The Business Issue - What Are Soft Skills?
The modern corporate ecosystem is typically comprised of executives, senior managers and mid & entry level employees that have a myriad of abilities, backgrounds and hard skills. Each individual member makes up a team of workers whose abilities come together to form a network of skills that are used to meet the goals of the organization.
Though hard skills are often emphasized in both job interviews and job posts, outstanding soft skills are often the difference between hiring a good employee and a great employee. For technology positions, hardskills are any type of technical skill that allows a person to perform a unique task (software development, database design, etc). A person’s technical or hard skills are generally easy to evaluate. A person’s soft skills are more abstract and difficult to evaluate, yet critically important to understand in determining how successful a person might be in performing their job.
Soft skills are the non-technical, broad, general skills that are associated with the personality, maturity, intellect and demeanor of a worker. Such skills can typically be the difference between creating a team that operates at mediocrity versus a team that operates at peak efficiency and productivity, with maximized efficiency and optimal teamwork. Thus, while hard skills get the job done, soft skills will help get the job done correctly, on-time, with optimal efficiency and with more collaboration and buy in.
Soft Skills For Success
Often overlooked for technical positions, soft skills are integral to any company’s success. Though not mandatory for software development, a developers abilities to build trusting personal relationships, negotiate, and communicate effectively (often times with empathy and a lack of ego) are critically important to completing business critical technology projects. This is because engineering Software Development Life Cycle models - such as the Agile model and DevOps - increasingly seek to merge a variety of business departments to optimally deliver a software project. All of which requires communication, emotional intelligence, organization, teamwork, creativity, adaptability, and other soft skills.
If several, or most team members, lack the aforementioned soft skills, then projects can be delayed, customer needs may be misunderstood (potentially leading to delays in software builds and increased overhead), team members may not be coordinated or organized. Simply put, projects operate more effectively if people enjoy working together. The burden generally falls to the development team to effectively communicate with the business stakeholders as technical personnel will often “speak a different language”. Developers must be aware that “tech speak” will demean and intimidate many business stakeholders, throwing up barriers toward the end goal. The right set of hard and soft skills in a company - for executives, managers and employees - are required so corporate teams mesh together and operate at peak efficiency. Both hard and soft skills are important as both determine the success of a company, yet soft skills are often less critically evaluated or overlooked by organizations who only seek hard to find technical skills.
Communication is a Skill
According to a study done by LinkedIn, there are numerous soft skills desired by employers, and - among a list of 10 - the number one soft skill desired by employers is communication skills, followed by organization skills and teamwork skills (Berger, 2016) . For those top three soft skills, 55 percent and above with each skill was successfully hired into a new job position. It is important to note that the study was focused on the percentage of job seekers that were hired into a new position - which typically was not a leadership position.
Thus, among the least desired soft skills, many leadership-related soft skills are seen, such as business planning, team management, team building, coaching, management, etc.  That said, it is still important to note that managers also require soft skills, and thus the “least” desired soft skills for mid and entry level job workers may be highly desirable for management positions and senior level executives. In addition to this, the study noted that certain soft skills are more necessary for one industry, while other skills may make a worker more attuned for a different industry. For instance, working in the food-service or hospitality industry requires social skills and a positive personality more than a job working as a software engineer or researching scientist. Working as a scientist or computer specialist may require more problem solving, analytical and critical thinking soft skills compared to a worker in the food or service industries, as noted above.
Soft Skills Related to Technical Skills
Furthermore, to illustrate the importance of soft skills in relation to technical skills, if there is a gap or lack of hard skills in a certain area, the business will not be as productive or efficient as it could be. This is seen mostly with teams that lack a particular member with a certain hard skill that is needed. For example, a team of software engineers that lack a security specialist might not know how to write secure code. This might make the security aspect of the software project less efficient, but the project can still continue, albeit not at peak efficiency. However, in contrast with hard skills, a single team member that lacks sufficient soft skills can completely inhibit productivity, affecting business efficiency and increasing overhead. The team member who can’t get along with others becomes a distraction to the business. This can be seen easily with higher level managers and leaders who lack such skills and thus negate even the best work of a team that is fully equipped with the hard skills to complete the necessary tasks. For instance, a team member or manager that lacks emotional intelligence or the ability to work as a team could halt corporate workflows completely if a team-based issue, argument or disagreement arises. In a such a circumstance, no amount of advanced hard skills can help to keep the project moving forward. Soft skills are needed to solve the problems that hard skills cannot - thus both sets of skills are needed for corporate success, especially in IT projects.
