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November 21, 2018

The worst reason to hire a software “consultancy”

Adam Cuppy



Advisor / Founding Partner
Medford, OR

I’ll give you a hint: to solve a capacity problem. (Okay, so that wasn’t much of a clue — more the answer. Let me explain.)

More often than not, we’re approached by team leaders with an identifiable struggle to deliver. The telling of the tale goes something like this…

We have a big project due in a few months. We have three developers — two juniors and one senior. We’ve been trying to hire another “Senior developer” for a long while, but we can’t seem to find anyone. We need someone who knows [technology ABCD] and we hear you do that.
Are you available to start next week?!

Answer: Yes, and no.

Our team writes a lot of code. We use technology that many other people around the world are experts in. While our team at ZEAL is genuine, generous, and more than proficient, there are plenty of people who can create software that fits a design spec as well as our team — some will charge more; some will charge less.

Our value as “consultants” is not exclusive to the code we write. It’s in the insight, experience, and, more importantly, the process we develop and follow.

Don’t get me wrong

Hiring part-time contractors to buffer team growth, tackling a termed project initiative, or adding unique technical expertise to help level up an internal team is a substantial operational strategy. Too often, the classification “consultant” is treated synonymously with “contractor.”

Process is the core product

Sure, there are times when a struggle to deliver is technical; where the work is time-consuming and laborious to produce. Writing software is an abstract art form, and the complexity of writing code will continue as technology evolves.

Of all the great consultancies, there are two qualities they all share: a diverse body of work and a consistent approach to uncertainty.

I’ve interviewed many successful consultancy operators and time and time again they recognize that uncertainty is not a problem to avoid, but a component of the work to manage.

Regardless of the flavor of project management they chose, you’ll find that their process of collaboration with each other, how they manage the list of features to build, their means of delivering code to a production server, and how they handle QA is methodologically consistent. In other words…

They have a process.

So… What’s the best reason to hire a software “consultancy?”

The easy answer is: to deliver a great product that serves the business. But let’s assume for a minute that you’d never hire a person or company (full time or contract) with the gut-level feeling that they won’t support that goal. Let’s assume your chosen people/team can write code well. Then, what’s left?

What happens when they leave?

The best reason to hire a software consultancy is to develop a procedural recipe that’s unique to your business, fosters certainty, manages uncertainty, protects the integrity of the product, delivers quality features continuously, and with as little friction, as possible. A process that your team can maintain and build upon when the consultancy leaves.

Components of this would include:

  • A conceptual approach to new technologies
  • Internal communication plan
  • Team meeting structure and schedule
  • Hiring and training schedule
  • Quality assurance process
  • Review and deployment methodology

For ZEAL, we develop this recipe while doing the work. It’s a practical exploration based on working with the client’s team (product managers, developers, stakeholders). Every new recipe starts with diverse prior experiences and evolves from there.

In short: the value of consulting is in the process they help develop with you and leave with you when they’re gone.

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