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What You Need to Build an App Development Team: Skills, Roles, Structure & Number of People

February 21, 2024

What skills and people you need to build an app development team, how many to hire and how long it takes to create your dream team. Plus: How to get your product developed successfully while you build a team

One of the key conversations among tech founders is knowing when to build yourself or bootstrap, and when to apply for funding and scale. The ultimate goal, though, is always to build a product with such viability and scale that you need an in-house team to keep it running.

Oftentimes, you have enough vision and security to commit to developing and iterating, in which case, you might even want to build an app development team from the get-go.

Either way, in developing successful tech products, you’re always going to get to the point where you want that in-house team. So, as an app development company, we share our years of experience in who you need in your team, how many of each role per project, as well as some insights into just how long it might take to hire each individual team member.

Important to know before you start to build an app development team

Before you get to individual skills and roles, it's helpful to just keep in mind the entire process of creating a new product. (Get the full picture of timelines and options for launching a new product, see our guide to how long it takes to create a new app.)

Steps to build a new tech product

(Simplified for clarity)

  1. Concept and validation

Before you commit any time or resources to a new project, you’ll want to verify that there’s actually a viable market for it. That’s why you always start with concept validation. Discover the framework for testing your product concept before development with app idea validation. Also see the steps to validate your mobile app idea, exactly why you need to test your app idea and how to run some key validation experiments.

  1. UI Design

User experience is so integral to any tech product’s success, you want to devote enough time to wireframing, planning and rapid-fire testing execution and delivery. So the next step is app design. (See how we used design to bolster engagement and conversions on SA's No 1 digital job management system, ServCraft.)

  1. App development

The build is the most time and cost-intensive part of the project, s you want to ensure that you get the best team and resources for your app development.

  1. Growth, optimisation and maintenance

Lastly, you want to grow, get users and conversions, manage the system and introduce new features etc.

From all of these steps, you can already see that various skills and expertise will be needed to make it all work. In general, each product needs skilled individuals in the following general spheres:

  • Business and project management
  • Design and user experience
  • Technical and development

What people and skills do you need in an app development team?

For clarity and ease of understanding, we’ve broken down the individual team member needs into the above skills spheres.

Business and project management

Product Owner

The product owner is often an in-house role because it’s the person who oversees the entire development process, from start to finish by defining the product vision, creating the product roadmap, prioritising features, optimising the product backlog (the to-do list) and making the development team’s priorities clear, day to day.

In a nutshell, the product owner is in charge of knowing what the target market wants, expressing that to the dev team (creating the Stories) and then checking to see that the product actually delivers that.

Also see why you need a scrum master.

Project Manager

The project manager (PM)  is the time-and-resources person. They manage the timeline, budget and resources – usually to ensure that the project is delivered on time and within budget. 

They are often also the person that will keep stakeholders up to date on progress.

Business Analyst

As the name suggests, the business analyst takes care of the business side of the project. They will be very involved in initially validating your concept, of course, and after that, they will take the entire project and break it into actual times, and costs and create the budget that the project manager will stick to.

Sales & Marketing

All too often left out of the development phase, your sales and marketing are key because they are what actually bring in traffic, deliver and convert users, and drive adoption and engagement. Marketing often takes care of the brand and manages external campaigns to bring in traffic and users, while sales focus on converting those users. And both collaborate with your product owner to create the marketing campaigns.

Design and user experience

UI/UX Designers

Actually two roles on bigger projects, designers are responsible for creating user-centred designs that are intuitive, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use. They will also work closely with the development team to ensure that the designs are implemented as intended.

To get an idea of the depth of knowledge required for this, have a look at our outline of the app design process.

Technical and development

Software Developers

These are the people who write the code that brings your product to life. They’re experts in the programming languages and frameworks that will be used to build the app.

In larger projects, you might have dedicated front-end and back-end developers. See an overview of what’s required to build an app successfully in our look at the app development process.

QA Engineer

QA stands for quality assurance. So this is the person who will test and ensure there are no bugs or issues with the product. They work closely with the developers and design test plans to ensure product quality.

DevOps Specialist

DevOps is in charge of the infrastructure and making sure the product is stable, secure and scalable (it doesn’t crash, works as expected and won’t go down if you suddenly have a flood of users). 

How many individual people do you need? 

There’s no definitive answer because every product is different in scale and complexity. Not to mention that individual team members could have multiple skill sets. But, in general, you want someone performing each role’s function.

For a larger build, that might mean having 1 person per role, except for the developers and designers, which often require a larger team of several people.

With a smaller build, it’s often possible to have one person fill multiple roles. You can combine roles like so:

  • Combine Product Manager & Business Analyst roles – this person will then set the budgets and timelines, and then also keep everyone to it.
  • Combine UI Designer & UX Designer roles – they will then at once keep the full user journey and experience in mind and create the actual individual screen and element designs.
  • Combine Software Developers & QA Engineer roles – your devs will then write and incorporate code, but then also act as QA by testing each other’s code.

How long does it take to build an app development team like this?

It’s obviously very hard to estimate exact timelines because it depends on candidate availability and your company’s hiring processes. But, according to a white paper recruitment solution Warmly, hiring anyone in the tech industry takes at best 30+ days. 

Usually, though, you’re probably looking at several months per hire – because if you’re hiring the best, they’re probably already employed and need to give notice. Not to mention the time it takes for you to have initial interviews, then shortlist, maybe even test candidates etc.

(That’s especially true for UX/UI designers and software developers – there’s a huge market demand for them, and a bit of scarcity in places like South Africa.)

Another factor to consider is that you might have to hire and rehire a few times before you get the right team. It’s sad but a reality that not every employee will work out, and it costs to replace them.

On average, 9 out of 10 companies struggle to fill certain roles (according to research by network solution Enterprise Alumni), and many roles stay vacant for months – sometimes years.

Alternatives for startups and corporates

The problem with assembling your team before you build is that it can take some time. Worse, you won't be able to report just how long to investors, and one question is whether work stands still until you have the right people…

That’s why you’ll want options. Like using freelancers while you hire – though that comes with its own pitfalls. Have a look at the facts, figures, pros and cons around outsourcing and insourcing your development. And see just what skills you need in the ideal startup team.

One popular route is to use an app development agency like ours. At Specno, for example, we already have all the people (and that took years to achieve), as well as a track record of successfully building apps for hundreds of clients. See how to outsource app development successfully.

In fact, many of those clients started in much the same way – they got us on board to build the product while they worked on building their own in-house team.

And it all started with one simple phone call or email.

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