While looking for a software agency to build your digital product, some of the talks you’ll have with them will surely be about the composition of your future development team. You may come across various role names that are unclear to you, and you even wonder what’s the point of including them in your team.
It’s important to understand that every specialist in the product team plays a particular part in the product’s creation, taking responsibility for a specific field, e.g., designs, frontend, backend, etc. Each of them comes with a certain set of skills complementary to the skills of other team members — that is why they cooperate closely to ensure every product element looks and functions correctly.
It also means that the lack of a certain specialist in the team may significantly impact the efficiency of the development process — and even the quality of your final product.
That is why giving good thought to your product team composition is crucial. And to do so, you need a good understanding of the responsibilities behind every role and how each of them impacts your product’s development.
And that’s what this article will help you with!
Teamwork makes the dream work
Having a well-composed team positively affects various development process elements, such as timelines, costs, your product’s UI, UX, quality, etc.
For example, it helps to ensure that you won’t blow the budget on unnecessary features nobody will be willing to use or issues that could have been avoided; that your product will be well-designed and user-friendly plus that it will fulfill your business objectives; that all the components will make sense and function & cooperate properly; that the design will be elegant, consistent and reflect your brand… and so on.
This list could go on and on, but it all comes down to one conclusion: having a full range of skills in your team gives you a much higher chance of building good-quality software.
Let’s then take a closer look at the software development team roles you may need for your project.
Product Owner & Product Owner Proxy
Every software development team needs someone responsible for ensuring that the final product will fulfill the project’s assumptions and align with the business goals, as well as someone who can balance the interests of various parties in case multiple stakeholders are involved in the project.
At Neoteric, we follow the Scrum framework, so in this case, such a person would be a Product Owner (PO).
The Product Owner’s responsibilities include:
- defining the product vision,
- defining the product backlog (a prioritized list of tasks for the development team based on the roadmap and its requirements),
- ensuring that both of the above are well-defined, transparent, and clear to everyone on the software development team,
- managing the product backlog and making key decisions, e.g., on what features to build and when to release them.
It’s often the case that the Product Owner’s role is assigned to someone who also has other responsibilities within the company — especially in case of projects run in cooperation with a tech partner (like Neoteric). Hence, it happens that such a person doesn’t have enough time to fulfill all the PO’s tasks (it’s really challenging to be a part-time PO) — or simply doesn’t have sufficient experience or knowledge. In such a case, the support of a Product Owner Proxy comes in handy.
Who is a Product Owner Proxy?
Saying simply, it is a person supporting the Product Owner in managing the backlog. In projects carried out with a tech partner, PO Proxy is someone on the tech partner’s side — a specialist filling out the availability or knowledge gaps mentioned above. It’s not a regular Scrum role, but some tech companies (including us) introduce it to address those needs.
They are accountable for gathering the requirements from PO, designing them as backlog items (e.g. user stories), and building the project roadmap. Moreover, PO Proxy can serve as a business advisor and can be the one to present a demo to the stakeholders if you wish.
The main difference between a Product Owner and a Product Owner Proxy is that, in the end, PO has the decisive voice, and is responsible for prioritizing the tasks in the backlog and maximizing the product’s potential. The role of a PO Proxy is to support a Product Owner.
So if you (or your internal candidate for the PO role) don’t have the sufficient technical knowledge or enough time to be a full-time Product Owner, it is worth considering including PO Proxy in your project team.
Another good practice in product development is to have a specialist who watches over and facilitates the development process, as well as supports other team members in following an agile approach (which boosts the efficiency of the development process).
In the case of teams working in Scrum, such a person would be the Scrum Master.
Apart from the responsibilities mentioned above, Scrum Masters also facilitate daily meetings and check with team members if they face any blockers. If yes, SMs ensure the whole team is aware of them and knows how to proceed to resolve them.
Moreover, Scrum Masters care so that the golden scrum values (such as commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect) are reflected in the team’s work.
Thanks to the Scrum Master’s presence in the project team, one can be sure that the product will be built effectively and fast without worrying about blockers.
The development team
Basically, if we talk about Scrum teams, we shouldn’t really use the phrase “development team.” Scrum, as a framework, defines everyone working at the increment as “developers” – even though those can be various specialists, such as UX/UI designers, front-end, back-end, full-stack developers, AI engineers, and QA engineers. Let’s look at their responsibilities to understand their role in the project and how they complement each other.
To fully understand the role of UX & UI designers, it’s essential to have a clear perspective on what UX and UI are about. Let’s then start with a few words about these two.
UX focuses on how people feel while interacting with an app. It covers all aspects of this interaction, such as usability, accessibility, design, and overall satisfaction of using the product.
UI, in turn, focuses more on the visual aspects – the design and layout of the product. It’s about choosing the right colors, typography, shapes, images, etc. It covers all the elements (both static and interactive) visible to the user, e.g., buttons, texts, icons, etc.
Even though UX and UI refer to a bit different aspects of the design, you surely notice that they are strictly connected. Hence, very often, product designers specialize in both these areas.
The overall role of UX/UI designers is to take care of the above aspects and fulfill two main goals:
- From the UX perspective: to make the product useful, intuitive, and tailored to users’ needs — but also to the client’s business goals;
- From the UI perspective: to build a good-looking interface with a consistent style that is also intuitive and convenient to use.
To achieve that, UX/UI designers watch over the design thinking process: they do thorough market & customer research, prepare UX value propositions, and create wireframes (the static versions of what a product might look like). And, of course, they prepare well-thought-through designs aligned with the users’ expectations (and the project’s requirements). It’s essential that, in everything they do, they remain user-focused and incorporate user feedback into the design process.
