Building the right product development team requires more than just assembling a team that checks the boxes for the skill sets you need.  The team dynamic, its ability to handle ambiguity, and its ability to self-manage risk play as big of a role in success as the skills of each team member.

This is especially true when expanding your team by adding an external partner, where the external resources need to contribute to the overall mix of team responsibilities in multiple areas.  So how can you best navigate the complexities of evaluating an external product development partner to feel confident in its ability to complement your team and contribute to its success?

A multi-dimensional view is required to properly frame your project needs in order to choose the right type of product development partner.  It can help to look at how the needs of your project fit into two different categories – technical complexity and project ownership – and weighing them as high or low according to the definitions below.

  • Technical Complexity is best understood as the level of technical expertise that needs to be added to the team through an external partner. It can be considered on the low side as “we’ve built these products a million times, we just need help documenting the incremental changes,” and on the high side as “this is a completely new technology to our company, we need someone who is an expert in this field and can be a technical adviser to our team.”
  • Project Ownership is best understood as the level of responsibility/autonomy that is needed from the external partner.  It ranges on the low side as “we already have a mature project team that will lead and coordinate all tasks, but just need additional engineers to supplement that team,” and  on the high side as “we need a full ready-made team that can work with autonomy to lead the development of this project with minimal supervision.”

Using the above chart defines four types of product development partners to be considered:

  • Body in a seat – For projects that require low technical complexity and low project ownership, usually the company’s needs are for one or more engineers to supplement their existing team on a short-term basis. This approach works when you have very well-defined requirements and know all the steps to get to the finish line.  To say it another way, this type of project simply needs more people hours to get the work done.
  • Technical Expert – For projects requiring high technical complexity and low project ownership, the company often needs a technical expert that can solve more complicated problems and help lead the company’s technical team. In this scenario, the expert will often serve as the technical lead in a specific area but will not take on any additional project or team responsibility.  In other words, this is when you need the guru to lend expertise to solve a hard problem.
  • One Stop Shop – For projects that require low technical complexity and high project ownership, the company does not require a technical expert but instead needs a ready-made team that can take on many project functions and operate with autonomy. This can often take the form of multiple engineering disciplines and project management working together with minimal oversight to carry out significant project deliverables.  Valuable teams for these types of projects can handle ambiguity and self-manage risk to be successful without a perfect set of requirements or external management.
  • Strategic Partner – For projects that require high technical complexity and high project ownership, the company needs a ready-made team of experts that can work with autonomy and take on a significant portion of both the technical leadership and lead other project responsibilities. Projects in this quadrant often fail without the right team dynamic, even if all the right skill sets are on the team.  This is also the space where game changing innovation tends to happen.

If you are considering an external partner to expand your team, identifying the right type of product development partner that is needed is the first step toward meeting delivery objectives.  A common mistake that companies make is to consider only the technical needs, only to find out too late that the development partner lacks the project ownership capabilities to work with sufficient autonomy.  This can lead to frustration and project delays under even the best of conditions.  But in the current climate where a pandemic has forced remote work to be more and more the norm, the need for external product development partners to take on project responsibility and work with minimal oversight has never been more important.

If you need help determining the right type of development partner to meet your needs, contact us at Treetown Tech and tell us about your project.  We would be happy to provide a partnership consultation and help you get on the right path.