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The Future of Work for Software-Led Companies

Building and Enabling Productive Software Development Teams in a Modern World

Companies Are Becoming More Software-Centric

We live in a software-centric world. Regardless of industry, almost every company is now digitally transforming to become more software-driven. Circumstances surrounding the pandemic have forced organizations across the board to revisit, refine, and optimize their organizations to stay in business and continue serving their customers.

Much of this effort is built around software development. As part of this process, they’re addressing the infrastructure, technology, and organizational gaps exposed as they’ve scrambled to create and manage a functional remote and asynchronous working environment for their teams. Amongst all the chaos of the post-pandemic world, it’s clear that this is a generational opportunity to redefine what the future of work will look like for a software-led organization.

In today’s competitive business environment, all organizations — especially startups and growth phase companies — face a major challenge: they’re all competing for the same resources. With a broader range of companies beefing up in-house app development and looking for scarce software development talent, the demand for software development agility and skills has never been higher.

Businesses Must Empower Software Teams

For organizations where the software development life cycle is core to the business strategy, operations, and sustainability, it’s time for out-of-the-box thinking.

In a globally distributed and connected workforce, traditional office-centric, synchronous workflows will not cut it anymore. A comprehensive future of work strategy must balance the needs of the business with that of its employees. Tools that enable developer productivity, transparency of business goals, effective communications, flexible work environments, and speed to market are fundamental to the success of a company’s strategy.

Organizations must evaluate the productivity tools they use today in the context of future work priorities. They must ensure they’re taking full advantage of new technologies and opportunities that help them build better software faster and let valuable software development resources focus on core requirements.

“Over the past two years, the number of developers at non-tech companies has grown faster than at tech companies.”

“We were a remote-friendly team before COVID; we are a remote-first team now. I do believe people do their best work when they are given a level of flexibility and autonomy.”

“By 2023, over 500 million digital apps and services will be developed and deployed using cloud-native approaches, most of those targeted at industry-specific digital transformation use cases.”

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Yesterday’s Tools Don’t Meet Today’s Needs

For most businesses, there’s a disconnect between the tools they’re using and the tools that will help them compete in a software-centric world.

The overnight shift to remote work caused by the pandemic translated to investments in new infrastructure and digital tools. Applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and others helped teams replicate real-time in-office communications. Now, with at least some level of remote working very likely here to stay, tools that enable asynchronous communications, workflow visualization and automation, and timely access to reliable data are crucial to keep remote teams motivated, happy, and productive.

With this shift, many traditional project management tools are now out-of-sync with the needs of modern teams. Project management methodologies were designed with in-person interactions in mind, making them inadequate for the speed and agility required by distributed development teams. The practice of project managers manually tracking, updating, and reporting the progress of projects now has to give way to shared responsibility. Outcome-focused, non-hierarchical productivity management tools that break down silos and empower developers are the way of the future.

Tool sprawl and context switching have also become significant impediments to progress. Remote and hybrid working has translated to a patchwork of disparate tools and solutions for many businesses. For developers, non-integrated tools, processes, and methodologies translate to context switching — lost focused time. Multiple impromptu meetings, chat requests, and other such interruptions come at the cost of speed and agility – while also impacting developers’ overall happiness and job satisfaction. According to Asana’s The Anatomy of Work Index, knowledge workers switch between as many as 10 apps about 25 times per day, resulting in fragmented communication, lost productivity, and missed deadlines.1

Software Development Is a Multi-Team Sport

It’s not unusual to have in-house developers working with multiple globally dispersed partners and freelancers on a single project. Instead of vertically integrating a software stack and controlling all associated elements, companies are now looking to build horizontal technology components that get reused in vertical market segments. Traditional project management tools are limited in their ability to centrally coordinate cross-company updates, artifacts, and permissions for a global workforce.

At the same time, COVID-19 has brought about a shift in employee mindset. Along with compensation, health and family time have emerged as important considerations for employees. In many industries, employee burnout and shifts in worker priorities have led to “The great resignation” and attrition levels unseen in the recent past.2

Taking all of this into consideration, the line between work time and downtime has now been blurred for developers who are working longer hours to make up for time lost to meetings and interruptions. Companies that can’t provide the right work-life balance risk employee churn, lower productivity, and missed deliverables.

“Tools that empower the people doing the work, the developers, to stay focused on the right work and minimize the time they spend providing updates to the rest of the organization are going to be really important in the future.”

“In my work, projects often span multiple entities and time zones. I may have to work with developers from my team, developers from the client’s side, developers from another outsourcing vendor, and freelancers. Without the right tools, coordinating work and responsibilities can be a challenge.”

