Building a World-Class Software Project Team in an Unstable Talent Market

Trends of Staffing in Software

At City Innovations, we are constantly trying to refine our process for the better of our customers. These process refinements range from kickoff to closeout on our projects — and some even outside of our project process like staffing. 

Historically, software development teams have largely adopted an idealistic “Stable World” view — establish the skills needed and find the best talent. This is Similar to the idealistic “Waterfall” management approach to projects when it comes to staffing. This approach focuses on hiring W-2 employees and growing the team in order to scale.

If a project requires a role (even a partial role) they must take the risk and hire ahead of the project to recruit onboard, and train. Or they must simply turn down the request and let the customers know they do not have that capability or juggle key staff between projects.

This approach has relied on a common physical location for the team. It has been where the work “gets done,” teams build culture, oversight, and quality control — and software teams have used this as a way to attract talent and customers.

Dan McClure from Outsight has depicted this well.

While these approaches have worked in the past, events like COVID-19 and the Great Resignation have significantly accelerated market trends. COVID-19 has given workers a glimpse of what a work-from-home job is like and that it can give both productivity and help aid in their work/life balance. 

The Great Resignation has given workers increasing choices of work employment. And for employers, it has made the talent landscape far more competitive. 

With companies like Uber and DoorDash (and even TikTok for that matter) there has been a consistent movement towards the gig economy — making everyone’s desire to change their social media tagline to “Entrepreneur.” And for the first time, we are seeing a convergence of all of these trends hitting the software sector.

Models to Address Staffing Challenges

To address these staff challenges, there are three models that software teams have shifted to try to counteract the changing environment:

  1. Augmenting the team with freelance talent
  2. Offshoring resources
  3. The Hollywood Staffing Model

In our decades of leading projects we have found only one of these models creates the kind of stable delivery and breakthrough thinking: The Hollywood Staffing Model.

While we use freelance talent on many projects, it is hard to keep stability and contextual knowledge on large, long-term deliveries. Free-lancers by nature seek focused, short-term projects. 

Offshoring is a viable option for some maintenance-of-business projects but when innovation is the desired outcome, developers, designers, and product leaders need to be closely aligned. Said another way, language, time zone, and project management barriers tend to absorb any cost benefits they provide and can impede the team from creating breakthrough results.

At City Innovations, we have recognized these trends, and rather than fight against the changing headwinds, we have decided to leverage them into a win-win situation. One in which both our customers and our teammates win. We believe the Hollywood Staffing Model is the approach that offers the most significant advantages.

Meet the Hollywood Staffing Model

No this isn’t a term that we “made up” (just Google it!) — it’s one that we’ve seen change multiple different industries.

The premise is this: When making a Hollywood movie, nobody who works on the film is a permanent employee. Everyone is brought in, often as independent contractors, for a fixed amount of time until the movie is finished. Then they go their own ways.

The beauty of this model is that executive producers can pull together a customized team with the exact skills they need. If they’re making a comedy, they go get a comedy scriptwriter. If they’re making a thriller, they get a director who’s good at thrillers.

Recently, City Innovations has been pioneering a hybrid approach (employees + extended team members) that includes this Hollywood Staffing Model in the software industry too — embracing Dan McClure’s  “Changing World” view — similar to how the software industry has adopted an “Agile” approach to managing software.

Dan McClure from Outsight has depicted this well.

Need a fantastic DevOps team? We have a great partnership with a software company that completely specializes in DevSecOps. Need a software team that specializes in e-commerce? We have a team that specializes in specific e-commerce technologies. 

Overall, our company has developed deep partnerships with both companies and individuals where they can be brought together, as the best in their fields, to form a game-changing team.

City Innovations’ Hybrid Hollywood Approach 

A City Innovations-Based Core Leadership Team in Every Project

At City Innovations, we own the responsibility and accountability to ensure the project is executed using best practices, coding standards, and operational excellence/integrity. This is done by incorporating a hybrid model that includes both extended team members (AKA the Hollywood Staffing Model) and by full-time City Innovations’ employees acting as the core leadership team of a project (our own employee capabilities span across a wide variety of skill sets from Solutions Architecture, Software Development, QA Testing, Project Management, Customer Validation, UX/UI, and Product). Hollywood Staffing extended members and partners complement the City-based core team and are used for scale and their technology/industry niche as needed.

Customer projects are City-employee led and extended by custom-picked project implementation team members/partners.

Where most teams fail because of unknowns and lack of clarity, we embrace these challenges and help bring clarity through our leadership. We think of our own internal teams like jazz bands — highly adaptable and able to rapidly put together a plan. 

The industry at large (including our partners) requires the project “problem statement” and “solution” to be well-defined upfront. And once we help achieve that level of clarity in a project, we bring on partners to help extend our “A-team” to include City Innovations’ employees, independents, and partners to achieve either/both depth (niche knowledge) and/or breadth (scale).

Extended Delivery-Focused Team Members Using the Hollywood Staffing Model

Extended team member relationships many times span decades between City Innovation team members and go through an intense vetting process from a privacy, legal, and security standpoint (i.e. background checks, compliant security standards, etc.) and a competency standpoint (i.e. sample projects, trial periods, City Innovations code reviews, etc.).

As we have started to employ the Hollywood Staffing approach over the last few years, we have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. As with any organization, we have made “miss-hires” which has forced us to battle-harden our vetting process to make it stronger.

Part of this vetting process includes us maintaining a comprehensive list of independent “A-List” developers which we can utilize for both short or long-term engagements (most of which are referral-only – another “A-List” developer, refers a colleague to us). 

This ensures we are not only getting the right skill set for a particular project but also working with individuals who have a track record with City Innovations of delivering quality code and software. With this “A-List Rolodex,” we can ensure there are always resources available since it contains many overlapping skill sets.

The significant upsides for our customers in this model are:

  • A stable and consistent City Innovations’-based core team that is composed of experienced leaders in software development, project management, and execution
  • A custom-built “A-team” that specializes in exactly what our customers need
  • Depth and breadth simultaneously — having deep knowledge and expertise in necessary areas and the ability to adapt to changing needs
  • A “one-stop-shop” where experts can be brought in without the need to have to manage and bring in others
  • More flexibility and adaptability to needs as they arise
  • Assembling teams quicker since we have multiple partners per niche 
  • Pre-vetted and gelled teams — we have worked with our partners in a significant capacity which assures project success

Thinking about implementing a Hollywood Staffing model? We would be glad to help.

At City Innovations, we are a Software Studio and Venture Studio specifically focused on building the right thing. Our core strength is providing that guidance through leadership in areas like Customer Development, Product, UX/CX, and Software Development. Our team is composed of strategists and leaders, and each has the experience and knowledge to navigate complex projects.

No matter what size project you have — whether it is a new idea or rebuilding a complex legacy solution onto new technology — we have the leadership experience and knowledge to bring clarity and develop blueprints to ensure a successful build-out of your vision. Coupled with our strong network and partnerships, which are a part of our Hybrid Hollywood Staffing Model, we can effectively scale our builders, architects, testers, and managers to meet the demands of a quickly transforming digital landscape.

If you would like to talk with one of our Principal Consultants about how a model like this can work, we would gladly share what we have learned (and the pitfalls to watch out for). Fill out this form to start the conversation.

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