How Does a Dedicated Team Work?

Let’s make sure we are on the same page. A dedicated development team (DDT) is the IT-industry’s version of outstaffing — a cooperation model that has the employees of one company managed by another. This could be one person or a huge group containing everyone involved in the software development process.

These teams are typically employed on projects that last a year or more and are not a replacement for the in-house people. Rather, they are an extension that helps deal with the accrued technical debt, quickly bring a new skill set to the project, and increase the project’s velocity.

The creation of a dedicated team begins with one or two experienced professionals (usually, a project manager or a business analyst) from the vendor’s staff. They will be the technical focal point and a source of knowledge for the other members. Moreover, having at least one of them (or a person who will fill the shoes of both) is important for long-term success. Their experience, knowledge of when to include other specialists (e.g. a UX-designer or a DevOps engineer), and work to document everything will be invaluable in the long run.

Then the vendor will start looking for suitable candidates on the job market and arrange for them to be interviewed by the customer. The details differ in each case, for example, the client might ask to have a certain minimum or maximum number of interviews per week. The approach to these interviews can vary. For example, a client might ask for the candidates to go through a preliminary talk with a technical specialist from the vendor’s team and save his own time.

In the end, the entire process usually is finished in two weeks. But, if in the first fortnight after the work begins you are for some reason dissatisfied with a new hire, you can replace them.

Note that the “average search time” promise can’t be applied to the cases of rare or old technologies. For example, you need a COBOL developer. Finding one might take quite a while due to the age of this language and its limited use today. There could be only a couple fitting experts in the country, and finding and enticing them to work on your project will take time and effort.

The work of a dedicated team is billed per month per person. It is calculated from the hourly rate and bases on the 40-hour workweek. The rate typically covers all the associated expenses, from the person’s salary and taxes to utilities. This is all handled by the vendor, which saves a lot of customer time. But it is the client who needs to provide the appropriate workload, as the monthly fee remains the same no matter how many tasks the professional has completed.

All-in-all, the dedicated team model is most useful for large projects, where you can keep the developers busy up to capacity for weeks. Otherwise, the time-and-material (TM) option would be more cost-efficient.

Now it’s time for some practical advice.

Define Your Needs

It is important that you closely cooperate with the vendor on defining exactly the kind of team that you need. Not only this will help you put the DDT together faster, but it will also save you money in the long run.

Firstly, this means specifying the skill level and skill set of the people you need. Sometimes a client can overestimate the complexity of the task and looks for a senior expert where a solid mid-level coder would have sufficed. Such a mistake can increase the time needed to find suitable candidates, as well as increase the costs of the team by the difference in the pay grade.

Moreover, hiring an overqualified developer could cause problems down the line. They will be prone to leaving a project they aren’t interested in. Programmers, especially in Belarus, tend to enjoy challenging tasks and are always looking for ways to improve their skills and knowledge. So if you hire one, feel free to provide them with the appropriate workload to ensure they are providing the most value and have enough motivation to stay. Hiring an expensive professional to solve minor problems is like hunting rabbits with a howitzer.

Secondly, take into account the opinion of the vendor’s recruiting team. No one doubts your technical acumen. But they likely know the local market better and can provide valuable insights. This would save you money in both the short and long run.

Finally, keep a little flexibility. If a developer is “almost” what you need, you might be better off hiring them than spending more time looking for the perfect one. After all, the one that is already working for you could get up to par and start bringing you value earlier than the one who is working for someone else.

One thing you must include is Quality Assurance. If you have in-house QA engineers, you can have them check the DDT’s work, otherwise it is a must that you include testers in the team itself. They are trained to ensure that the software performs as it should and can do a good job of it — better than the developers themselves. A thorough QA process improves both the software quality and the relationship between the vendor and the client. A lot of potential arguments over the bugs never happen.

