Working in a digital consultancy delivering client projects poses its own particular resource challenge. Clients often approach us because of our flexibility, agility and ability to quickly spin up a project, deploy resources to it and deliver it rapidly.
Where the requirements are not fully understood from the outset our product teams work with clients shaping them throughout the project life-cycle. In these instances we need to offer a flexible team structure which allows for the unknowns.
This is where the core flex model comes into play. We run the core team throughout the duration of the project and we expand and contract it according to need.
For example, we may need to increase the team to run concurrent work streams: a development stream, and a scoping stream for the next release. This secures the core team for continuous delivery and maintains velocity. Alternatively, a client may refocus their priorities through a better understanding of their business need. For example reassigning budget originally for technical development to deeper UX/UI work.
At CA we pride ourselves on our ability to pivot and rapidly adapt to our client’s changing needs, however, while this is cost-effective for the client and offers flexibility, it is a challenging model to service as a business which must remain profitable and be able to plan and forecast effectively.
So what is the solution?
To maintain profitability we need a lean but flexible staffing model. It needs to be lean enough to enable us to maintain high levels of utilisation in quieter periods but robust enough to rapidly scale up at short notice during busy periods. The challenge of resourcing in this environment is to find the sweet spot between these two diametrically opposed scenarios. The added factor is that projects often land at very short notice so forecasting staffing need is somewhat of a dark art.
There is no one solution, rather a set of conditions that offer some level of predictability, stability, visibility and profitability.
Here are my 7 pillars of resourcing wisdom:
1. Stick to your core competency (most of the time)
It may seem obvious to stick to what you do best but too often the focus can be to get revenue at any cost. Focusing on your core competencies will help will ensure you deliver quality for the client. It also allows you to focus your recruitment efforts effectively so you are not carrying an overhead that may not be required in future. It should not preclude building things outside of your core skill set on occasion but in these instances you can buy in temporary resource to augment your core team.
2. Build client partnerships
At CA we aim to build long-lasting relationships with clients. What may start as a single project more often than not leads to follow-on work. A handful of clients with a fixed team delivering continuous feature development over a prolonged period generates a stable and predictable revenue stream for the business, making it safer to invest in recruitment.
3. Have a ready supply of trusted delivery partners
Build a network of tried and tested subject matter experts that you can draw on at short notice. A combination of the following offers a broad range of options.
- Tried and tested freelancers that you bring in as required for their specialised skills; these people are often in high demand so you’ll need a large pool to draw on at short notice.
- Have a stable of reliable agencies to provide you with contractors; they should understand your business and be able to provide you with consistently good quality candidates at preferential rates.
- Partner with nearshore and offshore houses who can rapidly augment your teams with highly skilled resources. Remember, your reputation hinges on the quality of their output so you need to ensure they are tried and tested; you resource your in-house team with adequate capacity to oversee the quality of their work, and your workflows and communications are robust.
- To attract the best contract talent you need to make it easy and pleasant for them to work with you. They need to be able to plug into your business and start delivering value immediately. Hygiene factors such as prompt payment also play a big part in building your reputation as a good place to work.
4. Have the right tools
Invest in a robust system to manage your resourcing and forecasting needs and ensure you have real time visibility at all times.
There are a number of solutions on the market which cater to the needs of businesses of varying sizes and complexity. We use Kimble, a Salesforce-based PSA which manages our entire client lifecycle from sales opportunity through to delivery, resourcing and financial reporting and management. As soon as a resource profile is input into the system employees can be assigned to it. As dates or profiles change we can easily move people about to match their availability and identify any gaps in capacity. Taking into account the probability of the opportunity landing and the likelihood of the start date a decision can then be made whether to delay to use our existing staff, recruit or bring in temporary staff.
5. Work as a team
No resource manager should ever sit in an ivory tower moving chess pieces around a board. Collaboration is key. Everyone should have an opportunity to contribute to solving resource challenges and at CA we value and expect proactiveness. Whether it’s someone offering to step into a role which is outside their core discipline, or shaping a project plan to still deliver value until the gap is filled, we often have to come up with creative solutions to urgent resource challenges and solving these is – and must – be a team effort.
6. Invest in your bench time
Inevitably there will be periods when staff are not resourced to client projects. We like to refer to this as investment time. This is a great opportunity to deliver additional value to the business and clients – and invest in our people. At CA staff not on client projects are expected to contribute to a range of internal initiatives. This could involve supporting the sales team, improving internal tools and processes, training, R&D projects and POCs – we’re currently having fun in the AI space.
7. Don’t panic
A resource manager must by necessity balance quality versus cost. Invest too little in resources and you risk not being able to deliver quality and lose clients. Invest too heavily and you risk significant bench time and straining the company purse. Putting in place the steps above will mitigate against this as much as possible but ultimately you will have to take a risk in choosing whether or not to recruit. If you work as a team and make these choices together the shared responsibility will make dealing with the outcomes of any decisions a far more positive experience.
Chelsea Apps has been successfully resourcing projects for clients like Waitrose, Vanquis, KPMG and Ladbrokes, whilst pushing the boundaries of mobile and digital innovation. If you’d like to hear more about how we can help deliver against your digital challenges why not drop into our Bournemouth office for a cup of tea? Or send us a quick email: firstname.lastname@example.org