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Six Priorities Underpin the Future of Work

While there are numerous disconnects between current and future ways of work, there are also opportunities to adopt technologies and tools that can help bridge those gaps. Here’s an overview of six priorities that will help high-growth startups and scaleups better align their development tools, workflows, and teams. The themes outlined here are explored in more detail throughout the remainder of the paper.

Shift to the Cloud

The on-demand functionality, scalability, and flexibility that cloud services provide are not easy to cost-effectively duplicate through on-premises infrastructure and technology stacks. A cloud-first approach should be the preferred option for startups and growth businesses that need to prioritize building and shipping products without the worries of mundane operational tasks associated with infrastructure maintenance.

Build on Open Source Components

The ability to build on top of components that have already been tried and tested can accelerate time to market for startups and mid-sized companies. In a recent Tidelift study, 68 percent of respondents said the primary reason their companies turned to open source during the pandemic was to save time and money on their software development projects.3 With a distributed ecosystem of sponsors, project owners, developers, contributors, committers, and others, open source has been a trendsetter in distributed software development.

Choose Digital Tools and Strategies

As the fundamental building block of digital transformation, services and experiences delivered through apps and digital portals have become table stakes for businesses. The early days of COVID-19 showed that companies that implemented digital tools and strategies had an easier time adapting their businesses to a distributed-work model. A recent IDC study revealed that employee productivity increased by 20 percent at companies that invested in digital transformation initiatives in 2020.4

Support Remote Working

The pandemic has demonstrated that remote working at scale can be effective for most businesses that deliver location-independent products and services. Contrary to established beliefs, software-centric companies have discovered that remote-only and hybrid development teams can function effectively when leveraging distributed agile methodologies.

Enable Asynchronous Communications

Not every interaction in a business setting needs to happen in real-time. As work becomes more distributed, global, and connected, implementing tools and processes that support asynchronous communications is key to keeping employees productive and collaborating across time zones and international borders.

Focus on Developer Happiness

The past two years have shown that employee priorities have shifted. A fat paycheck alone does not cut it anymore. For startups and smaller software-led organizations, developer satisfaction and retention are key factors to the sustainability of the business. A positive employee experience often translates to a positive customer experience.

12 Common Themes and Wants Across Software-Centric Organizations

While each software-centric organization will have a unique digital transformation strategy, they all share common requirements and goals for software development tools and workflows:

  1. Shorter projects, faster releases, robust testing, and higher quality code
  2. Early error detection and bug fixes in the development lifecycle
  3. Tools that enable innovation and reduce manual interventions and integrations
  4. Actionable insights and metrics that facilitate development and remove blocks
  5. A single source of truth: reliable and accessible documentation
  6. Transparency of product roadmaps, backlogs, and project status
  7. Uninterrupted focus time for distributed software development
  8. Improved automation to increase agility and minimize human error
  9. Renewed focus on employee retention
  10. Effective communication and collaboration among remote team members
  11. Retrospectives that help with continuous improvement and delivery
  12. Knowing what good looks like

“It's becoming recognized that the best way to get good software built is through self-governing meritocratic teams rather than a hierarchical organization. So, I think open source is kind of a trendsetter here.”

“At ZenHub, we are always figuring out which tools and integrations enhance the workflow and are needed to support the velocity and the work we are trying to do in an optimal way. You need to know what good looks like for your business.”

Tech Trends Will Shape the Future of Software Development

There are many technology and software industry trends that will influence the future of work. Here are a few that top the list. As startups and mid-size businesses refine their digital transformation strategies and priorities and look to the future, it’s very likely every one of these trends will play an important role.

Cloud Computing
As noted earlier, taking a cloud-first approach is a top priority to power the software-centric future of work.

For cloud-born and cloud-native businesses, consuming services and infrastructure from the cloud have been a given. For startups and scale-ups that are not already in the cloud, the cloud’s speed, scalability, and flexibility should be a serious consideration for future projects. Care should be taken to avoid unplanned costs that can come with the cloud’s on-demand scalability and flexibility.

Machine Learning
Modern-day software development and productivity tools leverage machine learning (ML) systems for automation and features that enable continuous improvement/continuous delivery (CI/CD).

ML technology uses algorithms to design and develop data models that are iterated as the computer learns from the new data it collects. ML Operations (MLOps), a set of practices that aim to deploy and maintain machine learning models in production, bridge data model development, and the machine learning life cycle that includes data collection, learning, and retraining.

