The “software development silo” is the phenomenon where software development, as a vertical, is insulated and disconnected from the organization as a whole. Silos hurt organizational integration, can cause costly delays and cost overruns, and create “dark corners” for management which are issues for transparency and future planning. No one advocates for silos as a management technique – yet they are pervasive, and a real problem for multi-vertical companies.
Where Does the Software Development Silo Come From?
There are three main drivers of the software development silo:
- Protection: Silos are often born from good intentions: in an effort to cut down on cross-team interference and inefficient workflows, protections are erected.
- Specialization: The software development silo, in particular, is helped into being by a specialization factor. The practical difference between sales, marketing, and business development is small. The difference between any one of those and software development is a large gap.
- Different tool usage: Sometimes silos are created accidentally – if the marketing team is using one software platform to delegate workflow and software development uses agile software instead, the two teams aren’t interacting – and a de-facto silo is born.
The same phenomenon of the software development silo within the organization as a whole can be true within a team as well – rather than vertical silos, there can be horizontal ones. Front end and back end developers can be separated, for the reasons listed above (or others). Devops can exist separated from development. Horizontal silos can be just as destructive as vertical ones!
Effects of the Software Development Silo
There are two major negative effects created by silos.
Firstly, the cause bottlenecks. Instead of an integrated team working together, each specialist (or specialist team, in the case of a siloed team) holds up all progress across the project while everyone waits for their input. This creates delays in projects, and can seriously upset workflow. It also increases project risk, often astronomically. Any one insular system can crash the entire project.
Secondly, integration suffers when verticals are separated. “All hands on deck!” doesn’t work when all those hands are standing on different ships! Silos create different goals for different teams, and when each team is pulling in a different direction you cannot run a project, much less an organization, effectively.
Agile Blew Down The Horizontal Silo, But The Vertical Remains
Multidisciplinary teams and full stack developers, combined with agile methodology, has in effect blown down the horizontal silo in software development. Agile-run projects report higher success rates, in part due to the avoidance of the specialization factor in siloing.
However, the vertical silos often still exist. Outside of the C-level vantage point (and often including it!), software development remains a black box for the rest of the organization.
Depending on the size and age of the organization, there may be interventions in place. Mature organizations have a system in place for customer support to report bugs to software development, for example.
Better-integrated organizations may even have two way transparency, where that same customer support team member can know when the next release is planned and inform customers of the fact.
However, most organizations remain with some level of opacity between verticals.
Ending The Software Development Silo: Slow and Steady Wins The Race
There are no quick fixes or one shot wonders that end the silo effect completely. But with careful, targeted interventions, you can decrease the opacity enough that over time the silos will eventually disappear.
Step one is to increase interaction among verticals. It doesn’t matter how you do this. Meetings, demos, brainstorming sessions, meet and greets, cross-team projects, whatever it is – bring people together. Discuss silo pain points. Increase visibility by increasing interaction. Everyone wins.
Step two: increase organizational integration at the planning stage. Say you’re a startup. The yearly roadmap is more than the planned software updates and new features that are being developed in R&D. There’s marketing efforts, sales plans, customer success initiatives to consider. Company-wide planning needs to be company wide. If the roadmap includes all verticals, interaction between them will increase.
Step three: integrating the suite of tools the organization uses. Recall that using different tools is a driver of silos. Software development teams use tools like JIRA, TargetProcess, Crocagile, etc. These aren’t tools the rest of the organization uses. Integration between platforms is crucial for combatting, and ending, the software development silo.
Step four: Promote transparency! Allow information to flow horizontally as well as vertically. Create channels for data to move across verticals.
These four strategies, over time, will lower silo walls – and with effort, dismantle them.