How Many Developers Do You Need to Build Your Web App?

By Joshua Gross, 24 March, 2022

You have a brilliant idea. You have a source of funding. All you need now is to hire people to make it for you. You need developers. Or, a developer. Or a team? Actually, come to think of it… how many people do you need to build your app?

The No-Code

Let's start with the extreme. What if we told you that you don't need a developer at all?

If you look around the web, you can find dozens of frameworks for building an app. Some of these are code frameworks and environments, but others are what is known as "no-code platforms." A no-code platform is, essentially, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get, drag-and-drop editor. It has code under the hood, but the code is rendered into discrete modules.

You can add, remove, customize, and play with these modules, putting them together into an environment and an app. When you're done, you hit export, and the code for your app simply appears, compiled, and ready to go. At no point do you actually need to touch the code yourself.

Technically, you don't even need a developer to make an app. A simple enough app, anyway.

Is this going to be a viable option for you? Well, to be honest, probably not. No-code platforms that work well are fairly rare, and most of them still require at least a little bit of knowledge of development.

There are pros and cons to no-code and low-code development, which we've written about here. It's a viable option for some of you, certainly, but it's not going to be the best choice for most people.

The Skeleton Crew

The second option is to run with the bare minimum number of people. Salaries are expensive, and this way, you don't have to worry about the "too many cooks" issue. You can hire a rockstar developer or two, let them work away at your app, and eventually produce something precisely what you want it to be.

Most of the time, this is the domain of a startup. You want to be agile, you want to minimize the downtime associated with discussions and meetings, and you want to get a Minimum Viable Product up and running ASAP.

This model of development is one you can get away with only having one or two developers on staff.

With standard app development, you have a long, slow development cycle. You come up with an idea, pin down the details, and send it to your team of developers. They make several options, present them to you, and those options are discussed. You might even focus group them to see which ones appeal most to your target audience. You probably have other people with oversight, like compliance officers and user experience experts, taking a look as well.

Then, you implement the chosen solution and move on to the next phase of development. It's slow, it's clunky, and it's time-consuming.

With a skeleton crew, you can be much more agile. Instead of testing and getting feedback internally, you put out an MVP and get feedback from actual users. Their feedback guides your revisions and changes, as you build up your app to have more and more features.

This option is the most agile but not necessarily the fastest if you're not using an MVP model. Even if you are, you're fully reliant on one or two developers. What happens if, say:

  • Your developer is hit by a car while biking to work.
  • Your developer comes down with the flu and is taken out of work for a week.
  • Your developer doesn't know how to do something the right way.

All of these can lead to significant delays and drawbacks (and they're all just examples, of course.) For that matter, your developer could receive a better offer elsewhere and decide to jump ship, leaving you struggling to find someone to replace them. It's never a good thing to have all of your institutional knowledge stored in one brain; that brain might disappear from your ecosystem at the drop of a hat.

The Scaled Team

If you don't want to work with an MVP model, or you want a slower-but-steadier development process, or you want redundancy, or you just want a more traditional development model, you're going to go with a larger team.

A larger development team is going to run you around 5-6 people, depending on how much redundancy you want. Remember, if you have too many people, you'll run into the "too many cooks" problem, where they start to interfere with one another and slow the whole process down.

A scaled team will generally have numerous employees with specific tasks. You won't just hire two "full stack developers," you'll need to hire people with specific roles. For example:

  • The Project Manager, who organizes the rest of the team, assigns tasks, manages deadlines, and handles issues as they arise. You might be able to do this yourself, but a skilled project manager can be worth their weight in gold.
  • The User Experience Expert. UI and UX are slightly different; a User Experience expert will oversee the overall top-down view of your app to discuss the flow of users and functions, while the User Interface expert will get deeper into the weeds of details like button order/size/shape and accessibility. Sometimes, one person can do both roles. Sometimes, you need two people to handle this task.
  • The Front-End Developer. This is the person responsible for making the customer-facing, front-end portion of your app. They're the one working with the JavaScript frameworks, putting together the interface elements that are reviewed by the UI/UX staff, and generally making everything your customers will see.
  • The Back-End Developer. This is the person with SQL/PHP, Ruby, or another back-end coding language experience. They handle the cloud, API networks, and other infrastructure necessary for your app to run. They need to work closely with the front-end developer (and in some cases can be the same person if you're hiring a full stack developer). Without them, your app can't function.
  • The Quality Assurance Engineer. Too many app developers leave QA to the end, and think of it in terms of bug hunting and break/fix. Real QA is more in-depth, however, and can involve anything from accessibility in design to adherence to design conventions to security audits and reviews. QA can be extremely important to ensure that your app doesn't get hacked, among other things.
  • OPTIONAL: Mobile Developers. If you want your web app to work on iOS and Android devices, either as a native app or as a web app, you might need a developer specific to those environments.

