Collaborative Services: A New Perspective on Staff Augmentation
Human Resources. That phrase feels impersonal and intentionally dismissive of the human element. Resources are things that you use-up and consume, like oil, coal, and timber. Are our workers consumable? Is that the right way to think about the people with whom we work?
Putting People First
Personally, I prefer to think about my co-workers as people first, and their roles second. This is the approach that we’ve taken here at Skookum. Whether it’s paid time off (unlimited), our work-from-home policy (let someone know on Slack), or our attitude toward remote work (video conference everything), our focus is on respecting the person first.
Regardless of their position, each person is empowered to speak openly, honestly, and freely about their ideas, as well as their concerns. There are no questions you can’t ask. No subject is off-limits, and there is no process, policy, or procedure we’re not willing to revisit.
Recently, we’ve taken this process a step further, and have started embracing Remote People First. This ensures that everyone is mindful of the way in which our team members in other locations are impacted by, and participate in our processes, and our interactions.
The Problem with Staff Augmentation
Skookum has been building software for over a decade, and we’ve been doing that both through our traditional practice of owning the full lifecycle internally and through an embedded model where we work on-or-off-site as part of a client team. When it became apparent to us here that there were opportunities to bring our people-first approach to the “staff augmentation” realm, we jumped at the chance. We firmly believe that other companies want to respect the humanity of their workers, but they don’t always have partners that provide staffing solutions that match their desire. When given a choice between team members who simply come in to “fill a resource gap,” or team members who feel empowered to own problems, communicate openly, and make a difference, most companies would prefer the latter.
Business owners, organizational leaders, and product owners already have enough on their plate. They likely are pulled in different directions, have too many decisions to make, and need team members who will take responsibility. In most staff augmentation scenarios, however, team members aren’t empowered to step up and take that responsibility. Instead, outsourced team members are told to blend in, to keep their head down, and to do what they’re asked to do (and usually, no more). Whether it’s their parent agency providing that direction, internal managers, or it’s just what the people are conditioned to do, it’s usually not what your company or project needs.
It’s rarely a lack of people to accomplish tasks holding the company back. Typically, the people you have are constrained by barriers to their success and management’s unwillingness or inability to address those concerns. Team members tasked with keeping their heads down will never help solve those problems. Instead, their contributions result in incremental gains in throughput that are both small and expensive.
A Different Approach
Rather than bringing in heads-down workers who make minor, incremental progress, we prefer to send in high-level contributors. These individuals are expected to accomplish those same tasks, but also seek out opportunities for operational improvement. It’s an approach that begins with setting different expectations ahead of time and communicating those expectations to our clients.
Each person who joins external teams exhibits the same behaviors that make our internal teams successful: personal ownership, productive use of downtime, community involvement, improvement, and healthy communication. These behaviors, coupled with the responsibility to actively track technical debt, technical risk, chase down blockers and impediments, lead to a higher level of success for both teams and clients.
We hire team members who possess a service mindset, who are servant leaders, or who play a specific niche role in a team such as a motivator, cheerleader, captain, or quality hawk. We purposefully build teams who have complementary skills, and who approach work in different ways. Rather than just putting people into empty chairs, we strive to find the right people to compliment your team and fill more than just a physical hole in your organization.
Given this approach and the challenge given to each team member to go beyond merely filling a void in the team, the term “staff augmentation” isn’t an accurate description of the role our people play within client organizations. Beyond simply adding capacity, a Collaborative Services partner delivers skilled, talented people who are empowered to do their best work. They’re on a mission to help members of both internal and external teams gel together to create one cohesive team.
In this sense, a dedicated Collaborative Services team sees itself as co-producers of your work. We work together closely, collaborate, and partner with you to help accomplish your goals. Along the way, we introduce new methods, processes, and ideas that we’ve gathered from our years of experience working across dozens of industry verticals.
What About Ownership?
The most common issue we run up against when describing this enhanced approach to new clients is a reluctance to be reliant on a partner, or the concern over partner team members owning institutional knowledge. What if they leave and take the knowledge with them? Shouldn’t our internal team own this knowledge? These are valid concerns. We fully believe it’s in every organization’s best interest to own their own products, services, and processes.
It’s an unavoidable condition that Collaborative Services engagements end. Successful Collaborative Services engagements end with proper documentation, training, and hand-off to partner team members. Institutional knowledge shouldn’t walk out the door with your partners but rather should be owned by you and your team. Sharing knowledge with your Collaborative Services partner ensures the best outcome for your project, but it’s borrowed, not sold. Our goal is not to put our people on-site with you forever, but rather to work with you to solve specific problems, produce great work together, then go away until we’re needed again.
We’re continuing to learn and adapt our people-first approach to the way our embedded teams co-produce work with our clients, maintain our company culture across remote groups, and develop ways to make our dispersed team members feel closer to us. We are working to lessen the impact of the physical distance between us, and to find new ways to provide additional value to our clients and partners. Most importantly, we’re learning and modifying our processes based on our shared experiences and feedback from our clients, our partners, and our people.
Putting your people first requires a different mindset and a different approach, but what could it mean for your business? What would the impact be if you could improve your relationships with clients and partner?
If you stopped viewing team members as “resources” and really committed to a people-first approach across your organization, what could it do for your company’s morale, output and most importantly, your revenue? Just imagine the result of each of your people bringing their very best ideas and selves into their work. Imagine that the next time you identified a need or a gap to fill, you got more than an external development resource–you had a collaborative partner injecting capability, energy, and innovation to your project.
Get in touch and let’s see how we can help.