Pros and Cons of Being a One-person Dev Team

For most of my career, I have worked as a one-person dev team. I was essentially a full stack developer before I had even heard of the title!

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I started to work in dev teams of 2 or more people. In fact, our dev team is still quite small at just 6 people (although we plan to increase this to about 8 very soon).

One of the challenges I faced was adapting to working within a team. This is normally not an issue for most devs/engineers because they would usually start their careers working in a team. Having worked on big projects both on my own and in a team, I have been able to see things from both sides. There are naturally pros and cons of both and I am going to discuss these below.

Working Individually

Taking on an entire software project on your own gives you a whole sense of ownership that you don’t get when working in a team. You are responsible for every layer, component and line of code. If a project runs over, doesn’t meet the clients expectations, or the end product is just very buggy, it’s all down to you to sort it.

On the other hand, you have complete control over the entire code base and design process. This removes all the friction you would normally get from making design or technical decisions within a team. It also allows you to manage time better, because you know exactly where you are with each phase. Interestingly, I’ve seldom run over on projects when working on my own.


Item Description
Ownership When you take on a project on your own, it becomes your baby, you can take pride in what you are building and it’s very clear that you are making a big impact on the business. This also means you tend to produce a better product.
Low Friction There will be little to no friction in terms of how to go about implementing a feature or fixing a bug. Also, unless the client has specified precisely what technologies they want you to use (e.g. .NET, SQL Server etc) you pretty much have free reign over how to build the thing, without having to agree every aspect with your team.
Consistency Adhering to a consistent set of coding standards and development patterns is important with any project. Working individually allows you to ensure complete consistency throughout the code base.
Time Management It’s much easier to manage time on your own. You can predict how long things are going to take more accurately and you can see the bigger picture in your head because you know exactly what you have done and what is left to do.
Fewer Distractions Once you have your requirements, you can essentially be locked in a room on your own all day and left to it. No one really needs to talk to you or ask you questions. Of course, you will always need to speak with the domain experts, but that will only make up a small portion of your overall time.
Single source of knowledge You know everything there is to know about the system because you built it from scratch. If anyone has a question or there is a bug, you don’t need to correspond with other team members for information.
Higher probability of hitting deadline I found it much easier to hit deadlines while working on my own. I put that down to being able to better predict how long it would take and also having full control of the entire code base.
Suits Introverts If your like me and you’re more of an introvert, then working on your own can be great, you just plugin and get on with your work and you don’t have to spend too much time talking to other people!


Item Description
More Pressure Taking ownership of an entire project development life cycle adds extra pressure. You are responsible for the areas you are not really that interested in. If you get stuck on a problem, you are the only one that can fix it. At times it can seem overwhelming when you consider everything you have left to complete. I found it was a big relief once I didn’t have to worry about building and maintaining the frontend/UI!
Less Focus Developers tend to have their own specialties. An obvious split would be between frontend and backend development. When are you working on everything at the same time, you are going to have a bias towards one or the other. When I was working on my own, I tended to treat the UI as an afterthought and partial waste of my time, so I tended to do the fastest, simplest thing to get it working.
Availability If your not available, because perhaps you are sick or on holiday, then that can cause a big problem. Also, if you do take sick leave or holiday, it’s hard to separate yourself from the project you are working on. It’s always there in the back of your mind, causing unnecessary anxiety.
Single source of knowledge While this can be an advantage, it has one big flaw - you are the only source of knowledge, so if there is a problem and you are not available or you leave the company, there is no one else who can help. I would say this problem outweighs any advantage there is of knowing everything about the system.
Easy to get into bad practices I’m an advocate of following good coding practices, good architecture and paying attention to detail. So, when I’ve worked on projects alone, I still follow these principles. However, not everyone is the same. Many developers will get into the trap of ‘it’s only a small project, how complex can it get?’ or ‘just get this out the door and I’ll never have to touch it again’, when we know that in reality this is never the case.
Problem Solving What happens when you are stuck on a problem? Google and Stack Overflow are a developers best friend, but sometimes you just need the help of someone who has experienced a similar issue, or just sees the problem in a different way.
Burnout When taking on so much work it’s not uncommon to experience burnout. I’ve experienced it a few times in my career and it’s hard to get motivated again once you recover.

