Thanks to technology, the world of business is becoming increasingly complex.
In the Internet era, this requires optimal focus on software development, however, even here organizations must balance their resources.
How do organizations get the required skilled manpower for software development? How do they choose between freelance app development team vs. field expert software development teams? In this article, I delve into this key question to find out the answer.
Why do organizations need to choose between different kinds of teams?
At the outset, we need to remember that software development is only one part of an organizations IT budget. Infrastructure, software, emerging technology, etc. are the other parts of this budget.
Globally, IT is poised to be a $5 trillion industry by the end of 2019, however, “IT & businesses services” form only 21% of it, and this is where software development falls into. Read more about this analysis in “IT industry outlook 2019”.
How is the budgetary outlook for these different parts? A comprehensive research report shows that most organizations are increasing their IT budget, however, IT infrastructure including hardware and cloud accounts for most of this increase. In other words, software development budget may see no noticeable growth! Read more of this research report in “The 2019 state of IT”.
What does this mean for you as an entrepreneur or a software development manager in an enterprise? It means that you will need to spend your software development budget very judiciously. You need value for money, therefore, you must find the best software developers within your budget!
You probably have a bare-bones application maintenance team, if you haven’t outsourced it already! This prompts you to look outside for software developers, and now you need to choose between a freelancer and a field expert software development team.
How to choose between freelance app development team vs. field expert software development teams?
How do you as an entrepreneur or a development manager decide between freelance app development team vs. field expert software development teams? This involves careful decision making, where the following factors come into play:
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1. The project manager
Do you have a competent project manager (PM) for the project you are planning? Or, are you sourcing the project manager from an external agency? This is the most important factor in this analysis.
A competent PM is the most critical success factor for a project. I have explained this in “10 biggest challenges when developing an app“. In today’s complex environment, a project manager needs to play the role of a systems integrator to perfection!
When you build a development team by hiring freelancers from the market, the PM will need to integrate the work from a diverse set of people. That’s possible only if the PM fully aligns with the mission, vision, strategy, and standards of your organization.
If you are sourcing the PM from the market, this alignment will be sub-optimal. You will expose the project to a high-severity risk if you expect this PM to integrate work from freelancers. You can consider a freelance team only if you can fully dedicate a highly competent PM in your organization to your project.
On the other hand, if you can’t allocate a competent PM for the project, then you should ask for a field expert development team from a reputed software development company, led by a qualified PM. The PM should use modern PM techniques and processes to manage the project end-to-end.
We at DevTeam.Space have qualified field expert teams, and competent PMs lead them to deliver successful projects end-to-end. Our data-driven processes are robust enough to handle complex software development projects, and you can read more about them here.
2. The complexity of a project
The project complexity is a key factor in choosing between freelancers and field expert teams. Determining the complexity of the project requires a meticulous analysis, involving several questions and factors, e.g.:
- A strategic project tends to be more complex than other projects. Read “Using project complexity determinations to establish required levels of project rigor” for insights into this factor.
- Is this a “First of a kind” (FOAK) project? While answering this question, consider the target geography for the software. A project may not be FOAK in a matured market, however, it could be novel one in an emerging market.
- How large is the target user-base of the application? A larger user-base often imposes higher scalability requirements, in addition to other complexities.
- The number of key functionalities influences project complexity. At the same time, exacting “Non Functional Requirements” (NFRs) like high uptime can make a project more complex.
- Projects with higher estimated cost and longer estimated schedule will likely be more complex.
- Whether you are creating a “System of Record” (SoR) such as a core functional application, or a “System of Engagement” (SoE) like a mobile app has a bearing on the project complexity.
- Are the project requirements clear and well-documented? Do you have an unambiguous sign-off from the business stakeholders on the requirements? Sketchy and uncertain requirements without a sign-off from the customer indicates a project with higher complexity. Read “Project management 101 – how to profile project complexity” for more information on this.
- Are you targeting audiences across multiple geographical regions, e.g., North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, etc. with your planned application? That could mean a complex project.
- Will the project use relatively new technologies such as “Artificial Intelligence” (AI), “Machine Learning” (ML), “Internet of Things” (IoT), blockchain, etc.? These are niche technologies, and projects using them tend to be more complex.
- Does the project have a high-risk profile?
Note that this is not an exhaustive list of questions and factors. You can read “Measuring the project management complexity: The case of information technology projects” for more insights. If you determine the project to be complex, then a freelance development team will increase the complexity! A field expert development will be a better bet for you in such cases.
3. The requirement for industry knowledge in the project
Software development projects vary widely over many factors, one of which is the requirement for industry knowledge in the project. By their very nature, software development for certain industries requires more industry knowledge. This Quora Q&A thread elaborates the importance of this.
