Development

Picking the right developer workflow tools for your team

The software development life cycle is by no means a short or easy process. 

From project design to post-production monitoring, each stage of the life cycle comes with its own set of workflow-related demands. Teams must develop adaptable yet agile workflows to prioritize efficiency while simultaneously ensuring a positive developer experience.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of tools to boost productivity in software development team workflows. 

We know it can be overwhelming to figure out which tools are the best for your team. So we’ve prepared this guide to help you.

Which tools will boost your workflow?

Your workflow and product can benefit from various tools, depending on the stage of the software development life cycle that your project is in. We have compiled a phase-wise list of tool recommendations that you can consult when deciding on a workflow best suited for your team.

Phase one: Project design

The software development cycle begins with the process of defining the project that your team will work on, including the design of the architecture. At this planning stage, before you begin developing the software, you need to get your technical documentation in order. Static documentation tools like Confluence, Notion, and Coda are useful to define your tech specs and design the planning documents.

  • Confluence: Atlassian’s Confluence is an easy-to-use knowledge management and collaboration tool. It allows users to organize their projects using pages, page trees, and spaces and includes templates for quick setup.
  • Notion: Notion is a popular option for teams to organize knowledge and plan projects. It lends itself to customization, which has led to the development of thousands of templates and integrations by the community. You are sure to find resources that are useful to your team.
  • Coda: Coda offers a simple yet adaptable solution for teams writing documents across projects. You can set it up to meet your workflow and collaboration needs and scale the docs as needs change.

Whatever you choose, make sure it has good support for architecture diagrams or can embed architecture diagrams. If you are using diagramming software like draw.io, Lucidchart, or Microsoft Visio, make sure that your tool of choice supports embedding those diagrams into it. That way, all your documentation can be in a single place.

  • draw.io: draw.io is a diagramming tool specifically targeted toward teams using Confluence and Jira. The learning curve is not steep, as it enables you to create fairly advanced diagrams in no time. It also allows real-time collaboration and users can build custom libraries for use.
  • Lucidchart: Lucidchart enables users to quickly spin up diagrams and charts. Teams can easily collaborate and visualize their ideas and processes.
  • Microsoft Visio: Teams can together create professional diagrams with Visio, Microsoft’s secure diagramming tool. It provides users with a range of templates and libraries to accelerate the process. 

As you think about the initial project design phase and the static documentation tools you want to use, it is also worth ensuring that the tool supports the kind of organization system you want to put into place. So if your company is organized by team, system, or product area, make sure your chosen tool supports a flexible organization system. 

It should also have a useful search system for you to be able to look up information, without which it will be nearly impossible to find what you need.

Phase two: Project planning & execution

The second phase of the SDLC is project planning and execution. 

Tracking projects may seem like a straightforward task when you are starting or are working with a small team, but it can quickly turn into a complicated affair. Do not leave it as a free-for-all. Because even if you just have five people on your team, you can begin to lose track of what is happening and what is being executed.

This is where your classic tools such as Jira, Linear, and Shortcut will be of use. You can take your pick from any of these planning tools as long as it meets your team’s needs. Linear, for instance, is a modern tool. It is snappier than some of the others and developers usually prefer to use it when working in smaller teams. If you are a larger team, we suggest sticking to tried-and-tested services like Jira.

  • Jira: Jira is a comprehensive development tool that includes functionality for planning projects. The interface is fairly intuitive, allowing teams to start simple with pre-built templates and customize them as they go along. Depending on your team’s workflow, you can use features such as scrum boards and roadmaps to guide your project development process.
  • Linear: Linear is a tool that prioritizes optimization and efficiency. Teams can plan projects from start to finish and use roadmaps to visualize the next steps. It also has powerful real-time synchronization capabilities that come in handy for effective communication and collaboration among team members.
  • Shortcut: Shortcut is an equally effective planning and development tool. Users can make use of boards, roadmaps, and docs to set collective goals and build products together.

Make sure that the tool you select for project planning and execution is used not only for planning but also to support active maintenance. For starters, it should support a backlog. You do not want developers to realize they want to fix something and then lose track of it. Instead, having a backlog gives you a place to store it. Be sure to triage it so that your resources are not utilized inefficiently. 

A technical roadmap is another valuable asset in your development workflows. It can help you keep track of any errors and problems that you want to tackle at some point. Your tool should be able to build and store such a roadmap.

By providing these services, the tool can enhance documentation efforts too. Although your static documentation tools are powerful, you need to track team members’ knowledge of the bugs or edge cases that need attention. 

By treating these things as knowledge to be logged, you are more likely to have a robust documentation system set up using your project planning tool. That way, there is little scope for details to slip through the cracks and you can be confident that the entirety of your project is being maintained actively. 

A project planning tool supplemented with documentation functionality will suffice to maintain the various services your team builds over time.

Phase three: Code planning

Once you have the baseline set up, you can proceed to the code planning stage. This is where you carry out tasks such as project generation, boilerplate generation, and templatization. Basic tools such as Cookiecutter, Copier, and Cruft come in handy as you begin building your projects from scratch. You want to invest in some tooling that is going to make it easy to spin up projects relatively quickly so that you can go on to develop them. So this is step one of that initial development lifecycle.

