6 Factors to Consider When Deciding Between Staff Augmentation and Project Teams

By January 31, 2020 No Comments

If you’re a leader within your organization, the expectation is that you’ll chase innovation with the resolve of a greyhound trailing a mechanical rabbit. But we all know there are limitations to how much you and your current team can master on your own. Many data and analytics initiatives require additional, hands-on technical and domain specialists to supplement your core competencies. Two common solutions are:

Option 1: IT Staffing Firm – Working with an IT staffing firm to augment your staff with contractors to bridge the gap between the skills you have and the skills you need.

Option 2: IT Consulting Firm – Working with an IT consulting firm to complete your project’s end-to-end goals using the expertise of a solution-focused project team.

Both options have merit depending on your situation and goals. There are a few key questions to ask about your technical or data challenges that will reveal when it is better to choose a project-based team over staff augmentation.

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Factor 1: What Type of Technologies Will Your Project Use?

The nature of the core technologies of your intended solution is one of the initial qualifiers. For example, upgrades to customized SAP software may take time, but you can leverage the talents of contracted professionals used to grinding through enhancements and improvements. Their aptitude for completing routine tasks to perfection makes them ideal for more static, on-prem, or legacy systems. Contractors on a long-term support engagement are also a good fit when you need to expand your support team for ongoing reporting and data needs.

However, the increasing number of complex solutions require a different breed of outsourcing. The benefits of cloud-based data and analytics platforms have been discussed time and time again. The complexity of how these cloud services all fit together (as well as choosing which services to use), however, creates a challenge that requires a deep understanding of the technology ecosystem. A project-focused IT team combines an array of reciprocal skill sets with a refined set of processes. This allows them to expertly overcome the challenges inherent in implementing machine learning, predictive analytics, and other advanced analytics solutions that rely on deeper insights.

Implementing a Snowflake data warehouse successfully, for example, requires the following to provide your business users with the tools they need to be successful:

  • A scalable and flexible architecture for both backend data ingestion and integration
  • A data model that can grow with your business
  • A front-end architecture

With all the technical challenges that come with this, without a team that works directly with the business users, adoption and success of the entire initiative becomes in jeopardy. Most importantly, it puts accountability on a single vendor to deliver a complex technical solution that solves a specific business need or pain point.

Factor 2: Is the Project Short-Term or Long-Term?

You get the best results when you allow solutions to gestate at their own speed. Some challenges are best suited for a rapid development cycle while others need time to unpack or permeate your organization. Whatever the scenario, establishing the right outsourcing model will achieve better outcomes.

Short-cycle projects thrive under the guidance of project-focused IT teams. Working as an agile unit, they can sprint through iterations to ensure that planning, design, testing, and adjustments are given their due attention. With more skilled tech professionals at your disposal, particularly those who can work with your business team, your vision is far more likely to remain within strict timelines and budgets while still delivering exceptional performance.

For a longer, time-insensitive initiative, staff augmentation and a project-focused team both offer reliable fulfillment. The extended time available with these projects enables either solution to master the objectives of your business and the essential technology. Rather than flipping a coin, evaluate your challenge based on the other questions we’re discussing.

Factor 3: How Complex Is Your Project?

Staff augmentation enhances your technical capabilities for long enough to complete basic objectives. The intention of traditional staffing solutions is to evaluate your IT talent gaps and outsource the work to the right contractor. Yet this method treats contractors as interchangeable parts, creating a disjointed team without clear goals or accountability.

At best, staff augmentation can handle reactive scenarios, such as technical support or “keeping the lights on,” without the capability of providing a proactive edge. Anything more complex is beyond a contractor’s capabilities, particularly when they are not empowered to be a bigger part of the solution.

Instead, the complementary skills of a project-focused team can enable them to achieve peak performance from the start, particularly on more complex projects. These teams share an existing rapport, learned experiences, and intellectual capital, giving them the advantage to collaborate more effectively on custom solutions and workflows that satisfy your primary goal.

Factor 4: Is It Repetitive Ad Hoc Work or Open-Minded Discovery?

Not every project needs a trailblazer’s touch. Some challenges are functional, satisfying an operational commitment rather than a primary business goal. Think an SAP upgrade or business-requested enhancements to standard reports and dashboards. For those task-driven ad-hoc projects, staff augmentation is the perfect arrangement. Contractors are valuable in these positions because they are good at knocking out each line on your punch list. The right consultant will deliver quality work, but the end result will never surpass or rise above the scope of your initial parameters.

Challenges that require the guidance of strategic-thinkers (think data discovery and strategy) fall deep in the territory of project-based teams. A data discovery project we ran for an internationally known metal band is a prime example. Our client in the entertainment space wanted insight into the buying behaviors of their fans, but didn’t know where to start. Our specialists extracted data from various sources (sales of band merch, general tour tickets, VIP packages, etc.), cleaned them up, and loaded them into Snowflake to create a holistic view of their fans.

Then, we built personas around that insight, identifying that 25% of all revenue stemmed from High-Rollers buying tickets on Ticketmaster and 15% of sales came from people who had attended three concerts or more in North America. Detecting these patterns enabled the band’s marketing campaigns to target the right audience for upselling and cross-selling opportunities that enhanced their fans’ experience. A contractor would have required more guidance, prolonging the search for the right solution and the deliverable itself.

Factor 5: Can You Supervise the Project?

As a change agent within your organization, the expectation from the C-Suite is that you’ll drive the various digital transformation projects (no matter how niche they are) to completion. When you’re coordinating all of the moving parts of your department, your ability to provide firsthand supervision varies. That means your availability during a given time frame will influence whether you should leverage staff augmentation or outsource to a project-based team.

Lone contractors require more hands-on guidance to complete projects. Their primary focus is coding, scripting queries, cleansing data, or integrating software or data within your infrastructure. They’re concentrating on hitting the day-to-day deliverables and are not necessarily thinking about your vision or enterprise-level business goals. If there are any unexpected changes, contractors are less responsive, only taking strategic actions if they have your explicit say so.

The right project-based team will act more as a collaborator than a helper. They’ll run the project, collaborating to deliver full value to your business and users but handling all of the direct supervision. With an eye for future scalability, the leadership of your project-based team will advise you on opportunities for advanced solutions (such as predictive analytics or machine learning) and run with the baton without any further reminders from you.

Factor 6: What Is Your Budget?

Though IT spending as a percentage of an organization’s revenue is increasing, budgets still have their limits. Moreover, you’re expected to work wonders with the budget you have, maximizing technological solutions to establish efficiencies and create business opportunities. Which outsourcing model can extend the potency of your budget?

A consultant furnished by a staff augmentation partner is more economical than hiring a full-time employee. Without the financial burden of a W2 employee (employer taxes, benefits, etc.), more of your budget can go toward the solution. The trick is ensuring contractors remain on track – or risk going over budget as the project stretches past initial deadlines.

The expenses associated with project-focused IT teams are known from the beginning of the project. You’re quoted a price for the work and nothing changes unless the scope of the project does. If building the solution takes longer than anticipated, no additional fees accrue on your end. For that reason, project teams are incentivized to accelerate the delivery of technical or data solutions using proven processes and strategies. Your organization gets a better solution – without breaking the bank.

Eager for your IT or data solutions to achieve their full potential? Schedule a whiteboard session to review your outsourcing options and find out what your business forfeits by using staff augmentation.