Staff augmentation is a type of outsourcing in which you extend your company’s internal team temporarily or for extended periods, by essentially “borrowing” specialized employees from other companies. Many of these other companies are dedicated staff augmentation agencies whose business model is hiring great people, working with other businesses, and placing this selected talent on their clients' teams.
This approach has many benefits for the clients compared to, say, hiring new full-time employees or freelancers. You free yourself by handing over most administrative hiring details to the staff augmentation agency. You can also have more confidence that the person you are hiring is good at what they do because they are vetted. The candidates you receive from the staff augmentation agency will usually have already gone through a rigorous hiring process. You don’t need to worry about insurance, benefits, or any other strings attached to hiring a new employee in-house. And, finally, your turnover will be less than if you hired freelancers.
Even so, the staff augmentation approach is not without its hazards. In this two-part series, I’ll offer some tips to help you be more successful when growing your teams using staff augmentation services. I focus on software development teams specifically, but most tips are applicable to any industry.
All my advice hinges on one fact: you are the most important element in the staff augmentation model. You share equal responsibility with the developers and staff augmentation partners for making this model work. Once you know your part, you’ll have the foundation to build the right team and give them everything they need to succeed.
Too many companies seem to suffer from the delusion that if they just hire the right people then everything will fall into place. The truth is, that your teams will only produce good results if they know exactly what results are expected. And all expectations start with you. You need to be clear about what you are looking for and to communicate when those expectations change. This is as true for the staff augmentation model as it is for working with freelancers and building your team in-house.
In addition to finding engineers who have mastered the technology, you need to ensure that the team also has good quality control and project management. Do not try to cut corners. And, finally, be sure that they have clear instructions and an appropriate set of tools for coordinating their work with the rest of the team.
Not all staff augmentation firms are alike. Choosing the right one is more important than you might at first realize. You need to do your due diligence when choosing a staff augmentation agency. The benefits of the staff augmentation model are clear, but it will only bear fruit if you choose a provider that takes an active interest in the success of their clients.
Some agencies take a larger role in onboarding their talent to your team. They will ensure the new recruits have the necessary hardware and software to get started, and will pay close attention to ensure that you are giving your new recruits what they most need to succeed: clear instructions and access to the systems they will be working with.
Some will be more diligent than others about verifying your project management processes are suitably mature (i.e., efficient, refined, tested) and will maximize the likelihood of success. Be prepared to share some of your internal project management tools and processes with them. They will want to know that you have a clear plan and follow good practices when writing and tracking tasks. If you don't have a clear vision of what you want from your new staff then the agency will have no way to measure their success. A good agency will raise concerns if a clear vision is not in place.
Some will be more active in ensuring your experience with their talent is positive. Expect your staff augmentation agency to request regular short meetings to get feedback on the people they have on your team. Do not be surprised to receive feedback from them too on your internal processes and any red flags that might be preventing you from getting the most out of your team(s).
The fact is, many companies that use staff augmentation services do so because they are likely to see less turnover and more engagement from the people they add to their teams. The natural first step then is to look for a firm that takes pride in its staff, has solid recruiting procedures, demonstrates a compelling retention plan, and provides support during the onboarding of any new additions to your team. All these factors will improve your chances for a successful engagement. Don’t hesitate to ask them about some of the points I’ve raised here and make sure they have policies that put your success first.
Finally, any staff augmentation agency that takes itself seriously will not charge you anything if you are not happy with your new team member(s) within the first few weeks. This shows you the agency is confident in its processes and staff.
So far, I discussed the importance of knowing your critical role in the staff augmentation process, especially when choosing the right staff augmentation agency. Hopefully, you learned that you hold the keys to reaping the benefits of the staff augmentation model and can make an informed hiring strategy. By opting for staff augmentation, you will minimize dealing with freelancers who are often short-term hires and ultimately less engaged.
Now, I'll discuss the need to build the right team and how to make sure your team has everything it needs to succeed.
When you start working with a staff augmentation agency, they will present you with what you hope are ideal candidates–developers who have worked on other similar projects and have the right skills. Most staff augmentation agencies will already have interviewed your candidates for you, but the fact is that you know what you need better than anyone. Even if the candidate looks great on paper and is a long-time employee of the agency, it is still a good practice to conduct one or more additional interviews yourself before you bring them onto your team. Doing your own interviews gives the candidate an opportunity to know you better, too. Especially if it’s your first time working with a particular staff augmentation agency, do your due diligence and confirm their knowledge before you hire them.
On the other hand, don’t just look for the right technical know-how unless you expect this to be just a short-term engagement. If you expect this person to be on your team for a longer period then also consider soft skills and cultural fit. In general, you want someone who is proactive, friendly, professional, a good communicator, disciplined, and detail-oriented. Depending on your business you may have additional soft skills that are important to you.
Finally, good talent might have multiple clients eager to hire them, and you’ll probably want them to stay for the long term, so don’t forget to sell your project to them. Explain why it’s exciting and how they will benefit from your project, maybe by working with an amazing team on an interesting project where they will improve their skills and follow best practices.
Once you have chosen the agency and the candidates that you want on your team, the next step is ensuring your new team has everything they need to succeed. This is harder than it might first appear. A good staff augmentation agency will provide significant support and oversight during onboarding and throughout, but you’ll still need to take some steps you would with any new employee.
The first thing you need to do is make sure your new team members feel welcome and have a clear idea of what lies ahead. Introduce them to the existing team or, even better, let them introduce themselves and explain their role. Then have the other team members do the same. Include them in daily standups and other team meetings from day one so they learn who is who and how things are going to work. Encourage them to ask questions in meetings, emails, or chats and to start contributing as soon as they see an opportunity.
It is good practice to assign the new team members a buddy with whom they can immediately start to build a rapport and can go to with doubts or questions. The buddy does not have to be able to answer all the questions, but should be able to direct them to the person who can. The buddy should commit to assuring that the new addition has a clear path to solving any issues that they come up against. In well-established teams, most of this should be documented as part of an onboarding package that new team members receive to help them get started more quickly.
It’s your responsibility to confirm that your new staff clearly understand their role and what is expected of them. It’s also your responsibility to provide new team members with all the documentation, training, tools, networks, services, systems, and source code that they need to start work. You do not need to do this personally, but you should be sure someone has been clearly assigned that responsibility and that everyone knows the timeline. Ideally, the new team members will know who they can approach to get progress updates – and raise flags if they do not get what they need in a timely manner.
Once the team member has been onboarded, your established project management processes should kick in. You should make sure your team follows the industry's best practices for managing any remote team members, whether contractors or in-house. Remember that communication is key–break your project into small, clear, manageable tasks that can be assigned and tracked individually. This will help you more effectively monitor the progress of your project and the efficiency of your team members.
Staff augmentation offers clear advantages over other forms of outsourcing when you need to extend your team but do not want to add full-time employees. Take some time to find a staff augmentation agency that will help you get the most out of outsourcing. Also, select these new team members as if you were hiring them directly.
Most importantly, choosing the right talent counts for nothing if you do not give them the support and tools they need to succeed.
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