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Yes, In-House Teams Do Need to Call In the Cavalry From Time to Time

By Gabrielle Hendryx-Parker, CEO of Six Feet Up

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic took root as the belt-tightening workplace disruptor of our lifetimes, the "do more with less" approach to project management and software development held sway within IT teams big and small.

Companies are under constant pressure to develop innovative solutions, and in an effort to complete projects quickly, these companies too often trade potential short-term development gains for long-term development crises. In fact, Security recently reported that unsuccessful development projects cost companies more than $260 billion last year.

For every client engagement that began with an objective and a whiteboard, I could tell you about one that started instead with a post-mortem of some existing, half-developed code. These situations resulted from a lone in-house developer or (believe it or not) the CEO's neighbor or nephew who may have some coding experience, but not enough to complete a highly complex project.

As consultants, we are often brought in to "fix" a partially finished project. Sometimes our expert developers can salvage the existing code, but, in many instances, it is easier and more economical to start with a clean slate, ensuring the project is executed properly using the right tools.

Fortunately, companies can avoid "getting stuck" on a development project, but the leadership must be willing to assess their internal team's skills, identify the company's priorities and budget for the projects that require additional expertise.

Can your internal expertise go the distance?

When embarking on a new project, it's essential to ask: Has your team demonstrated an ability to develop solutions like the one you need now? Answering this question honestly becomes a real fork-in-the-road moment. This is especially true for advanced technologies like AI/ML, Big Data, cloud migrations and others that many in-house developers are not yet comfortable with.

Often, the thought of completing a project in-house appears to be just within reach and, for that matter, free. This is a mirage. A team that plunges headfirst into a project that's beyond its depth doesn't know what it doesn't know. Soon the team becomes stuck, having reached the limit of its expertise.

It's important for leaders to be realistic about what their teams have proven they can do. When the experience doesn't match up, or the project is a one-off that requires skills that aren't routinely needed, it's a good indication that outside expertise is required.

Consider the current stakes

It's possible that you have the right knowledge on your team. Still, depending on where developers are assigned, you may not have sufficient capacity to take on a new project, especially one that's a can't-miss. If the team is already stretched thin, the chances are that the benefits of bringing in additional resources will far outweigh the costs.

Teams can't have multiple, No. 1 priorities. Pace and competing expectations tend to get the best of internal teams, and they end up missing important deadlines. Adding a new project, especially one that's critical to a company's bottom line, can also jeopardize existing initiatives. Pushing the team to "get it done or else" might create some brief momentum, but it's likely to cost you employees in the long run.

The developer community, which already leaned more remote-friendly than many professions before the pandemic, now offers remote-work options unlike ever before, something that isn't likely to change soon. Consistently pushing the team beyond its capacity is a recipe for turnover. Those developers know that if they want to embark on a job search, it's going to be statewide, nationwide and perhaps worldwide.

It's best to grow the team thoughtfully as budget allows and augment with outside resources when you need to ramp up capacity to tackle projects.

Make sure your team members can serve as backup

A common issue faced by internal development teams is the overreliance on a particular team member's skills, with no redundancy or backup elsewhere on the team. Even the best, most dedicated developer represents a risk when they are the only one with experience in a given language or a particular type of project. Developers are only human after all, and when they work together on a collaborative team, they are less likely to fall behind on documentation. Plus, with a team, casual brainstorms often result in developers finding solutions for "unsolvable" problems.

The same is true for any outside resource that comes in, which is one reason why (more often than not) code ends up getting rewritten. Employees come and go, and companies can find themselves stuck when they try to pick up the pieces of a project-in-progress.

There's a lesson here, of course, about ensuring you have redundant expertise on your team. But for the times when you don't, it's a strong indication that you should be talking to an outside expert who can commit to delivering the solution you need along with all the requisite documentation.

Regrettably, companies often lose months, burn cash and part with personnel before finally concluding that they need help. Companies often take on too much or get their team in over its head, and we see the consequences of them doing so.

It's not worth it.

By building redundancies within the team, knowing your capacity and prioritizing, you can optimize the workload for the in-house developers while quickly identifying and budgeting for the projects you need to bring in outside resources to help with. Often, optimizing the workload means taking a hybrid approach - where the internal team works side-by-side with the consulting team to learn cutting edge technologies and collaboratively solve problems faster.

Building the right team - that uses the right technologies - will allow you to deliver top-notch projects every time.

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About the Author

Gabrielle Hendryx-Parker 

Gabrielle Hendryx-Parker is the CEO of Six Feet Up, a software company that helps organizations build apps faster, innovate with AI, simplify Big Data and leverage cloud technology. Gabrielle co-founded Six Feet Up in 1999 with the objective of using technology to solve complex problems and serve a greater, global good. Gabrielle has a strong focus on creating an inclusive and diverse company culture, where employees commit to doing the right thing for the customer, rely on teamwork, use a can-do attitude and give back to their community, both locally and globally.

In 2019, Gabrielle led Six Feet Up to embrace the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS®), a framework designed to develop focus, discipline and accountability within the team. Since then, the company has experienced rapid growth, expanding through nine states and abroad, and has hosted several international tech conferences via LoudSwarm by Six Feet Up, a highly engaging virtual event platform.

Gabrielle's skills and passion have served Fortune 100 and 500 companies across a wide range of industries, with clients such as Capital One, Kuehne+Nagel, NASA, Purdue University and Sandia National Laboratories.

Gabrielle holds an MBA from Emlyon Business School (France).

Published Tuesday, May 18, 2021 7:35 AM by David Marshall
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