Small development teams of only 4-5 team members have built many of the leading digital products we know and love. These small teams are often the driving force to bring digital products to life, before whole companies then bring them to market at scale.

Small teams are actually the ‘average’ team behind tech startups. Experienced views would suggest a team of 4-5 is the ideal setup, supported by data from a cohort from Tech Stars, a renown tech accelerator. These tech teams are building software and hardware, used by consumers and enterprises, ranging across apps, APIs and all sorts of devices and connected objects.

But what do these small development teams look like? How do they work? We take a deeper look at these questions.

Roles and Responsibilities in a Small Development Team

Every team will be different, but a small development team in a tech startup is likely to have a few roles. In simple terms:

  • Someone will be leading. This is probably a CEO, who is responsible for managing the product. This individual has to hold the vision and lead the team, but may not directly manage the team in a day-to-day sense. The CEO is likely to be supported by a CTO who’ll provide the technical input.
  • Someone will be executing, most likely at least two developers. These individuals are probably broadly skilled, with deep expertise in one area critical to the product. There may be a third developer, or alternatively, a UI/UX designer. This will depend on the specific product they’re building.
  • In between leadership and execution, someone will be managing. This person will be a project manager, but may also be technical (albeit to varying extents), particularly if the leadership of the team is less technical than required. The project manager role will often translate broad requirements into technical specifications, resource estimates and milestones/deliverables. The developers can then effectively execute these specific requirements.

In practice, the lines between CEO, CTO and project manager may blur. The specific requirements and responsibilities of each team member will often depend on the capabilities of the individuals. This leads to many different ways to configure a small development team! For example, small teams might look like:

  • CEO, CTO, project manager and 2 developers.
  • CEO, lead architect/project manager and 3 developers.
  • CEO/CTO and 4 developers.

Despite the many specific options for a small development team, there are similarities that can be seen within this broad approach of building of digital product. These are discussed next as strengths and weaknesses.

The Strengths of a Small Development Team

Developing your product by using a small team should have some comparative advantages over a lone fullstack developer. For example:

  • Increased resources should result in quicker progress.
  • A small development team should have better access to specialists. Team members should have deeper expertise in their respective part of the puzzle.
  • The team will have greater cumulative experience. This provides a wealth of reference points that can be used to solve a given problem.
  • The team should have access to the latest insight in the relevant domains, arguably leading to a more competitive product.
  • A range of opinions and expertise should be readily on hand. Discussion and debate can resolve issues as they arise.

Small development teams might also be run according to Agile principles, structured as a Squad.

The Weaknesses of a Small Development Team

Of course, small development teams also face some disadvantages:

  • More resources will incur higher costs.
  • A small development team will begin to encounter coordination costs. Team members will need direction and management, and this takes time and effort.
  • A small development team is not quite big enough to afford multiple domain specialists. These will often begin to appear in mid-sized teams of 8 team members or more. Small development teams are still likely to rely on generalists.
  • While diversity of view and rigorous discussion may result in a better product, a small development team has the potential to make simple tasks take longer.
  • Adding more members to a team leads to higher risk of conflict, due to differing personalities and working styles.

When is a Small Development Team the Right Choice?

Small development teams can be perfect for a project, particularly if the project would take too long for an individual developer to complete, or it requires specific experience in several domains of expertise. There is also the financial perspective to consider: a small development team might be your only alternative if there are not adequate resources for a mid to large-sized development team.

Financing a Small Development Team

When it comes time to execute, there are several options for a tech startup to secure a small development team. The affordability of a team can vary significantly between these options.

Let’s consider a company based in Singapore, seeking talent at the 80th percentile for each of the roles. We’ve used data from Payscale as a basis for three options:

  1. They could employ the small development team locally in Singapore. A project manager and three developers would average $20,000 USD for payroll each month.
  2. They could nearshore to outsourcers in Vietnam. Access to three developers and project guidance is likely to cost anywhere from $12,000 USD to $16,000 USD+ per month.
  3. They could employ their own team in Vietnam. The same three developers and project managers would average $6,500 USD for payroll (including employer-paid taxes) per month.

Establishing a Small Development Team

Metasource can reduce your expenses on a small development team and get your own offshore development team started in Vietnam. We’re specialists in remote and offshore teams, and we’re happy to share our experiences with your company or project.