tldr:

  • The common belief that more developers mean faster delivery is wrong. Overstaffing creates communication complexity and can lead to the development of unnecessary or redundant features, introducing complexity that adds little value to the end product.
  • Smaller teams have streamlined processes, clearer communication channels and reduced cross-team dependencies.
  • Without effective product management oversight, it’s common to find teams mired in inefficient processes that hinder productivity and innovation.

Struggling to meet deadlines and ship quality products fast enough?

The knee-jerk reaction might be to throw more people at the problem — but more than a decade of experience with more than 1,000 projects tell us that can be a recipe for disaster.

Here’s a reality check: Smaller teams move faster.

You can achieve more with less with simpler processes, simpler communication and fewer cross-team dependencies – which is why smaller teams translate to speed-to-value and agility.

Larger teams, on the other hand, cause more communication complexity and a higher risk of eventual layoffs. They also cost more from a sheer economic standpoint.

“We hear of teams increasing their engineering personnel by 10, 20, 50, even 100s of developers. It’s so common at this point it’s become a badge of honor and a means for proving the value of an organization for the next round of investors,” Test Double CEO and co-founder Todd Kaufman said. “There’s only one problem with this line of thinking: it’s wrong.”

Just look at when Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $19 billion: WhatsApp had more than 500 million users — and only 35 engineers.

Or look at Amazon, where Jeff Bezos instituted a “two-pizza rule”: He would not set up or attend a meeting if two pizzas won’t feed the entire group. Smaller teams are more efficient and agile.

Or in one of our own recent client engagements, we implemented a service change that improved revenue by about $1 million per month – and it took only three consultants and a couple weeks.

There’s an entire book dedicated to this phenomenon for good reason. In “The Mythical Man-Month,” seasoned software practitioner Fred Brooks challenges the conventional wisdom that adding more manpower to a software project speeds up its completion.

Our approach: Helping companies achieve more with less – with an emphais on optimizing and simplifying code, automation, and testing. With the addition of product management consulting to our portfolio, we can also help you focus, streamline and develop with the highest value efficiently.

Still skeptical? Read more on why smaller developer team move faster.

(Prefer a personalized conversation? Contact us now).

More people = more communication complexity

As your team grows, there are more tasks to delegate, more outcomes to deliver, more interests to consider and more communication channels to manage.

Communication complexity increases exponentially with each additional person because each new member can communicate with every other existing member, not just one.

Even adding one more person adds several more communication lines, reflecting how intricate and multi-layered human interactions are within a group:

Communication complexity
Communication complexity

More complexity = more carrying costs

Overstaffed organizations breed complexity, communication hurdles, and a looming risk of layoffs.

A bloated staff tends to create features that aren’t requested, needed or valuable, bringing incidental complexity into play.

Whether complexity is essential or incidental, it adds to the carrying cost of software. When simplicity goes away, businesses are also forced to invest in other areas like documentation, training, and customer support.

“Doing low-priority work costs the business twice: paying people to build things it doesn’t need, sure, but also paying higher maintenance costs on the existing things it really did need. That’s because, as is often forgotten: as complexity goes up, maintenance costs increase in super-linear proportion,” said Justin Searls, co-founder of Test Double.

When demand eventually dips – and it always does – and result in layoffs, it inflicts psychological and brand damage. It alo increases the risk of former employees who could be potential detractors.

Questions to determine how efficiently you’re running

Unless you’re working with a good product manager, chances are high that you’re churning through a lot of processes that aren’t efficient.

A good product manager brings clarity and strategic focus to help streamline business decisions around software investments. They help companies generate continuous revenue with technology investments.

Before you staff up, pause and consider these questions:

  • Do you have strong product management?
  • How do engineers know what to build?
  • How do you decide what is the right thing to do?
  • Do you have a practice of explicitly stating and then testing risky assumptions?
  • Have you written down the assumptions you’re making that are leading to conclude a larger team is needed? What have you done to validate those assumptions?
  • Is the need for additional staff a sustainable need?

A free consultation

Test Double has led software development and product management consulting for more than a decade, from startups to Fortunate 100 enterprises. We can offer clarity and understanding of the most valuable things to work on so you can have a simple and efficient process that drives business results — then work shoulder-to-shoulder with you to execute.

Contact us now for a free consultation.

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