If your development team is pushed beyond their capacity, you’ve probably considered several options: growing your team internally, work for hire or even staff augmentation. But what about mixed sourcing? Curious about what it is and how it has worked for other companies? Here’s my perspective.
WHAT EXACTLY IS MIXED SOURCING?
Mixed sourcing is a model of using a blended team (client and partner) to develop software. This approach allows a company to leverage existing talent while also filling any gaps with partner experts who can help accelerate velocity and grow the skills of your current team members. With mixed sourcing, the result is a true case of two teams working collaboratively together, versus other staffing models like staff augmentation where individuals simply plug into an existing team and take on missing roles.
With mixed sourcing, it’s possible to get the best of both worlds. And I believe that the end result can be much greater for all parties involved. By bringing in new people, sometimes even overlapping skill sets, all parties involved can learn something new, bring new ideas and ways of working to the table, and everyone works together for the greater good of the project. Contrast that with traditional staff augmentation, and the new “plugged in” team members might be forced to work in a way that’s not natural or not going to yield their best work.
Research giant Gartner even references mixed sourcing as a solution to best meet the needs of a specific project team. Specific to mobile application development, Gartner recommends mixed sourcing as a viable option:
“Organizations want to have full control over their mobile app development initiatives; however, maintaining a pure in-house development environment is difficult to achieve given mobile is a relatively new competency to many developers … Organizations will improve their in-house mobile development skills over time, but currently, only 26% of organizations are adopting an in-house-only development approach, while 55% are successfully delivering apps using mixed sourcing.”
SO WHERE DOES THIS APPROACH WORK?
Over the past year, I have noticed a trend with more and more clients building mixed sourcing relationships. IT teams often don’t have the capacity to keep up with demand, and they don’t always have the expertise to build user-facing mobile applications (which happens to be our specialty at Bottle Rocket). They may have part of a team but are missing key players and need an expert partner to help pull everything together. Here are a few different examples to illustrate how this type of structure has benefited some of our clients.
In our own experience at Bottle Rocket, a quick service restaurant we worked with evolved from client to mixed sourcing partnership. Rather than take on the complexity of being first to market with a complicated mobile product, this organization engaged us to build its minimum viable product (MVP). What started as a partner-client relationship gradually evolved into a mixed sourcing situation among our two teams. We helped the client establish a continuous delivery process, rapidly designing and developing new versions that incorporated mobile ordering, then mobile payment and eventually, a brand-new loyalty program. When the product began to prove itself as a revenue-producing tool that enabled an alternate ordering and payment system, it became so core to the business that the client began to build an internal team to manage it. Over the course of the engagement, we were able to effectively train them on agile processes and the modern mobile product stack before fully handing over the reins.
Another example could be when a company works with a client to create a process to accelerate longer-term road-map innovation while still achieving the client’s short-term objectives and delivering on the day-to-day needs of the business. To achieve this, the company’s development teams would be entirely blended with some overlapping roles and members could co-locate for enhanced efficiencies. This structure provides minimal turnover since everyone is invested in the longer-term relationship at hand.
HOW CAN YOU APPLY MIXED SOURCING TO YOUR BUSINESS?
Through these experiences, I’ve learned a lot of things about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to mixed sourcing teams. Here are a few key takeaways for your business:
- Don’t force it. Potential partners are normally most efficient using their own processes, so be open to adapting to the partner’s way of working instead of forcing yours. Remember, you hired them because they are experts, so let them do what they do best!
- The client knows best. The client knows their product requirements and branding best — a strong product owner on the client side is necessary for success.
- Schedule regular meet-ups. Allow your partner to work where they work best, even if it isn’t in your office. But set aside time to visit each other periodically (at least once per quarter). This helps accelerate relationships and grows trust among the team.
- Maintain ownership. Make sure that you retain ownership for all assets and IP (source code, images, wireframes and test plans, etc.) so that you are not locked in if the partner doesn’t turn out to be the right fit.
- Roll with the punches. Fixed-scope arrangements often result in repeated change orders since requirements often evolve over time. To avoid being buried in paperwork, look for an agile team that can be nimble and change along with you.
THAT’S A WRAP
The most important thing is to communicate early and often. Clearly define roles and responsibilities, and agree on the processes to be followed before work begins. Transparency is key. For mixed sourcing to be successful, everyone must trust one another and act in the best interests of the whole team.