The popular phrase ‘every company is a software company,’ rings true now more than ever before. A recent global survey by Accenture revealed that 90% of business and technology leader respondents believe that ‘IT-led innovation is critical to growth and survival.’
Further, a study by Stripe underscores the impact of developer-led innovation, predicting that developers “have the collective potential to raise global GDP by $3 trillion over the next ten years,” citing them as “force-multipliers.” In the same study, C-suite executives agreed that developers play a pivotal role in “bringing products to market faster, increasing sales and improving visibility.” Similarly in Australia, strong growth in IT and developer-related study areas continues, with job prospects expected to increase by 15% over the coming years.
It is clear that software development has become critical to business success. Business leaders therefore need to work more effectively with their developer team and champion collaboration. This is crucial in three key areas; by ensuring developers are set up for success with the tools they need to succeed, enhancing cooperation by understanding developers’ preferred workflows and linking developer-led innovation to business objectives.
1. Set developers up for success
Developers thrive when given the freedom to do what they do best – taking the latest and greatest code, making it better and solving some of the world’s biggest problems. A critical part of setting developers up for success is giving them the freedom to access their collaboration tool of choice, tools they like and feel comfortable using.
Leveraging open source code and communities is the way many developers prefer to operate. This is often the way developers work when they are creating their personal projects, so it’s natural that they would want to bring this agile mentality to their work. Open source allows developers to connect and problem-solve with like-minded craftspeople, allowing the breakdown of legacy impediments. With many projects hosted in open-source repositories, it makes sense to build on top of the work of others, effectively standing on the shoulders of giants so to speak.
2. Establish mutually beneficial workflows
It is well established that developers love to use open source and collaborate with the wider community, however this approach often goes against businesses’ more traditional approach to only look internally. These methods of working may be foreign, misunderstood and even a little scary to business leaders unaccustomed to collaborating with developers.
However, rather than view this ‘clash’ as a point of contention, leaders can seize the opportunity to bridge the cultural clash and facilitate a cultural shift.
The risk of not doing so is clear – more than half of the Fortune 500s that existed back in the year 2000s are gone, replaced by companies that innovated and disrupted at pace. No one can compete at speed in the digital market if they don’t change.
Leaders do well to create loose guidelines for developers to follow, and then allow them freedom so that collaboration can flourish. This may sound daunting at first, but is crucial to building trusting teams that feel empowered to create and innovate. Finding the middle ground between regimented process and free reign will ease the transition. Collaboration leaders will inevitably emerge – people who drive innovation with internal and external stakeholders
3. Drive collaboration and link innovation to business objectives
Taking the cultural shift a step further, business leaders can learn from how developers think, collaborate and approach challenges to effect real change.
To achieve this, business leaders need to bring developers into the fold. Developers may have found themselves working only within their own department in the past, siloed because that’s the way teams functioned within the business. They may have been hired for a short-term or specific project, further isolating them. As companies start to break down such long-held silos, innovation has grown. For example, Facebook actively shakes up its developer teams with regular all-night hackathons and a six-week ‘bootcamp’ for all new hires, activities that promote cross-division collaboration and break down communication barriers.
Business leaders can bring developers into the fold by investing time to help them understand business objectives and functions. A developer’s core role may be to build code, but the bigger picture is to create business value. Gifting developers with business hats creates tangible value for leaders who proactively slingshot these sharp minds into other areas of the business.
As software development becomes more crucial to organisations and project lead times shorten, business leaders must consider how they collaborate with developers and understand the value they bring – not just from a coding point of view. Developers like to use open source code and work with the larger community to innovate, mantras that can be applied organisation-wide. Similarly, the agile and creative process that is natural to developers can spark a cultural shift, one that benefits the entire team.