Seek the Relevant Expertise

Companies that provide dedicated development teams usually offer other software development services. As such, they gain organizational experience and knowledge of certain industries that they tend to specialize in. For example, we at Aristek did more work in eLearning, Healthcare, Logistics, and Oil&Gas.

It would be smart to get your DDT from a company that works in your project’s domain. This will decrease the time it takes for them to get to the peak efficiency: you won’t have to explain all the compliance requirements, procedures, and other nuances. Moreover, the core employees would help teach this knowledge to others.

This applies to any industry but especially pertinent for heavily regulated ones, like Healthcare.

Another aspect of this is finding a company with experience in building dedicated teams. This is a skill like any other, and some vendors will be better at it than others. They will already know the way the business processes should be structured for the most efficiency, they will also anticipate potential problems and deal with them in advance.

Apply Your Corporate Culture

As the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, it is likely that your own people are working remotely. This largely erases the difference between them and the dedicated team you’ve hired. The members of the DDT are de facto your employees. This means that for better results, you should treat them as such.

Any motivational measures you take now (e.g. online teambuilding activities or gifts of branded goodies) can and should be applied to the DDT. This can even mean including someone from the Human Resources department working part-time to ensure that the team members aren’t left behind. On one project we had a customer’s HR manager work with a dedicated team as if they were the customer’s employees — this model would be especially fitting for larger businesses with larger projects.

This is important for three reasons. Firstly, having everyone on the same page and espousing the same values would work wonders for cohesion. After all, you will have someone on your end controlling the DDT, so the better they understand each other, the more efficient the work will be.

Secondly, motivated people are much more productive. Remember Foldit, a science game where it took the players two weeks to solve a problem that has been puzzling the actual biologists for 15 years?

Finally, this will improve morale among your in-house employees. It is no secret that hiring an outside team could make them fear being replaced. But the thing is, DDTs are a resource that you use to augment the existing team. Showing this to your own people will prove that you don’t intend to abandon them.

Build Personal Relationships

We, humans, are social beings. As such, it is easier for us to work with someone we know and consider “one of us.” This is no different in the case of a dedicated team, even if the people in it are working from the other side of the globe.

One of the ways to start building relationships with your team members is by meeting them face to face. You could either come and visit them yourself or have a couple of members come to your office. For better efficiency, these personal meetings can be combined with project initiation activities.

In addition, it is a good practice to repeat the trips 2-3 times a year to keep the communication going. You might even make some genuine friends this way.

Of course, face-to-face meetings are a bit risky at the moment but once the pandemic has passed, you will be able to use this advice in full.

Build in Stages

If you are not sure that this is the best choice for you, you can do an “MVP” of sorts. A small team working for a limited amount of time could be a testing ground to show how everything is working out for you.

For example, we had a case where during this trial period the customer was completely satisfied with the team’s performance but found out that he can’t provide them with a suitable workload. So we just switched to working on a time-and-material basis and our cooperation continued.

The first order of business should be making something relatively simple, but important, for example, user roles and access rights, automatic log creation, etc. These things are straightforward to make but they will be a foundation of the entire project and will give you a taste of how the team performs.

In our experience, it is best to start out using Agile methodology and work in 2-week sprints. This will give you an idea of the team’s velocity and allow you to decrease the time to prepare intermediate releases and demos.

Iterative development process (and the corresponding team expansion) is also more efficient. In software development you have the ability to change the foundation if the circumstances and the requirements change. So you can use this flexibility to release working software sooner.

Regardless of the planned duration of work, you should document everything. Given their workload, the developers could forget the details of the features they created six months ago, so having notes to remind them would be great for productivity. In addition, this will shorten the time it takes for a new team member to familiarize themselves with the project.

Conclusion

Putting together a dedicated team is a great option for companies who need some extra help on long-term projects. To ensure that it succeeds, you should set your expectations to a reasonable level, find the provider company that has experience in your domain, and work closely with them. Treat your dedicated team well, show that it is not a replacement for your in-house employees, and you will gain a lot of value from it.

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