12 Essential Skills Every Software Development Manager Needs

By Jenn Rogala

Last Updated: April 5th 2024

How to be a respected software development manager who everyone wants to work for.

The role and responsibilities of the software development manager

Development team management includes hiring, assigning projects, managing collaboration between teams and team members, ensuring the business goals are met, providing technical expertise, and maybe even some hands-on development.

The list goes on.

Company leadership should prioritize ensuring developers are trained, have access to the tools they need, have a career growth path etc.

These are all true, but they're true for all managers regardless of industry or the workforce.

Managing Programmers

The skills needed to effectively manage a software development team can vary.

There is no tried-and-true formula.

But there are some guidelines that help pave the way to managing high-performing software teams.

These skills will turn you into a manager who is respected and trusted.

And the one everybody wants to work for.

12 Essential Skills managers need to lead productive software development teams.

1. Remember that every project exists to address a business goal

  • Know the specific business object each project is addressing.
  • Developers should know who their work impacts, and how it impacts.
  • They should know who is on the other side of every line of code.
  • If possible, plan a tour of a facility if your clients are local.
  • Or have developers read a client case study.
  • If you write software for manufacturing, show the team how a flaw in the software negatively impacts the client's business.

2. Managers are only as good as the people they hire, train, and support.

  • Hire people with different skills from you and the rest of the team.
  • Managers shouldn't be threatened by someone who is better at a skill than them. This is a good thing.
  • You don't have to know everything, but you do need to be able to talk about it intelligently.
  • Stay informed about each project and the technology it uses.
  • Maybe take on a small development project if time permits.

3. Ensure equal opportunity in the team, and fair distribution of work.

  • Project and support work should be evenly assigned among the team members.
  • Don't always give cool projects to the senior developers.
  • Even distribution provides cross coverage to support projects and gives junior developers opportunities to grow.
  • Maybe give the team an opportunity to choose their next project from the priority list.
  • Don't overload your high performers simply because they can churn out more code, otherwise known as performance punishment.
  • Are they truly faster? Or are they working nights and weekends, too? See #5.

4. Make sure that you don't have one point of failure, where only one person knows an app, or a technology.

  • You should be able to lose your most capable developer without the project screeching to a halt because no one else knows what to do.

5. Team dynamics: Team members must support each other, but there is a limit.

  • If a team member consistently works around the clock, find out why. This isn't a healthy work/life balance and can lead to burn out.
  • If there is a low performer on the team, address it immediately and get them the training they need. Set them up to succeed.
  • Also, watch out for team members who cover for low performers. This doesn't help anyone.
  • Lastly, recognize and address “sibling rivalry.”
  • Some team members may resent that they weren't assigned a specific project. Talk to them and assure them they'll get an upcoming cool project.

6. Look for areas to innovate, but don't introduce technology just because it's cool.

  • Who's going to support it? Unless you can train the whole team.
  • Have technology standards and conventions.
  • If two technologies do the same thing, then pick one.

7. Make annual reviews a priority.

  • If you expect them to deliver their projects on time, then you should conduct their performance appraisal on time.
  • Always ask them what they need from you that they may not be getting.
  • Don't wait until the review to address performance issues. Tell them you want them to succeed and that you're committed to that.
  • Have those difficult conversations. Don't avoid them.

8. Be visible: This is tough with remote work where communication skills can be challenging.

  • Many can't “mange by walking around” anymore.
  • Have team meetings but make them useful.
  • If there's no agenda, then cancel the meeting.
  • Depending on the size of your team, try to have 1-on-1 meetings on a regular basis, whether it's weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
  • Turn your camera on during video conferences.

9. No-blame mistakes – make it safe to admit a misstep.

  • Have their back.
  • They should not be afraid to report a mistake.
  • There is no developer out there who has not introduced a bug.
  • Make it a learning opportunity.
  • But if the same person keeps making the same mistake, then re-read #5.
  • Also forgive your own missteps as a manager.

10. Document the SDLC process. Make sure everyone has read it and agrees with it.

  • So, when a PM reports that your developer isn't following the process, then you have the document to set the record straight.
  • Try to avoid using email for project-related correspondence.
  • But if email can't be avoided, keep every email in a well-organized folder system.
  • Don't delete it.

11. Get them exposure.

  • Let them present their own work whenever possible.
  • Assuming that's what they want. Many people hate public speaking.
  • If you do have to present their work, give them credit during the presentation.

12. Manage change, and the anxiety that comes with it.

  • Technology is constantly changing.
  • Company business models change.
  • Leadership changes.
  • Stay positive about any change.
  • Change can make people nervous.
  • You staying calm and positive will help alleviate some of their anxiety.

Key Takeaways.

Managers should prioritize building these skills to effectively lead teams of software developers and create a working environment of trust and respect.

The technology industry is in constant flux and that's not going to change.

In fact, it's accelerating.

Position your team to be ready for it.

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Jenn Rogala

Senior Writer

Jennifer Rogala has worked in the area of healthcare technology for 30 years. Most of her publications were on the topic of how medical technology can improve patient safety. It wasn't until she became a mother that she started writing stories for children. From their infancy her twin daughters loved books. Seeing the joy books gave to her children inspired Jennifer to attempt to create this joy herself and share it with others. Jennifer lives outside of Boston with her twin daughters, and calico cat.