Working in a Team

I found it very hard (and still do) to let go of control over my precious code base when I started working in a team! I worry that the quality of code will degrade or that people won’t implement something in the way you think it should be done. I would often go through peoples commits and clean up the code to make more inline with the way I code - obviously this wastes a lot of time.

The other challenge I had was communication, I was so used to managing everything in my own head that I would often completely forget that other members of the team had no idea what they needed to do. I would also forget to check up on the others to make sure they weren’t blocked by anything. I feel like this is a hard skill to master, especially when all we really want to do as devs is just sit down and start coding.

Saying that, working on a project as a team has many obvious benefits; productivity, wider range of skills and specialised rolls come to mind. Lets contrast working individually with working as a team.


Item Description
Higher Overall Productivity As a team you can achieve far more, not only in the same space of time, but also in terms of the end product. One person could never match the varied skill sets of an entire team. Not only that, but team discussions can lead to solutions that one person on their own would not think of.
Less Pressure The pressure of a deadline or an urgent bug fix can be greatly reduced when working in a team.
More Focus Each member of the team will have their own strengths and areas of expertise (e.g. backend, frontend, databases, security etc) and in addition to that, will be working on a very specific area of the system, allowing them to stay in that mindset and stay focussed on getting it right.
Availability The larger the team, the smaller the risk in terms of availability. As a one-man team it’s going to be very hard to take time off for holiday etc. But as a team, one person taking some time off usually has a much smaller impact.
Shared Knowledge In theory, everyone in the team will be aware of what others are working on, how they went about it and what problems they faced. This will usually be done during stand-ups or other team meetings.
Code Reviews When other members of a team perform code reviews, mistakes or code smells can be spotted more easily. This ensures coding standards are adhered to, knowledge is shared and higher team cohesion is achieved.


Item Description
Increased Friction Every key decision has to be discussed and decided on as a team. Inevitably there will be disagreements and while this is a good thing in the long term, it makes the journey there that much harder.
Lower Individual Productivity While as a team, your output has increased, individually you are almost certainly going to be less productive. You have more meetings to attend, more red tape and generally less control over certain aspects, restricting your options.
Team Management It’s hard to get a team to be effective, it requires structure, patience, cooperation and understanding. We are all human and sometimes it’s not easy. On top of that you have to manage everything around the work the team are actually doing (time logging, planning etc). A popular approach to dev team management these days is the Agile method - but again it’s hard to implement correctly.
Meetings Inevitably, the larger the team, the more meetings you are going to need - and no one likes meetings!
Lack of ownership The larger the team, the smaller your impact on the end product is likely to be (of course, it depends on what your role is and exactly what features you work on). It’s easy to feel like you are just a cog in the system. Many devs can work on features that are never seen by anyone except the people that work on them. It’s easier to not really care much about the product you are working on and that can have a negative impact on the quality of your code.
Less suited to introverts Unlike working on your own, in a team you will need to communicate regularly with other team members. This won’t appeal to an introverted person so much.


I don’t think anyone can say it’s always best to work individually or in teams for all scenarios. It was certainly much more effective and productive working individually when I did. The fact that I was playing the role of about 3 or 4 different jobs concurrently had it’s pros and cons, but it was financially a better business decision at the time.

However, with the current projects we are working on, it would be impossible to manage those on my own. I would be completely overwhelmed by the quantity of work and lack of front end skills.

Clearly we can’t just say that one approach is always better than the other, I think both approaches could work depending on the scenario. Like everything else in software development, it depends!