According to industry expert Tyler Jewell, while automated test creation and maintenance are the most widely adopted uses of ML, the increasing complexity of connected systems and the pressure for software teams to reduce development cycle times could fuel the emergence of ML-driven capabilities across the software development life cycle.5

Low-Code Development Platforms
With low-code development platforms (LCDPs), individuals without coding knowledge can develop software apps. The idea that simple apps can be created with graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and flowchart-like mapping appeals to business leaders looking to reduce development costs. While Gartner’s projection that citizen developers will outnumber professional developers at large companies by 2023 sounds aggressive,6 it is conceivable that low-code software development will find a level of adoption in the coming years.

5G and Beyond
The high-bandwidth, low-latency wireless connectivity delivered by 5G networks will have transformational impacts on app development across digital sectors. From industrial applications that use edge computing to autonomous cars that require instant machine-to-machine communications, 5G will play a role in enhancing user experiences with technologies that leverage the IoT, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), and cloud computing.

Decentralized Autonomous Organizations
As the pandemic changed organizational structures and teams became distributed, employee empowerment and consensus-based decision-making have received significant attention. Organizations that adhere to the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) philosophy believe they can benefit from a non-hierarchical structure as long as everyone’s goals are aligned. As software development teams become globalized, asynchronous communications become the norm, and tools help align organizational goals, companies will increasingly evaluate the DAO model as the way of the future.

Open Source Plays a Major Role in the Future of Software Development

From a future of work perspective, open source offers the prerequisites needed to develop and deliver software in a distributed and asynchronous environment. A cloud-first mentality, distributed teams and individuals, developer empowerment, and community-based decisions are all guiding principles of open source that encourage open collaboration. Together, these factors make open source a crucial component of future software development, with adoption levels as high as 90 percent in enterprise market segments.7

The need for businesses to explore low-cost options has resulted in an increase in open source development projects. According to Octoverse’s 2020 Empowering Healthy Communities report, year over year, open source project creations in GitHub jumped by as much as 40 percent.8 For startups and small businesses, leveraging reusable code can translate into significant performance improvements in the software development process.

The primary drivers for using open source in software development include:

  • Permissionless: Free access to and sharing of innovation
  • Reusable code: Speeds up development
  • Cost-effective: Lower costs when compared to proprietary software
  • Flexibility: Ability to fork, alter, and extend software for customization
  • Community support: More eyeballs for bug fixes and issues
  • Technically diverse: Multiple vertical applications, tools, and integrations

However, the pandemic has not spared the open source industry. As a community-dependent environment, the shortage of talented developers has increased demands on contributors, committers, and the rest of the ecosystem. The lack of central authority, concerns of low-security controls, and the cost of integrating paid services are often cited as factors limiting open source adoption in software projects.

With software development spanning commercial software and open source code, a productivity management tool that helps teams seamlessly plan, track, and visualize work has become a key element to project success.

Partners Can Provide Access to Development Resources

As companies chart their course for the future, internal staffing and partnering for success have become significant considerations. Statista estimates the IT outsourcing market for 2021 was $92.5 billion.9 The majority of that spending came from enterprises. A recent study by review and rating firm, Clutch, showed that only 29 percent of small businesses with fewer than 50 employees use outsourcing, while 66 percent of their larger peers do.10

There are advantages and disadvantages to outsourcing software development (Table 1).

Table 1: Advantages and Disadvantages to Outsourcing Software Development

Advantages

Cost reduction: Leveraging a partner’s resources can reduce the need for permanent positions at a company.

Leverage learnings: A skilled partner can leverage previous learnings to reduce time to market for products.

Scalability: Outsourcing vendors can leverage bench strength to augment existing teams with a larger talent pool.

Technology currency: The cost and effort of staying current on tools and systems becomes the partner’s responsibility.

Maturity and agility: A partner can help small businesses learn and develop key processes and workflows.

Disadvantages

Unplanned costs: Unplanned work can come at an incremental cost, not contractually covered.

Quality and supportability: Code delivered to spec may not be supportable and maintainable by in-house teams.

Attrition: Developer shortages and attrition can significantly impact the partner’s ability to meet timelines.

Lack of control: High reliance on partners can translate to lack of control and risk of lock-in.

Trust and security: An outsourcing partnership is based on trust. A partner’s ability to secure confidential data is vital.

For startups focused on getting their business off the ground, outsourcing to the right partner can alleviate the stress of finding and retaining in-house talent. As organizational boundaries blur and distributed agile methodologies gain adoption, tools that support cross-company teams and aid outcome-focused project management become key.

The Right Productivity Management Platforms Bring Predictability to Projects

There are different definitions of what productivity and work management platforms do. At the core, they function as tools that help users plan, track, coordinate, and communicate the status of projects and processes that are crucial to a software-centric organization’s success. The right productivity management platform can be the answer to many of the current challenges faced by software-led organizations.

