Building the Stream Teams – The future of Ellie's software development teams
We're currently working on setting up the best structure for Ellie's new software development teams! Our new development team structures are designed based on our product strategy, that includes developing 3 different areas of our data modeling SaaS product.
“Building a successful software development team structure takes more than simply grouping individuals together.”
In addition, behind the team structure design, there is plenty of research data and recommendations to create well-functioning teamwork and meaningful software development. The central mastermind behind the new framework is our CTO Jari "Jaffa" Jaanto, who sees careful planning and leadership as important in building teams.
Jaffa believes in small, autonomous teams that can manage projects from start to finish, with clear tasks for each member. His leadership philosophy focuses on strong leadership and creating self-sufficient units with room for growth!
Why are we building a SaaS product around data modeling?
Let's take a few steps back and start with why! In today's data landscape, big companies often face significant challenges in fully utilizing their data. This is the problem that we're solving at Ellie!
One common issue in big companies' data utilization is diving into programming data products without engaging with the end-users who actually need the data. This can create a disconnect between data teams and other departments, causing delays in delivering data products valuable to the business.
These problems, on the other hand, arise from limited collaboration and business involvement, starting from the wrong direction, and unsuitable collaboration tools. Luckily, a solution like Ellie offers an user-friendly approach to bridge these gaps and improve the success rate of crucial data initiatives.
How we make data work for everyone: Ellie’s product strategy
In autumn 2023, Ellie's SaaS product strategy is undergoing a significant transformation. Version 5 released in October 2023 is the primary focus that our development team is working on. It's the biggest update in our product's history to date! So far, our development team has worked on it as one team.
“It's the biggest update in our product's history to date!”
So far, our product strategy has had a strong emphasis on simplifying data modeling to facilitate content creation – a key selling point for Ellie due to its user-friendly nature.
In the future, another important product area will be the Enterprise Metadata, catering to the needs of large corporations. Additionally, a new area called Data Product Design is set to begin to be worked on in Q2/24, aiming to enhance automation and content generation.
“There will be 3 different stream teams to work on these different aspects of our product.”
These three aspects of our product will be a foundation also for our team division: there will be 3 different Stream Teams to work on these different aspects of our product.
The fourth development team will be The Platform team, working on the technical backbone to support all these areas and the expansion of Ellie as a global SaaS.
These strategic moves promise an exciting future for Ellie's product offerings! But what does it look like for our Software Developers, Designers, QA Engineers and Product Managers to start working within this new team structure?
Building a software development team structure at Ellie
Building a successful team structure takes more than simply grouping individuals together. It requires careful planning, clear responsibilities and expectations, and effective leadership. At Ellie, we are committed to developing our team structure to maximize productivity and making development work meaningful.
"Often there is a rush to build development team structures, and they are done hastily. However, our team structure at Ellie has been carefully planned and thought out. Creating new team structures is a process and we're moving forward phase by phase," says Jaffa.
How were the development team structures planned at Ellie?
To develop a successful team structure, reflecting on past experiences and leveraging relevant research data is a great starting point.
Did you know that for example, Jaffa was a Co-Founder at Irc-Galleria, a Finnish social networking platform with a huge success in the beginning of 2000? In total, he has 20 years of experience in working in versatile software development teams.
"For example, dividing different competencies into separate teams has caused problems in my past. I believe the idea comes from war organizations: there are separate anti-tank companies and mortar companies, for example. In software development, e.g. dividing QA Engineers and Developers into different teams often causes them to have to wait for each other when every task doesn't necessarily fit the sprints at the same time," Jaffa explains.
In addition, research data and recommendations have served as an important tool in designing the teams. For example, the "Team Topologies" lecture series and the book have served as a source of information. In addition, the work "Agile Organization" is recommended by Jaffa.
"I have found that smaller development teams, each including different competencies: Developers, Product Managers, QA Engineers and Designers, tend to perform better. They can autonomously focus on specific tasks and goals, and each member can bring their unique set of skills and talents to the table. It is ideal that these small development teams can work on tasks from start to finish, without having to wait for other teams", Jaffa says.
Moving into the new team structures through a storming phase
"Most of our current development team has already worked with each other, and the processes are familiar to them. However, when we start working in more teams, it's new for us", Jaffa says.
“We’re strengthening our development teams with new team members.”
As we’re strengthening our development teams with new team members as well, there are a lot of new things coming for everyone.
Making decisions about the actual team divisions has been carried forward through development discussions and workshops.
The storming phase occurs when teams are in the early stages of working in new team structures. In this phase, teams adapt to change, navigate new dynamics, understand roles and responsibilities, and learn to function as a cohesive unit within the newly defined framework.
“By establishing clear communication early on, teams can start performing at optimal levels.”
"We take this phase seriously to ensure that team formation is done efficiently, but there is enough time for the new teams to adapt. We move on to the performing phase quite quickly after that. We believe that by working through possible conflicts and establishing clear communication early on, teams can start performing at optimal levels", Jaffa says.
Clear responsibilities and expectations for each team member
Successful teams operate from a foundation of clear responsibilities and expectations. Assigning clear tasks and ensuring that team members understand what is expected of them, can help each member function efficiently and foster a sense of accountability.
“We believe that well-defined responsibilities are important for creating a culture of trust. Our team members know what is expected of them and how their contributions will help achieve our company goals!" Jaffa says.
Jaffa's leadership philosophy as a CTO
Effective leadership is essential for any successful team structure. Successful leaders can facilitate team movement forward, manage responsibilities, and ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal.
"My leadership philosophy emphasizes strong centralized leadership and commitment to active listening. I believe in fostering an environment that supports individual needs while maintaining focus on team goals", Jaffa says.
Exciting times ahead with the new team structures!
At Ellie we understand the importance of building a successful development team structure to drive our company's growth and productivity.
Through careful planning, clear responsibilities and expectations, effective leadership, and quick team formation, we believe we will achieve the optimal team structure. As we move forward, we are excited to continue refining and developing our team structure, creating a culture of trust, inclusion and professional growth for our people.