March 19, 2019

Why External Partners Can be the Best Path to Business Agility and Technology Modernization

Steve Berez’s and Will Poindexter’s article, “Agile Is Not Enough,” in MIT Sloan Management Review, makes the valuable point that by adopting a product mindset and an agile approach to business leadership, software development teams can create better products and services and transform processes.

However, Berez and Poindexter also argue that the growing use of external contractors has contributed to a talent deficit. “How do you transform a technology organization,” they ask, “when half the staff are not your employees?”

One of the best investments a company can make in their in-house software development organization is to bring in outside expertise to build their next product alongside their existing teams. At 3Pillar, our craftspeople meet client teams where they are and model successful approaches to product delivery that is credible and effective.

Companies certainly need to be able to rapidly adapt, innovate and apply effective change. As Berez and Poindexter point out, technology atrophy can have devastating effects for a company. This means companies face constant pressure to improve the customer experience, defend against evolving threats and modernize their technology and technology delivery processes. Ironically, however, based on my experiences both as a product leader in product companies and as someone responsible for craftsmanship at 3Pillar, contracting software development talent via an outside team can challenge established norms in a healthy way.

At 3Pillar, not only do we help our clients avoid technology and process atrophy, but we actively instigate a push to modern practices, architectures and techniques with our Adaptive Product Lifecycle Management (APLM) approach. We kick off each client partnership with a “Start Strong, Stay Strong” program to build trust through early momentum and strong collaboration. We then re-assess process and engineering quality through “health checks” that contain the latest learnings across the organization and recommend improvement opportunities to clients.

For example, we recently kicked off a cross-functional team (product, architecture, engineering, QA) for a new client to build their next product in a competitive market segment. Beyond capacity, their VP of Engineering told me that already in the first 2 months they have benefited from a technology upgrade that impacts the entire product portfolio (Angular 1 to Angular 7); architectural insights that they are planning to adopt as standard (Terraform, API Gateway to enable the front end team to move independently); process improvements around DevOps (CI/CD, configuration management); and regression test automation coverage. Their team leads are watching and absorbing ideas to take into their other teams.

Product development partners with strong cultures of craftsmanship offer value and benefits that companies cannot hope to achieve in isolation over time. We would argue that it is the combination of an in-house team and a partner like 3Pillar that will give the best long-term results. In-house teams are necessary to maintain tribal knowledge and a layered understanding of the clients and business processes. The best partners offer both breadth and depth of expertise: breadth in terms of exposure to different technologies and techniques that clients cannot afford in-house, and depth in terms of expertise in areas of non-feature quality such as reliability, deployability, maintainability, security, and performance.

At 3Pillar, we have a commitment to the craft of building digital products with a competitive edge and superior return-on-investment. It is this expertise that allows us to help businesses and their technology organizations meet the demands of an ever-changing technological landscape.