Key functionality provided by productivity management platforms include the following.

Key functionality by productivity management platforms include:

Visibility and transparency: By communicating and sharing the real-time progress of software development initiatives with key stakeholders, productivity management tools drive organizational alignment without the traditional spreadsheets and slides. The holistic view of roadmaps promotes improved clarity, transparency, accountability, and purpose within project teams, fostering an environment for continuous iteration and improvement.

Single source of truth: Project teams that struggle with multiple sources of incomplete data can take advantage of tools that capture real-time project updates and communications into a single source of information accessible to all team members. A dependable living data source ensures that developers find what they are looking for without interrupting their colleagues. A single source of truth eases the onboarding process for new developers while helping junior developers stay focused.

Automation: Productivity management platforms automate many routine aspects of agile project management, allowing product owners and development teams to focus on priorities that deliver value to the business. From sprint planning to estimations, tools can enable teams to integrate automation into workflows and eliminate human errors and wasted time. Gartner predicts that 80 percent of today’s project management functions will be eliminated through automation by 2030.11

Visualization: Virtual boards that depict the progress of projects have replaced physical Kanban and Scrum boards. Boards display easy-to-digest information on the status of sprints, epics, and roadmaps to enable predictability. By helping developers organize, track, and visualize their workflows, productivity management tools play a vital role in prioritizing work and managing planned and unplanned tasks.

Developer empowerment: Empowering teams and individuals to self-organize without rigid organizational hierarchy and structure is key to employee empowerment. Modern productivity management tools offer developers a level of autonomy that fosters creativity. Transparency of product goals and visualization of prioritized workflows allow employees to see the impact of their efforts and their value to the organization.

Asynchronous communications: Productivity platforms' visualization and reporting features allow team members to reduce the need for real-time (synchronous) communications – such as meetings, chats, and voice calls – allowing for discussions across time zones and geographies. By reducing interruptions and context switching, developers can focus on prioritized tasks in their workflow.

Reporting: Real-time and historical reports provide actionable insights to project teams and are fundamental to measuring the success of software projects. Reporting suites within productivity management platforms allow teams to configure and view reports and data on the progress of projects and identify bottlenecks that impact value creation.

Retrospectives: A software development life cycle is incomplete without retrospectives that analyze what did and did not go as planned in a sprint. Timeboxing a retrospective meeting can be a challenge in a distributed development environment. Labels and other visualization tools within productivity applications help classify and categorize team feedback on the effectiveness of project components, including documentation, tools, frameworks, the code review process, and unplanned work.

“As a company scales, agility is one of the things that gets sacrificed. A tool that helps you keep that agility while you scale would make all the difference.”

ZenHub Empowers the Future of Work for Software-Led Organizations

In a world where the future of work is software-centric, a holistic approach to ensuring sustainability, agility, and scalability of business applications is key to success. For smaller organizations and startups, there is very little room for error. They need the right people, tools, policies, and mindset to do more with less.

ZenHub gives these organizations the developer-friendly productivity management platform they need to transform software development, drive team productivity, and bring predictability to projects. With automated agile features, real-time roadmap visibility, and team productivity insights, organizations can connect the dots across all teams and build better code, faster.

As the leading productivity management suite in GitHub, ZenHub is trusted by more than 7,000 companies and open source projects to help them work together to ship great code.

Learn how ZenHub helps software teams increase productivity by up to 75 percent, and start your free trial today.

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[1] The Anatomy of Work Index, Asana.
[2] Who Is Driving the Great Resignation? Harvard Business Review, September 2021.
[3] Recession spurring increased adoption of open source software according to latest yearly survey by Tidelift, Tidelift, October 2020.
[4] Employee Experience and Customer Experience – What is the Connection? IDC, September 2021.
[5] The Developer-Led Landscape, Tyler Jewell, September 2020.
[6] Gartner: Citizen developers will soon outnumber professional coders 4 to 1, David F. Carr, VentureBeat, October 2021
[7] The State of Enterprise Open Source, Red Hat, 2021.
[8] Empowering healthy communities: The 2020 State of the Octoverse report, 2020.
[9] IT Outsourcing Industry - Statistics & Facts, Statista, February 2022.
[10] Small Business Outsourcing Statistics in 2019, Riley Panko, Clutch, December 2019.
[11] Gartner Says 80 Percent of Today’s Project Management Tasks Will Be Eliminated by 2030 as Artificial Intelligence Takes Over, Gartner, March 2019.