Feature team outsourcing: It's like Containerization for software development
11 JULY 2021
MARKUS VAN AARDT
OUTSOURCING AGILITY SOFTWARE ENGINEERING CAPACITY CAPABILITY
If the title caught your eye, I am sure you know at least a little about Containerization as technology pattern, and how it's revolutionizing the enterprise technology landscape. But have you ever thought about how outsourced feature teams could introduce a similar paradigm idea into how your software can be built and delivered? No? I bet you are now.
So, if you don't understand what Containerization is, here's a short definition: Containerization is a type of operating system virtualization that isolates systems into tailored user spaces, which contain all the components, systems and drivers your software may need to operate correctly. Containers are fully packaged, portable computing environments used for both consumer and enterprise applications and services. It forms a key component of modern cloud platforms, and is getting more common in enterprise environments.
So how do feature teams compare to this idea? Well, let's have a look, shall we?
Feature teams are usually configured as fully contained delivery engines. As compact units of production, they can be compared to containers, while they deliver on end-to-end functional capabilities. Feature teams are often (or always, in our case) built around a number of key resources (or capabilities). The team is led by a senior technical architect, supported by two or three software engineers, who on their part are again supported by a number of additional programmers, tester and/or system analyst. Feature teams normally follow the 7 ± 2 headcount heuristic commonly found in Agile environments, which provides a solid foundation for delivery, are small enough to avoid communication overload and big enough to get work out the door. We also believe in creating, growing and developing feature teams over long periods of time - making them highly efficient, productive and reliable.
Here are some of the other advantages you can leverage from such a model, compared to Containerization.
A good feature team is always built on an array of technologies and skills. They are experienced in different development approaches, technologies, platforms, methodologies and even industries. This makes them adaptable in different environments, and therefore PORTABLE. One of the key value propositions of this model is the team's ability to easily adapt to different technical landscapes through leveraging internal partnership and trust relationships developed over years, across multiple projects.
Given the size and structure of a typical feature team (remember, 7 ± 2?) it is able to adapt quickly to a changing environment, delivery conditions and even requirements. Feature teams are often able to operate in relative isolation from other teams, due to their size and focused delivery. Mix in the members' strong internal bonds and blind trust, these teams are able to switch direction at a moment's notice, knowing that everyone knows what is expected of them.
A key factor in modern enterprise software development is speed. As any corporate recruiter today can attest, engineering skills are in short supply and high demand. This makes recruiting the right people on time a significant challenge for most technology intensive organisations. What makes outsourcing different, and especially so with this approach to feature team outsourcing, is the radically short ramp-up time that can be achieved. Since most of these teams are already operating as established delivery units, organisations are also able to cut down on eliminating friction found within fresh teams. All of this means that teams can start delivering quicker and may require less time to do so. Often, teams can on-board as a whole within weeks, where recruitment and team forming may take months to achieve a comparable capacity.
While on the subject of recruitment lead times, the cost of recruitment is often also neglected in project costing. Since many organisations do not directly allocate recruitment charges to projects, it is still an overhead expense that needs to be paid by the organisation. Recruitment fees vary, depending on role, market supply, urgency and the partner used to source new employees. Under normal conditions this can range between 10 and 20% of Cost to Company (CTC) for the first year, and may even be as high as 30-35% for extremely scarce skills.
And what happens to expensive specialists once a project is completed? Surely, few organisations can afford to carry such staff without active projects. Over time this translates into staff bloat and an increased payroll with diminishing returns. Outsourcing allows organisations to disengage whole teams either gradually or immediately once a project is completed. This significantly curbs longtail resource cost and introduces agility into otherwise rigid organisations.
ISOLATION, EASE OF MANAGEMENT AND EFFICIENCY
Outsource engagements are often well defined and subject to clearly agreed upon boundaries between the organisation and the service provider. This is a key dimension of healthy outsourcing partnerships since it clearly lays out the areas of responsibility and allows for effective management of the project. This is best applied with project and team-based engagements and allows for improved management.
Given the built-in command structure, feature teams are usually managed through a single team lead, who has delegated authority from the company's sponsor, project or programme manager. This reduces the managerial overhead imposed on the organisation, leveraging the internal structure of the team.
Communication into and out of the team are also channelled through the team lead, further reducing the impact to the organisation. This contributes to the overall efficiency attainable through this model.
Feature teams can offer organisations several benefits over conventional sourcing approaches. Not only can they deliver significant savings over both the short and long term, it can also be used to inject much needed urgency into key projects and milestones that cannot be achieved otherwise.
If you're interested to learn more, please contact us - we would love to hear from you.