That's a development team of about six people. Sometimes you'll need more than one person in a given role, but even doubling up on all of them leaves you at a team of 12, and you generally won't need to double up on project managers. Instead, consider adding in a DevOps Engineer, someone to manage the communication between your software and IT teams. An even dozen people in a development team is pretty large, but half a dozen people isn't unreasonable, especially for a startup.

The Scaled and Built Team Environment

As your app grows and your business gets larger – and especially once you have a product on the market and want to invest in improving it – you invest more in your development team.

Each role listed above becomes a department instead. You'll have an overarching project manager, but then you'll have managers for each department, including development, UI/UX, QA, and more.

Generally, you build up to the point. You don't go into development expecting to put together a team of dozens of people. You build your app, and as you find that your teams are reaching their breaking point and have too much work on their plate, you hire someone else to add to their team.

Your developers become senior developers, and you hire junior developers to work with them. Your QA team becomes QA leads, and you hire more ground-level QA workers to test. Your mobile development becomes a full porting team.

This is how larger companies work. A company like Google will have a Search team, Gmail team, Docs team, and so on. Each of those teams will be comprised of anywhere from half a dozen people to dozens or hundreds, depending on how large, complex, and fragmented the development process is.

The same goes for pretty much any large tech company. Netflix doesn't have "the encoding guy"; they have a team working on it. Microsoft doesn't have one person dedicated to designing new features for Azure; they have a whole team working on it. Amazon doesn't have one person working on their search; they have a search team.

99% of the time, you won't have the funds to jump into this. It's the deep end of development, and it's only something you can reach after you've proven your app can be successful and support itself. If you're relying on venture funding and early adopters, it's another story.

Is this ideal? Maybe, maybe not. Some fantastic apps have been created and supported by small teams. More importantly, larger teams bring with them a whole host of issues, including:

  • Needing much more management, including a whole layer of middle management.
  • A lot more time investment, especially in communication via meetings and discussions within teams and between teams.
  • A ton of investment in communication, because a disconnect between two teams can join up the railroads incorrectly.
  • More of everything else. More directors, more HR staff, more people managing payroll, more of all of it.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a global corporation. You need to grow to get there over time. Luckily, the internet is full of scaling systems these days, so you can start small with subscriptions to AWS or Azure and a couple of developers, and build from there.

The Outsourced Workforce

What happens if you have an app idea that will require a team of 18 people, no matter how you slice it, but when you run the numbers, you only have the budget for six? How can you handle developing your app?

You can cut back on features, prune down your minimum viable product until there's barely anything there, and hope you can attract enough attention with it to spin up and build out. If you can't simplify your idea, though, you don't have much leeway.

You can take to the freelance markets and hire the cheapest possible people for every role. Unfortunately, this also means you're likely getting people who flake out or who barely have any idea of what they're doing. Your product will be inefficient, sub-par, and might not even work right.

You can spend months, or even years, running the fundraising circuit. You go to conventions, hoping to sell your idea to venture capital firms or to angel investors. You can, eventually, pull in enough money to get what you need spun up. On the other hand, you might end up with too little interest to ever fund your dreams, and spend your life going from convention to convention with nothing to show for it.

Or, you can hire a company like ours. We're a development company with a staff of talented, trained developers capable of handling pretty much anything you can dream up. Whether you have a small MVP idea or a larger app that needs more investment, we can build it for you.

All you need to do is reach out and contact us today. We'll have a chat about what we can do for you, how many people we can assign to the task, and how much it'll cost. We bet we can provide a better alternative than trying to put together the ideal development team yourself. Additionally, if you simply have any questions or concerns about the web app development process, we would be more than happy to assist you with those however we possibly can! So, why not give us a call or drop us a line today? We're ready to get going at a moment's notice!