An example is the healthcare industry, where stringent regulatory requirements apply. Regulations like the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” (HIPAA) are complex, and software development for core functionalities require considerable industry knowledge.
Another example is the financial services industry, where payment providers need to comply with regulations like the “Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard” (PCI DSS). Developers need a degree of industry knowledge.
It’s quite hard to find the required number of freelancers with the appropriate industry domain knowledge. On the other hand, software development companies provide field expert development teams, and these companies invest in building industry vertical knowledge.
4. The SDLC model for the project
Your choice of the “Software Development Life Cycle” (SDLC) model influences your decision about the kind of team you use. Take the example of the “Agile” SDLC model. Agile philosophy stresses on developers working closely with customers, which improves the focus on real business value.
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Agile projects will likely start with partly-defined requirements, and the team would quickly develop a product for the review of customers. Customers will then further firm up the requirements, and the team will enhance the product in quick iterations. Read more about Agile in “What is software development life cycle and what you plan for?”.
You can see how the developers should collaborate closely with the customer. In fact, in Scrum, i.e., a popular technique for Agile development, the teams are small closely-knit cross-functional teams. Developers and testers work together in such “Scrum teams”, along with customers.
Many organizations actually prefer such teams to be collocated for better collaboration! You can read more about such teams in “How to build a Scrum development team?”. Implementing this kind of close collaboration in closely-knit teams requires field expert development teams since It’s too hard to build such teams with freelancers.
5. The level of technical expertise needed in the project
Some projects require a medium level of technical expertise on part of programmers, however, some other projects need a high degree of technical knowledge. The difference between a good developer and an excellent developer is usually the habit of continuous learning.
Technology evolves rapidly, therefore, programmers need to continuously invest in learning. That’s not easy since it requires a structured and systematic approach to learning. Read more about it in “How to keep up to date as a software developer”.
When you hire freelancers, you don’t quite know if they continuously invest in learning. However, reputed software development companies need to stay ahead of the competition in the market. Therefore, the best software development companies focus on the following:
- Systems thinking, where people consider organizations as complex systems;
- Personal mastery, which helps people to be in a constant state of learning;
- Infusing new ideas and changes;
- Creating a shared vision;
- Team members thinking and learning together.
Successful software development companies are “learning organizations”. You can read more about this in “Leadership and the learning organization”.
6. The quality management system in the project
A successful project requires much more than technical knowledge, tools, platforms, and frameworks. You might be able to hire freelancers with the required programming language skills and familiarity with platforms/tools.
However, the successful execution of the project requires implementing the right quality management system and adhering to it. Read “Importance of quality management” for more insights into it.
Now, it’s often hard to find freelancers with the requisite expertise in quality management. Reputed software development companies have an advantage here since they proactively invest in implementing comprehensive quality management systems.
7. Usage of DevOps and “Continuous Integration” (CI)
If you are planning an Agile project, then you are likely planning for frequent releases, e.g., a release in every two weeks. Naturally, you will implement DevOps processes, methods, and tools (PM&T) in the project.
“Continuous Integration” (CI) assumes importance here since this encompasses continuously analyzing, building, testing, and deploying software. You need to build a CI environment for this, however, that’s easier said than done!
Building a CI environment involves several challenges, and you can read more about them in “5 challenges that can break your continuous integration efforts”. Here, I focus on a key challenge, and that is the lack of coordination between CI and “Continuous Delivery” (CD).
You would want CI to feed CD. This requires that you build a CI pipeline and full CD system, however, this needs much more than just tools like Jenkins! Developers, testers, DevOps engineers, and scrum masters should all work together, and contribute to building this environment.
This involves a significant degree of collaboration, and that too, in a sustained manner. Read more about it in “5 common pitfalls of CI/CD—and how to avoid them”.
When you hire individual freelancers, you will find it really hard to enable this collaboration. You need a field expert team led by a PM with the required emotional intelligence to facilitate such collaboration.
8. Managing the project delivery risks
How you plan to mitigate and manage the project delivery risks influences your decision to hire freelancers or a field expert development team. For e.g., you might need to mitigate and manage the following risks:
- If your project involves niche skills, the hiring lead-time could be high.
- Developers could take unplanned time-off, which could impact the project schedule.
- The project might require implementing complex architectural patterns like microservices pattern, and a competent software architect may not be readily available.
This is not an exhaustive list, and you can refer to “Types of risks in software projects” for more examples. The key question is whether you are equipped to manage these and other risks? If you are not, then freelancers won’t suit your project requirements, and you need a field expert development team!
Planning for a strategic project?
If you are conceptualizing a strategic project, analyze whether you can provide the required management oversight and other resources to manage the project with freelance developers. If you can’t, consider engaging a software development company for a field expert development team. Check our guide “How to find the best software development company?” before you do so.
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