses your users so much that they abandon it after 3 minutes of use. This role combines two complementing skill sets: user interface (UI) design and user experience (UX) research.
UI design is akin to graphic design, explicitly relevant to application interface. It’s about designing the look and feel of the web app using audiovisual elements such as color schemes, icons, buttons, images, logos, background, typographies, animation, etc. Because of the highly aesthetic nature of this work, some graphic designers may specialize in UI design.
UX has bigger goals than UI. UX research is the foundation of knowledge that informs UI/UX design principles. It involves extensive study and research into the user’s journey of using the web app, from the landing pages to specific functions. A good UI/UX designer understands the users’ behaviors, psychology, and expectations, as thoroughly as walking in their shoes. They prioritize optimizing users’ interactions with the product.
Their deliverables are mockups, wireframes, and prototypes, informed and tested by thorough user research. In a web development team, they collaborate with the developers to design technologically feasible and aesthetically pleasing user experience.
Core competencies: wireframing and prototyping (Figma, Sketch, Adobe); interface design (HTML 5, CSS 3), user research, creative mindset, teamwork.
As the core of a development team, developers develop the software features by writing codes in programming languages, using libraries, and designing frameworks. Writing code from scratch is the primary activity; just like writing a book, coding takes the most time and effort from the developers.
Hence, many developers use libraries. Libraries are collections of functions and modules with specific and limited functionality. They provide quick solutions for common problems. Libraries enable a web developer to speed up coding by re-using or formatting ready-made codes more efficiently.
A framework is more substantial than the items in the library but also needs more coding. It provides the blueprint for an application, which developers can customize into a custom application. While some frameworks may restrict the web developer’s flexibility, they improve organization and consistency for large and complex applications.
A web developer can specialize in either front-end (client side) or back-end development (server side). The client side has the features users see and interact with. The server side has the database, modeling, and architecture that enable smooth functioning with the potential to scale with user growth.
Front-end developers build the client side of the web app. They write codes to implement customer-facing features, making sure the user interface is responsive and seamless. Like UI/UX designers, an excellent front-end developer prioritizes the users’ needs. They may benefit from having some design skills to work closely with UI/UX designers.
Core competencies: front-end programming languages, visual design, creativity, empathy, a passion for delivering the best user experience.
Back-end developers work on server-side web application logic and integrations. They build the architecture, data infrastructure, security and compliance features. Back-end programming languages tend to be more complex. Dealing with more logic-based problems, back-end developers focus on coding functions that enable the app to work as designed.
Core competencies: back-end programming languages, detail-oriented, logical, organized.
You may have heard of full-stack developers - those who can handle both front-end and back-end development. It may be tempting to hire just one full-stack developer; but a web app is a complex product that benefits from solid specialization. You can’t afford to go cheap in website development, as the technical debt accumulated from poor programming will result in costly testing and maintenance. Full-stack developers can be helpful for coordinating both sides, but they should not be forced to work solo on the entire app.
Data and Machine Learning Roles
Data-related roles are necessary when you’re incorporating AI capabilities into your web app. Adding AI capabilities means empowering your web app with the vast amount of data already in store in your organization, but such data needs to be worked on before it can be useful for web development. There are several data-related roles whose necessity depends on your project requirements.
A data architect gathers business requirements, designs a logical model, and builds the physical database. They engineer the infrastructure that stores and supports the housed data. Some regular tasks include verifying the consistency of data, maintaining appropriate access rights, and optimizeng access to data. Overall, they ensure the stability and availability of the data infrastructure.
Core competencies: expert knowledge of databases, data query languages, storage hardware, and cloud computing architectures.
The data engineer has a complementing role with the data architect, with some overlap. Metaphorically, the data architect builds the vehicle, and the data engineer builds the roads and service centers for the vehicles (called data pipelines). The difference is in their focus - a data architect is better than a data engineer in securing data access in a relational database; a data engineer knows better about the transformation process that an organization requires its stored data to undergo before modeling.
Core competencies: data-related programming languages, database systems, data warehousing, algorithms and data structures, machine learning basics.
Machine Learning Engineer
A machine learning engineer crafts algorithms to run on data. This process trains and produces ML models that can then be implemented into the web app (called productionized). You’ll need a machine learning engineer to develop an AI-enabled web app.
Core competencies: data-related programming languages, applied mathematics, machine learning algorithms, data modeling and evaluation, deep learning, MLOps.
Quality Assurance Engineers
A quality assurance engineer ensures other team members comply with project standards, company policies, and external standards (such as ISO). They ask “what if” questions to test the software’s performance in the most likely non-ideal situations.
A successful web development project integrates quality assurance from the beginning. QA engineers generate test cases, run the tests, and compile test reports. Then, they have to be tactful in delivering those reports to web developers. While web developers are willing to overlook minor bugs to complete their tasks on time, QA engineers provide objective feedback on the quality of the tasks and keep everyone focused on project requirements.
Core competencies: manual testing practices, test automation tools, DevOps, inquisitiveness, thoroughness, critical thinking, tact, objectivity.
Search engine optimization (SEO) specialists may not be an obvious role on a mobile development team, but they’re important for a web development team. The SEO specialist works with web developers to make sure a website is SEO-friendly. This makes the web app more visible on search engines, thus attracting more interested users. SEO work also includes important enhancements such as making the web app mobile-friendly, responsive, and secure. These improvements raise the site’s authority, making it easier for users to find and use your web app.
Core competencies: keyword research, traffic analysis, local SEO optimization, competitor analysis, ranking strategy, basics of front-end programming languages. Adaptable, persistent, analytical, research, prioritization.
What Makes a Good Web Development Team?
A good web development team thrives on solid expertise, effective collaboration, and problem-solving ingenuity. They take the time to understand your business challenges, research and design multiple solutions with the willingness, capabilities, and curiosity to test them out. They pay attention to the specific requirements of your industry, drawing from their experience in developing similar products, or having the skills and open minds to learn. They clarify the blind spots and misunderstandings you may have held about development.
To achieve the best cost-efficiency, the team has a blend of junior and senior engineers. They take pride in writing clean codes, making the best use of libraries, frameworks, integrated tools, automation, DevOps. Another best practice is to keep meticulous documentation to optimize the development process. Most importantly, they have transparent communication and an absolute commitment to delivering the best possible results within the allocated time.
Ultimately, putting together a good team is a process of trial and error, but it’s worth the effort to build a web application that lifts your business to a higher level.