  • Cookiecutter: To easily create projects using project templates, teams can turn to a command-line tool called Cookiecutter. It is simple to use templates as well as to develop new ones for particular-use cases.
  • Copier: Copier is a similar library and command-line application that generates projects using templates and fetching answers from questionnaires. Some templates also allow users to update their projects.
  • Cruft: In addition to creating projects from templates, Cruft enables users to manage the boilerplate long-term. It is compatible with Cookiecutter templates, checks that your projects are using updated versions of templates, and automates code updates.

You should also be thinking about SDK generation with the help of your tools. If you are building a significant number of microservices or working within multiple teams, we strongly recommend using a tool that enables you to carry out spec-first API development.

Choose something like OpenAPI or protocol buffers where you can define a schema and then generate the code for it. That way, both your front-end and back-end can consume it. It is a one-time activity to generate all your APIs and store your data, from where you can also generate relevant documentation. Finally, you can also add it to your developer API portal or your developer portal.

  • OpenAPI: The OpenAPI specification defines a schema for HTTP APIs that allows consumers to access and use an API easily.
  • Protocol Buffers: Google’s protocol buffers is a data format that allows teams to store and manage their data across programming languages and platforms.

Phase four: Development

Once you start development, make sure to choose a high-quality automated CI tool. Depending on the size of your team, you can pick from a variety of options, including GitHub Actions, CircleCI, and Jenkins. For example, if you are a small team, but you want to do caching between builds, a tool like CircleCI might be a better fit for your workflow as many of their services are offered out-of-the-box. For a more complex build pipeline, go for something like Jenkins, which has a lot of flexibility.

  • GitHub Actions: With its Actions feature, GitHub helps teams customize and automate their CI/CD workflows by combining different tasks or jobs. This includes building, testing, and even deploying your projects.
  • CircleCI: CircleCI is a high-performing CI/CD platform. It gives control to users at each step and makes it easy to scale projects and processes. CircleCI also supports integrations with services such as AWS and Slack.
  • Jenkins: Jenkins is an open-source alternative that is easy to set up and use. Boasting a strong range of plugins, it can also be customized in alignment with your team’s needs.

Keep in mind that your tool also needs to align with your version control needs. Make sure that it supports the pull request process or the code review process that you care about. Are you able to tag reviewers? Can you get notifications for code reviews? This should be a part of your developer workflow.

Phase five: Pre-production

As you inch closer to the production stage of the life cycle, you want to ensure that your microservices best practices are being implemented across the board. Choose a tool that can help you automatically enforce some invariants in the pre-production stage. For example, Cortex’s Scorecards can help make sure that the service is ready and meets the standards and best practices of your company. This simultaneously enforces consistency and accountability across the team.

Phase six: Monitoring

Once your application is in production, you want to choose monitoring tools that can take the burden off of your team to constantly be on guard as end-users interact with it. There is no shortage of quality application performance monitoring tools in the market, so go with the one that can meet your monitoring needs. Some popular options include:

  • Datadog: Datadog comes with many features to handle software monitoring and security. It provides high-quality monitoring services for various kinds of applications and has sophisticated log data analysis functionality. Teams can choose to monitor metrics spanning application performance and user experience using interactive dashboards.
  • New Relic: New Relic offers up to sixteen connected services, including monitoring of your applications, infrastructure, and networks. Its capabilities are further extended with over 470 integrations. It also leverages AI to provide data and insights to users.
  • AppDynamics: Cisco’s AppDynamics gives teams insights into the business impact of their products and services by monitoring applications and infrastructure. It also safeguards applications.

An on-call tool is also good to have, as it can save developers time and contribute to faster responses. Incident management tools can also contribute in that regard and can significantly improve the developer experience by streamlining your team’s incident response processes.

  • PagerDuty: PagerDuty is an efficient on-call management tool that also automates incident responses. It supports live call routing, custom notification rules, easier schedule management, as well as escalations.
  • Opsgenie: Opsgenie ensures that alerts reach developers, in addition to letting teams customize their schedules and routing practices. It also studies alerting and on-call behavior and presents insights to encourage improved processes.
  • incident.io: incident.io provides end-to-end support for your incident management processes. Teams can set up automated workflows that are triggered when certain conditions are met. The tool’s integrations make it both easy to use, as well as allow teams to be informed about the incident status.
  • Rootly: Rootly goes a step further to automate and fully integrate your incident management workflow with your Slack workspace. Teams can customize their workflows and rapidly run them without leaving Slack.

A developer portal to tie it all together

Finally, a developer portal is essential to manage the entire set of tools, have visibility into each, and make them easy to use. To be able to do that, the portal needs to have integrations with every single tool that you choose for your workflow.

It should not only help you with API documentation but must also have a service catalog. The latter enables you to keep track of all the relevant information, such as service ownership in a single place. This is important across the different stages of the software development process, from development to post-development, as well as during maintenance. Having a comprehensive view of everything and tracking changes is especially beneficial for the long-term maintenance of your system.

A developer portal is a given, as it is going to aggregate all these related workflows into a single development workflow tool. It does not replace any of the individual tools or pieces but serves to ensure that they function well together and gives developers full visibility in one place.

Work with the tools

It is important to remember that while your tools will not do the work for you, they can significantly reduce the time and effort your team spends on basic tasks. Automation supports the development process by enabling developers to focus their energy on crucial tasks and streamline their workflows.

Similarly, not all tools may integrate well with your workflow. It is, therefore, worth spending some time to figure out which tools are right for your team so that your team members have a better experience.