“I always perceived the role of a Product Designer as a user’s counselor. When any idea comes up, a Product Designer is the one to ask the question: “How will it affect the users?” — Konrad Majewski, UX/UI Designer.
It’s also important to note that the UX designer’s expertise significantly impacts the work of developers — among others, by giving them clear guidelines on how particular elements should look and work. Such guidance helps avoid inconsistencies in the product. It also simplifies the developers’ work, e.g., by minimizing the necessity of rebuilding or fixing poorly planned components (which is a common problem in projects without UX design support).
Why should the above matter to you? Because it means that having an experienced designer on board protects you from unnecessary expenses or exceeding the project’s timeframes.
We elaborated more on the benefits of including the designer’s role in your software development team in a separate article: Do you need a designer for your project? 6 most common concerns and wrong assumptions.
Front-end developers are accountable for the visual part of an application and the way it interacts with the user. In other words, they are responsible for the implementation of the design and user interface (UI) of a product.
They build features & elements that your users see and interact with when they use the app, such as buttons, layouts, images, navigation, content organization, and other features.
In general, the front-end developers’ job is to make sure the app looks as good as its designs, is user-friendly and responsive — so that users can interact with it smoothly and seamlessly.
Besides the part the users interact with, the “background” of the app also has to work well. And this can be ensured by properly constructing the “background” elements — ones that the end user won’t really see but have a huge impact on the app’s functionality.
Here’s where back-end developers step in. They maintain server-side components — meaning they design, implement, and maintain the database, server-side APIs, and server-side logic. Basically, back-end developers make sure the website works properly and efficiently “behind the scenes.”
They work closely with front-end developers (and, of course, the rest of the team) to ensure that the application can retrieve and persist all the data efficiently and securely.
Full-stack developers have skills both in the back-end and front-end. They can be a great addition to the team, as they understand both sides and are able to come up with solutions that a person specialized just in frontend or backend might not come up with.
“I often recommend involving a full-stack developer in a team because it might shorten and smoothen the process. Imagine you have, for instance, 1 back-end, 1 front-end and 1 full-stack developer in your project team. Then, there is always a chance that if one of the sides encounters any blockers, the full-stack developer can support this side, whether it goes to the back or front, thus minimizing the time one team has to wait for the second one” — Michał Nowacki, Web App Team leader
If you want to introduce AI-powered solutions to your product, you’ll obviously need AI engineers. As AI is a broad term, the responsibilities in this role may vary, but, in general, such specialists are accountable for software designing — machine learning, model building, and validation. The core of their work is to create and deploy AI algorithms that identify specific patterns (for example: in customers’ behavior).
AI engineers help businesses manage the data more effectively by developing and maintaining AI infrastructure. They’re responsible for designing, building, and implementing AI algorithms in the product as well as integrating them with other software. They also work closely with data scientists to collect and analyze data needed for training the AI models.
AI engineers often serve also as consultants on AI solutions, helping validate the ideas and think through possibilities, requirements, and obstacles. During technical talks and workshops, they can help you assess whether it’s reasonable to implement AI in a particular project by analyzing various aspects, such as:
- what would be the criteria of implementation,
- what amount of data the client can provide,
- if necessary, how to collect the missing data.
Why is this important? AI is sometimes misunderstood as a cure for every business disease. While there’s no doubt it can be a great addition to a product, it’s crucial to carefully consider whether it’s indeed a good solution for your project. And that’s what AI engineers help you with.
Let’s start with a brief explanation of what Quality Assurance is. It’s a process of gathering information, performing tests, and improving products based on test findings that goes through the whole software development lifecycle. It helps to ensure that the product runs the way it should (both in the technical & business aspects) and meets the stakeholders’ requirements and the users’ expectations. So, what’s the role of a QA engineer in all that?
Such a specialist is your product’s biggest fan and toughest critic all at once. Their responsibility is to build a testing plan that involves choosing the right tools and techniques and providing recommendations. QAs devise test scenarios and scripts (also the automatic ones) and report chosen metrics to the stakeholders. They test not only the app itself but also the project’s documentation. Moreover, QAs assess the risk of errors and provide the team with recommendations concerning the best UX & accessibility solutions.
“The whole project team is accountable for the quality of the product. However, QA engineers are the main source of knowledge about quality processes & levels of product’s quality. It’s the power of this position”. — Monika Kalisz, QA Consultant
What roles can the software development team include, and (why) do you need them? — summary
The software development team can consist of:
- A Product Owner, responsible for managing the backlog and maximizing the potential of the envisioned product.
- In case the person assigned to the PO role doesn’t have the relevant technical knowledge or capacity to cover all the responsibilities, the PO Proxy can step in. They support POs in managing the backlog and communicating with the development team. Still, the PO remains the decision-maker.
- A scrum master who watches over the whole development process: to keep it going according to the scrum rules. Thanks to the scrum master, the development can be agile, flexible and avoid or resolve obstacles faster.
- UX designers research, design, and test user interfaces to ensure that the growing product is user-friendly.
- Front-end developers are responsible for the part of the app that’s “visible” to the users. However, that applies not only to its design but also to its functionality.
- Back-end developers are focused on the system architecture. They design, implement and maintain server-side logic and APIs.
- Full-stack developers have front-end and back-end skills and can help any of those two sides if one encounters any blocker.
- AI engineers can help you discover the potential of your data and build algorithms that would optimize specific processes.
- And QAs watch over your product’s quality, ensuring it meets the stakeholders’ requirements.
Remember that there’s no one perfect team composition that suits every case. Digital products differ; thus, the teams required to build them vary. Now that you have a broader perspective on the responsibilities behind all the roles, I hope composing the best team for your project’s needs will be easier!