To Staff up or Staff Augment?

Brian Beaupied
Marketing Manager

Staffing is one of the more pressing issues teams face in trying to modernize their digital approach. In The C2 Group’s research, many teams either lack in-demand skills or suffer from high turnover. Both prevent meaningful digital work from being accomplished with any kind of predictability or regularity.

Clients will often seek our advice on such staffing questions. What are the specific skills and positions that make up a digital-centric organization? The unfortunate truth is that many organizations will often prioritize implementing new capabilities or selecting new tools – not sustaining them.

Whether it’s hiring directly or looking outside the organization, there are a couple common approaches to ensuring adequate staffing, on-staff expertise and, ultimately, throughput.

Weighing Support Options

It really boils down to having three choices:

Staff up: Teams can hire directly for felt needs, be it content, marketing, UX, development, quality assurance, etc. Ultimately, the goal should be to staff for positions that support the software delivery lifecycle to ensure work can be sustained in house.

Staff augment: This approach enlists a partner or third-party to help serve as an extension of client teams to help fill any on-staff gaps. Teams will often take this approach for major projects (think: “systems integrator” or “implementation partner”), but this approach can also be leveraged for predictable, day-to-day support, too.  

Outsource to offshore: Similar to above, organizations are working with a third-party to get work done. The distinction here is twofold: location and depth of expertise. Outsource via an offshore team typically involves a specific skill or niche (development).

Each option comes with its own advantages and considerations. For best results, consider your organization’s specific needs against the strengths of each approach.

Staffing Up

Teams may tap directly into the workforce to hire for needed skills and positions. This comes with full-time salaries, benefits, and the time and potential costs of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training. As marketing and IT resources work more closely to promote continuous delivery, existing team and department structures may need to be reviewed to support new skills and resources.

Strengths:

Control: Hiring directly means organizations won’t have to deal with the resource constraints or schedules of a third party. These resources can be solely dedicated to internal work, and salaried positions will cap expenses compared to a third-party, hourly resource on a time and materials basis.

Fit: Alignment with company culture, vision, and mission may be important to some organizations. With more control, teams can handpick who joins the organization based on a mix of both hard and soft skills.

Branding: Organizations will often look to third parties for assistance with setting strategy, but outsourcing execution puts control of the brand expression in an outsider’s hands. You know your business and brand story best: strengths, differentiators, standards.  

Weaknesses:

Hiring and Managing: Finding top tech and digital talent can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. And, if a particular skill is difficult to find, it may need to be outsourced anyway (development). Once onboarded, hires will need to be managed and fed consistent work. Without a good handle on strategy and without a backlog or roadmap of initiatives, these employees can find themselves twisting in the wind without good direction.

Antiquated Team Structures: Hiring to be a digital-centric organization requires putting these resources in the best position to succeed. Mature digital organizations structure for continuous digital delivery; blending IT, marketing, and business resources necessary for launching digital products. Keeping marketing and IT resources separate only works to ensure these resources will have competing priorities.

Thought Leadership: Employees are often so “heads down” on internal work, that it’s difficult to keep current on the latest trends or best practices that drive desired business results.  

Staff Augment

If not hiring internally, teams will be left to outsource the support they need. Augmenting internal staff with an onshore partner is a good option for ongoing, multi-disciplinary support. These partners can be leaned upon for the most current trends and thinking, and in many ways become extensions of the client teams they help represent. Still, its a vendor that will require time, investment, and management to realize the full value.

Strengths:

Cross-disciplinary expertise: Partnering with an agency to serve as a staff augment provides teams access to skills that support software delivery from stem to stern (and without having to find and hire them). This approach won’t disrupt an organization’s existing team structures and can scale up or down to support client demand.

Quality: An onshore partner is often best positioned to deliver quality work under a deadline. We’ll cover this momentarily, but communication and time zone barriers that come with an offshore partner can impact quality and delivery. Onshore partners are better versed in current trends and practices, are more accessible, experienced, and must always be delivering value to retain their work.

Cost: If faced with needing to make multiple permanent hires, an onshore partner can be a cost-effective solution when considering the time and expense of recruiting, hiring, salaries, benefits, training, and management. Support plans are often structured like many subscription-based services, making them easy to predict and budget without the long-term commitment of internal hires.

Weaknesses:

Management: A partner will still require management and guidance in terms of prioritizing work, providing feedback, making decisions, and effective onboarding.

Control: It’s difficult to trust an outside group you’ve never worked with before. Digital work is so vital to the overall health of an organization that bad execution could put jobs and business viability at stake. Teams will be ceding some control for the sake of production. Partner selection and clear communication become important in promoting good visibility and transparency.  

Competitive Advantage: As digital becomes a differentiator for leading brands, organizations seeking to output some or all of their digital functions could be outsourcing their competitive edge. You know your business and your brand best, and partners will rely on that knowledge to help execute, drive business results, and deliver the right kind of value. A staff augment approach should be just that: a balance of client and partner resources working together to meet business objectives.

Offshore

An offshore team involves outsourcing work to a different country. Typically, offshore teams are utilized for ad hoc or one-off needs, the most common of which being development or coding. The gain for teams is that this in-demand labor is typically less expensive overseas, resulting in cost savings for the client. The trade-off comes in collaboration and, eventually, quality.

Strengths:

Pricing: If cost is the primary driver of decision-making, and organizational needs are limited to a single niche or discipline, like development, it will be difficult for an onshore team to beat offshore rates. The labor is simply less expensive, and more abundant, elsewhere.

Readiness: If clients do not need consistent or regular development support, offshore teams have resources assembled and available as a good option for one-off projects or ad hoc development tasks.

Speed: Offshore teams are better suited to “throw more developers” at a given solution to meet tight deadlines. If organizations can effectively pair on-staff development resources with an offshore team, this could increase speed to market through the creation of 24-hour development cycles.

Weaknesses:

Communication: Language barriers and working across time zones are common and obvious barriers when working with and managing an offshore team. A basic misunderstanding or breakdown in communication in software development can ripple throughout a project, ultimately leading to quality and cost concerns.  

Collaboration: Offshore teams are typically enlisted with a “fill the order” mentality. Offshore teams are not historically relied upon to provide current thinking, best practices, or industry trends. If you’re looking for a line cook for code, offshore is the way to go. If you’re looking for best practice advice and thought leadership, look elsewhere.

Quality: Communication barriers, including time zone and language, can create prolonged delays in response as well as confusion around the feedback received that could ultimately impact quality. Teams may not know the credentials or experience of the developers on their solutions, which could also impact quality. Furthermore, how do internal standards and expectations for quality compare against an overseas team? Suddenly, the cost savings of engaging an offshore team get sunk into rework and ensuring delivery to client specs and acceptance standards.

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