Internal teams look to outsourced agencies to add incredible value, something only an experienced studio can offer. Those teams also can’t afford any mistakes, given the critical nature of software for most businesses.
On the flip side, outsourced development teams don’t want to work with inexperienced in-house teams who don’t know how much effort is required, or who aren’t willing to put in the work.
When choosing a partner, both parties should look for a team with a level of maturity and experience if they want to guarantee a successful outcome. Here’s why.
More Focus on Planning Leads to Better Outcomes
On both sides of the client-agency relationship, there is a tendency for inexperienced teams to jump headfirst into development without first analyzing and planning the project in full. This is a recipe for disaster.
For one, a mature software development process must start by connecting the project with wider corporate goals. That’s because software is business-critical, says Altaz Valani, research director at Security Compass. Software is a main driver of business success, and any failure of a software development project can have a significant effect on the business.
This is where setting goals becomes so important. In doing so, the work becomes much more impactful. It also becomes easier to prioritize features and tie every sprint back to business growth.
Teams should go further and plan out the entire project in a project roadmap. A roadmap is a summary of a project’s requirements, explains Denise Beachley, CIO and partner at Kingsmen Software.
Our team starts with the highest vision, the project’s top goals, and then breaks everything down into smaller and smaller increments until we have defined the tasks a developer can accomplish. In doing so, we can produce a roadmap of the project and accurate timelines. This makes it easier to prioritize features and connect every sprint to an achievable goal.
A Commitment to Communication Creates Resilient Relationships
Goals change, delays happen, mistakes get made. Hiccups like these are almost unavoidable in any large-scale development project, but they don’t have to be fatal. Not as long as both parties take a mature approach to communication.
Having frank, honest and transparent conversations is important. “Transparency reigns supreme in successful client-agency relationships,” says Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and cofounder of Bullseye Strategy. These kinds of conversations can help everyone avoid scope creep — another developmental hiccup that can derail projects.
These conversations need to happen early to prevent expectations from diverging, SocialTalent product marketing manager Grace Windsor says. Key stakeholders usually have preconceived ideas about goals before planning starts, and these need to be addressed head-on. “If unaddressed, this can lead to conflict between what is promised, how this promise is interpreted, and what is actually delivered,” Windsor writes.
Broad communication throughout the project will make the relationship stronger, says David Feldman, founder of creative agency 3 Owl. “A client-agency relationship is fragile when it’s mostly between an agency account manager and a client CMO.” The more everyone from both parties communicates, the more resilient the relationship becomes, and the better the quality of the work that’s produced.
Mature teams don’t leave communication to chance. That’s why we encourage both internal and external teams to appoint a communication lead, says Frank Wanicka, CTO and partner at Kingsmen Software. It doesn’t matter who this person is, although usually it will be the project lead. What matters is that everyone else respects their authority.
There’s less need to micromanage when you appoint a communication lead. This also makes it easier to get signoff on both sides of the relationship.
Mature Processes Make for Smoother Development
The more mature the processes of both internal and external teams, the smoother the project. In particular, the stakeholder signoff process is crucial.
Some stakeholders may be reluctant or slow to sign off on projects they don’t agree with or see value in, says Chris Cardinal, founding principal at Synapse Stud. This is particularly true for transformation projects.
“Future-thinking business leaders are more focused on progress than backtracking, so you must show them that if you want to move fast, you have to fix things as you break them—or they add up and take all of your developers’ time and attention to fix later on,” Cardinal says. “But by addressing outstanding technical debt now and developing a strategy to manage it as it comes in the future, you allow developers to seize and take advantage of new opportunities as they come.”
That means internal teams need to combat any resistance at the stakeholder level before they start an external software development project to streamline the signoff process.
Signoff gets more complicated the bigger a project becomes, says Bill Clerici, CEO and partner at Kingsmen Software. Signing off work on a single update is easy, but signing off three months of software updates is much more difficult.
Stakeholders may be one bottleneck of many that need to be addressed before delivery can begin. In this case, it pays to partner with a mature software studio that already has a rigorously tested signoff process in place. As well as giving you a template, such a partner can adapt their processes to your business and help appoint an internal person responsible for signoff.
They can also advise on and set project milestones. These fixed points delineate a project into major phases of work, says Randy Costner, head of engineering at Kingsmen Software. Not only do they keep projects on track and expectations in check, but they can also be used by non-technical stakeholders to estimate project completion time.
You need experience to set milestones accurately in the first place, but also to move them if required. Milestones shouldn’t be set in stone. If the original milestones aren’t working, it benefits no one to keep them in place. Mature teams move them.
At the end of the day, mature teams deliver great software because they know how to break the rules as much as set them. Every development is different, and while a couple of good processes can help even the most inexperienced teams achieve business goals, it takes experience and maturity on both teams, internal and external, to adapt to unique situations and deliver exceptional software, regardless of what hiccups occur along the way.