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Lessons in building an in-house web delivery team
The first person I ever worked for offered me these words of wisdom on my very first day: “In the end, every client leaves. Some after a…
The first person I ever worked for offered me these words of wisdom on my very first day: “In the end, every client leaves. Some after a year, some after ten years but eventually they all leave.”
By Simon Young, Web Development Manager, Paul Smith
But what about when a company decides it’s time to make the transition from being the client to also doing the work traditionally done by the agency? How do you go about recruiting an internal digital product team with very specific technical skills from scratch? And how do you integrate that team into an existing business?
This was the challenge I took on two years ago, when I moved from agency- side to set up Paul Smith’s web development team. The following is my advice for anybody embarking on the same challenge.
Set your roadmap collectively
Without doubt the biggest benefit of bringing your digital product development team in-house is the additional control it gives you over your own development roadmap. Your team is working solely on your projects and your priorities and isn’t open to external impacts such as the demand of other agency clients. Limitations will still apply but these tend not to be the hard financial limits that often constrain an external development roadmap and tend to be more about prioritising your internal team’s resources.
As we brought our team in-house we put in place a steering group comprised of key members of the e-commerce, IT and marketing teams. This group has a remit to agree and prioritise the development roadmap, taking into account trading requirements, brand marketing requirements and available resources across teams. This collective digital management enables us to react quickly when opportunities present themselves and also to respond to changes or new priorities within the business with minimum disruption. This process and collective responsibility is vital in order to set realistic expectations for other business stakeholders.
Know what not to bring in-house
Perhaps the most important element of bringing your team in- house is understanding what not to bring in-house. We brought all of our digital development in-house and, based on our existing strong IT function and the people we were able to attract, we also took the step of bring our e-commerce platform hosting in-house too. This was not a simple task and took a major investment in hardware and support software services but it was a good fit for our overall IT strategy and has enabled us to lower our ongoing operating expenditure in this area. At the same, we also recognised a set of services that were so specialist that it would make no financial sense to bring them in-house, so we still use external partners for some very specific areas of our service offering.
Build from the top
We took the approach that the best way to build the team
was top-down. By starting off with myself and adding a digital project manager, we were able to get our strategy in place to continue working with our partner agency as we recruited the internal team and brought them up to speed. Working with an agency who understood that this was our desired end result was extremely important.
Work like an agency
When we started the journey to bring our digital product team in-house, we were faced with a set of practices and processes that were focused on delivering internal IT services over a specific platform which did not fit with the open source nature of our digital products. Early on, we took the decision that we would invest in new tools for the business to best replicate the processes that had worked so well in an dgency/client relationship.
For us, this meant investing in introducing the agile development methodology internally, which hadn’t been done before. We invested in agile training, supporting software and services and ensured complete transparency across the team, the IT group and the wider business. We then focused on building our ability to deliver — starting with fairly small sprint sizes and proving to the business every two weeks that we could deliver this service internally. That agile development and delivery methodology was key to allowing other areas of the business to have confidence in the digital product team.
Establish clear business expectations
Working with an agency usually comes with fairly high expectations. You’re usually making a heavy financial investment in the relationship, which means that when things go wrong you expect them to be fixed and you don’t have to bother yourself with considering how. Essentially, you are hiring them to take problems away.
Once you move past that agency model it’s vital to ensure that the business has a clear understanding of the levels of service and support that can be offered. To aid with this we use an internal Service Level Agreement to ensure that everybody understands what to expect.
So, is it worth it?
It may not be a route that is right for every company, but taking account of the key points above has certainly helped us on the way to the successful implementation of our technical delivery inhouse. We’re now able to deliver continuous improvement and innovation with a lower total cost base and a higher return than ever before, while still maintaining the type of flexibility we enjoyed working with a specialist technical agency.