The decision to scale your startup’s tech team is a defining moment in your company’s growth. Take some solace, knowing mistakes are to be expected.
Bryan Clayton, Chief of Product at GreenPal, shares, “Looking back, we did most of it wrong the first time, but that’s ok. [You’ll] learn from your mistakes and course-correct.”
In this article, we discuss how to know when it’s time to hire for your engineering team or software development team, why the right time feels so elusive, and how to get it done with as few mistakes as possible.
How To Know It’s Time To Scale Your Tech Team
Knowing whether it’s the right time to scale your engineering or development team begins with a problem and a goal.
Your goal might be to:
Build a new product or update an existing one
Provide better support over increased demand for your product
Grow your business
Focus on innovation to stay ahead of the competition
Your problem is likely more straightforward. You’ll know it’s time to scale your current team when you don’t have the frontend or backend talent needed to accomplish your goals.
Maybe you haven’t hired an in-house tech team yet. Perhaps you have one, but there’s too much work — or not the right skills and experience — to reach your goals.
Aristida Markauskaite, HR Manager at RatePunk, shares her experience in team scaling:
“If your current tech team is struggling to keep up with the workload, and you see a consistent increase in the volume and complexity of tasks or projects, it may be time to bring your tech team to another level.”
Sometimes, knowing whether it’s the right time is easier said than done. Let’s discuss why.
Here’s Why Scaling Is Such a Challenge For Many Startups
When asked what challenges she faced while scaling RatePunk’s tech team, Markauskaite described her experience:
“Meeting your clients’ needs is your main priority, and constant bugs don’t align. If you notice a decline in the quality of your tech team's output or customer satisfaction levels, it may indicate your team is stretched too thin and is struggling to meet customers’ needs.”
Markauskaite added some advice, “I wouldn’t recommend waiting for signs such as team members working overtime regularly or missing deadlines — that’s already a red flag.”
When scaling a tech team, you need to onboard new developers before your current developers are overworked. But you can’t hire too early, or you risk not having enough work for them (or losing efficiency).
Danny Nathan, Founder and CEO of Apollo 21, shared his experience:
“I didn't want to end up in a situation where we have more mouths to feed than our projects can support.”
The biggest challenge to scaling a tech team is that there isn’t an easy formula for determining how many developers you’ll need to hire before starting a new project or goal.
To add to that problem, communication gets harder as your team grows. When your staff numbers increase, so do the numbers and ways of communicating. The distance between coworkers — and management and staff — grows. This makes feedback loops longer.
If you operate a distributed team, communication may become even more challenging as your technology team gets further from the people who receive customer feedback — sales and customer service.
You’ll run into trouble if your developers have no idea what problems your customers are sharing. These factors together mean creating and updating your well-built product becomes difficult.
Without a clear plan forward, adding tech team members can actually result in lost productivity, rather than gained.
Scale Your Tech Team In 7 Steps
Why is a scalable team important for a company? A scalable team is vital for a company because you must ensure you have the right people at the right time for your company stage and goals, without overworking your current staff or overstaffing.
How do you create a scalable tech team and avoid overworking and overstaffing? You can create a scalable team with the following steps:
1. Consider In-House vs. Outsourced Talent
Your first step is to decide if you need in-house staff or if outsourcing to contractors may work better for your needs.
Danny Nathan shares his experience augmenting his staff with contractors:
“I structured our team around a core leadership group and augment with specialists and additional resources on-demand. This approach allows us to be thoughtful about when we bring on additional internal team members and considerate of how they fit our culture. It also ensures that when a project ends or changes, we have the flexibility to scale down as needed.”
When you augment your staff, you gain access to a broader tech talent pool and can hire short-term specialists for specific talents or experience currently lacking on your technical team. You can customize hiring based on the rates you’re willing to pay for the actual working hours, rather than a full salary and benefits for a specialist all year round.
But hiring in-house comes with positives as well. It can provide a stable workforce, possibly face-to-face work if your company isn’t remote, and makes team management easier overall. In-house is an excellent option if you’re opening a new location that needs its own dedicated tech team available on-site.
Here at MVP Match, we help companies find the tech talent they need — both individual freelance contractors or full-contract product teams. Learn more here.
Here are the quick and dirty differences to consider when determining if in-house or outsourced talent is right for you.