Soft Skills and a Productive Work Environment
Soft skills are integral to the success, efficiency, and productivity of any company, but this is especially true for software development firms. Understanding the needs of customers and translating those needs to a working application requires a complex myriad of soft skills for both managers and employees. Patience is needed to understand delays or customer indecision, emotional intelligence is needed to understand the needs of a customer even when they might not know how to convey those needs. Soft skills are also needed to deal with customer dissatisfaction or arguments. Teamwork is necessary to have developers, project managers, operation administrators, security engineers and QA testers working together and optimizing workflows so that the project moves forward at a steady rate, etc. Below are some of the most significant soft skills that will benefit almost any company, but will specifically benefit software development firms.
Communication is the soft skill associated with clearly and succinctly conveying an idea, concept or feeling that can help increase efficiency or productivity.
Communication is key in any organization in order for teams to understand the needs of customers, to understand each other, and to understand their given tasks. Executives and employees must communicate effectively, both to convey tasks and to convey when work needs to be remediated. Clear, concise and honest communication is thus a key soft skill in any software development organization.
Organization is the soft skill related to being structured and is related to time management, i.e. determining what tasks need to be done, in what order and when. This skill is greatly valuable in making the most out of each work day and optimizing workflows.
Being able to successfully work in a team, complete delegated tasks and work towards a larger goal with others is one of the most integral parts of working at any organization that deals with software development.
Other lesser-known soft skills: Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the skill associated with being able to manage emotions, use emotions to solve problems, and to identify positive emotions. It also entails being in control of one’s negative emotions, and knowing how to manage and deal with the negative emotions of others . When working with a team and customers - including in an IT firm - it is important to know how to deal with arguments and negative emotions, when or if they arise. Having emotional intelligence can help to keep software projects moving forward despite such situations.
Soft Skills and Great Software Solutions
For each of the soft skills mentioned above, each can play an integral role in every phase of the SDLC. Teams composed of members that are highly adept at one or more of the aforementioned soft skills can utilize those skills during the Requirements, Design, Coding, Testing, and Release Phases of the SDLC. Soft skills also play a significant role in different software engineering models, such as Agile development and DevOps, while playing less of a role in Waterfall models due to the rigid nature of the latter, and the more fluid nature of the former, which requires more adaptability, creativity, patience, communication, teamwork, and social skills to keep the project moving forward efficiently.
The Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), DevOps and more
As noted above, models such as Agile development and DevOps can benefit immensely from certain sets of soft skills. Also, each step of the SDLC can benefit from different soft skills, according to the following:
- Requirements Gathering: Communication, patience, problem solving and emotional intelligence soft skills are needed to understand the needs of the customer.
- Design Tasks: Critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and organization soft skills are needed to determine how to implement the requirements into an application that solves the applicable problems.
- Coding Tasks: Critical thinking, adaptability, analysis, and teamwork soft skills are required to turn the blueprints and application designs into a reality.
- Testing Tasks: Critical thinking, communication, and problem solving skills - along with patience - is needed to successfully identify security flaws or software bugs in the application.
- Release Phase: Communication, organization, and teamwork skills are needed to switch to post-production maintenance, testing and support of the deployed application.
All in all, a team of talented engineers with a myriad of hard skills can become much more productive and efficient when also utilizing multiple soft skills. Such soft skills can be the difference between a team that successfully finishes a project and a team that does not.
Every member in a corporate team brings a variety of both hard skills and soft skills to the organization. While hard skills are often stressed as being the most important aspect of succeeding at a job and optimizing business workflows, soft skills are just as important and also determine whether a business will ultimately succeed or not. And while hard skills can be taught quickly, soft skills are often learned only through many years of different life experiences, making them invaluable. According to research, team members should be skilled at critical thinking, creativity, communication, teamwork, organization, work ethic, and more. It is imperative that all team members of a software development business be fully equipped with both hard skills and soft skills to ensure efficiency, productivity, and optimal completion of all job tasks.
1. “Data Reveals The Most In-demand Soft Skills Among Candidates”
2. “What Is Emotional Intelligence?”