In house staff
Handled by MVP Match
Handled in house
Handled in house
Handled in house
Handled by MVP Match
Handled in house
Software development processes
Already established or able to adapt
Need to be established
Full or part-time
Employee Training or Education
Not your company’s responsibility
Your company’s responsibility
Recommended: Product Team Structure: 6 Options for Your Business
2. Hire Carefully
If you’ve decided to hire in-house tech staff, ensuring that you’ve found the right person becomes paramount.
Brenton Thomas, CEO of Twibi, says, “When scaling a tech team, it's crucial to ensure the team has members with complementary skills and personalities who can collaborate effectively and work towards common goals. A focus on hiring for culture fit and soft skills can help foster a positive work environment, promote employee retention, and support the long-term success of your startup.”
3. Prioritize Company Culture and Communication
Throughout your company communications and especially while sourcing new hires, it’s essential to emphasize your company culture — and ensure you are following your own advice.
As CEO, founder, or CTO, embodying your fundamental values to your staff while recruiting new employees fosters a motivated team and community.
Clayton shares his experience:
“Your job as the founder is to protect the culture… When hiring new team members, focus on finding people with the right skills and experience, who also fit in with your company culture and values. But as you’re scaling, you’ll need to prioritize communication and collaboration. Make sure everyone is on the same page and encourage open communication and feedback to build a positive and productive workplace.”
4. Consider Staying Small
There are many advantages to maintaining a small team, including increased productivity, less expense, and easier management and communication.
Nathan shares his advice, “Don't over-commit. Be extremely judicious about hiring because people are one (if not the) most expensive resources in your arsenal. Do as much as you can, as leanly as you can — for as long as you can. Doing so will help to ensure that you know exactly what you need when you do decide that scaling up [in-house] is inevitable.”
Automation is key to performing well as a small, agile team — and even more so as your tech team grows.
Begin automating in areas such as regression testing, smoke testing, and sanity testing. Later, your team can move on to automate data-driven testing, such as stress and load testing.
As you automate, be cautious that this process doesn’t impact the functionality of your product.
6. Assess Your Success, Adjust, and Improve
Evaluate your success across business scaling using various project management metrics that assess productivity and product quality. You can run experiments with scaling your team up and down or moving team members around to see how it impacts your metrics.
Important Note: Running experiments with adding and removing teams or team members is more straightforward when experimenting with contractors, rather than in-house employees.
Some key metrics to track include the following:
Issue rate. Knowing where bugs are most often found in your pipeline is important.
Test Cycle Time. Fast feedback for your team means more rapid improvements can be made.
Automated Test Coverage. By tracking this metric, you gain insight into the emphasis your team places on automated testing and the progress of your test coverage.
Defect Removal Efficiency. DRE is a measure of the correlation of bugs detected during testing to those reported by end-users.
Commenting and documentation ratios. This metric provides the proportions of comments and documentation text to code.
Maintainability score. This metric represents how easy it is to maintain your code. A value between numbers 20 and 100 indicates good maintainability, between 10 and 19 represents moderate maintainability, and numbers 0 to 9 suggest low maintainability.
Standardization error rate. Before your team can grow, you must select and communicate your expectations regarding the amount of standardization and errors per line of code.
By measuring and following trends across these metrics for your team, your chances of avoiding bottlenecks and nailing efficiency will improve dramatically.
7. Outsource the entire process
If you’re not sure where to start, MVP Match specializes in tech talent sourcing. We can help you source an entire high-quality team to focus on new product development or help you fill your in-house team’s skill set gaps with a freelance specialist.
No matter your tech talent needs, we can help you identify the right solution and provide it.
Managing Relationships Between Tech & Non-Tech Team Members
You’ll often need non-tech management and various other stakeholders to sign off on your tech team development ambitions. There are actions you can take to achieve the results you’re hoping for during these meetings.
First, always communicate from a business standpoint. If your methodology won’t clearly impact revenue, connect the dots for non-tech management by emphasizing other benefits and how they may indirectly lead to business growth.
Second, be thorough and persuasive in presenting the benefits of action versus inaction. Compare your options and equip non-tech management to see the value of making a change now versus later, or not at all.
With full transparency, you’ll be well on your way to getting your way.
Don’t skimp on talent… Hire an MVP.
The easiest way to scale a tech team is to hire our team to do it for you. We’ve built a tech talent community and marketplace of highly talented and vetted developers and engineers that are ready to get to work for you.
Ready to get started building your tech team? Let’s discuss your team development needs.
If you’re a freelancer reading this guide, we’re looking for you too! Apply to join our freelance marketplace today.