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As the head of business development at Simple Thread, I spend a lot of time with folks outside our company. Not only do I interact with potential clients, but I also regularly engage with folks who want us to be their clients.
Want to guess the biggest topic of overlapping discussion? Believe it or not, it is whether we actually do our own work! Crazy, right?
From potential clients, questions typically look like:
- Does Simple Thread just outsource my project?
- Where is your team located?
- Will I get to talk to the designers or engineers?
- Will I get to meet my team?
- Who actually does the software development and design?
- Will I have the same team for the whole project?
At Simple Thread, we generally don’t use outside folks to do our work. Why? Our worldview is that great software is about great people. To make great software we must work with great people. And sometimes great people can be hard to find.
If our job is to generate value on behalf of our clients, then we must adhere to a fiduciary mindset for our clients. If we adhere to that mindset, then great people are one of the surest ways to deliver value back to our clients.
One of our core principles is about being “Cohesive”. To us this means that we have a team of great people who work well together, and we can have that team execute on project after project knowing that we will get consistently great results.
Here are some reasons why we, as an organization believe that forming a cohesive team is critical to our ability to deliver for our clients.
Reason 1: Our team didn’t come together by accident
I witness the many hours our leadership team spends poring over candidates when we are fortunate enough to bring on new team members. They go through hundreds of resumes per position and winnow them down to a handful of prospects. Then the leadership team navigates prospects through a rigorous process before any offers are made. They aren’t just looking for skills in a particular field, they are looking for qualities that ensure someone fits in with our culture and will work well with our team.
Upon arrival, new hires are equipped with the necessary tools and introduced to coworkers and their projects. Once that exhaustive effort is done, leadership can step back and give senior people the space and leeway they need to be effective.
So, for the time and care we put into this process, why would we intentionally divert from that approach?
Our team hasn’t come together by accident; in fact, it is quite the opposite. Intentionality and investment in our people is what we perceive to be a key competitive advantage and the primary way through which we surpass client expectations, and it isn’t something we’re willing to give up.
Reason 2: The telephone game sucks
There is massive value to be gained when product owners work directly with designers and engineers. Whether in-person, over Zoom, or through Slack, a raised eyebrow, an inflected voice, or even an alert emoji can play a critical role in communication. Clear communication and mutual understanding are vital to helping product teams avoid missteps and yield the richest value.
Project managers are great, especially on big and complex projects, but it is standard practice for organizations who engage in outsourcing to employ project managers as gatekeepers. Similarly, the sending organization might engage in this practice too, only exacerbating the problem. There’s lots of reasons for doing so, but they lead to telephone games where nuance and context doesn’t transfer and are lost.
As a result, all of the context is lost by the team who is actually building the product. This generally results in a terrible outcome. We’ve seen this many times first-hand, as we have been brought in to clean up a project that has gone off the rails.
That same gatekeeping also increases the latency of communication. This always seems to be greatly amplified the more those time zones slide out of phase with each other. Without significant time zone overlap feedback loops that could take minutes or hours wind up taking days or even weeks.
Reason 3: A good team is an empowered team
Maybe the most fatal flaw of a gatekeeping workflow is that it can remove the opportunity for designers or engineers to push back on a request from a product owner. This turns designers and engineers into “ticket takers.” This eliminates their problem solving superpowers and removes all of the value of bringing in a team of experts. The primary reason clients hire a firm like Simple Thread is for the baked-in problem solving. Problem solving prowess which turns into elegantly managed solutions to complex problems.
We believe in Doerr’s Law on Product Teams, that a product is a reflection of the team. Great software requires a great team who are empowered to make hard decisions and are accountable for the results. This requires trust and empathy, human to human relationships, which take time to build and nurture.
Reason 4: Generalization is a slippery slope
Some of the greatest advice I’ve heard about for fledgling companies is that “until you say no, you’re not a business.”
I believe this to be true, especially for small businesses. Saying no to projects implies specialization. It also implies that you have a thesis about where you can provide immense value and where you cannot.
If you pass up every opportunity to say no — whether for reasons of capacity or capability, you will constantly be working understaffed and outside of your area of expertise, and, thus, won’t be able to do anything particularly well. Is there a short term cost to saying no? Of course! But the long-term gain is exponentially more valuable. As you solidify your niche, you can gain confidence in saying no by developing a strong network of partners who can deliver value where you cannot. Know thyself.
If every opportunity to say no — whether for reasons of capacity or for reasons of capability — goes unchecked, then who are we? For what do we stand?
Even now, equipped with a team of almost twenty at Simple Thread, our leadership is forced to choose between projects that range from awesome to awesomest. This is already difficult and the more we grow, the more challenging it will become. However, it also enables us to do what we do really well and to regularly exceed our clients’ expectations. So set yourself up for success and practice saying no early.
Reason 5: Our Community Matters to Us
If we believe that great software is about great people, then the people of our local community must matter. Virginia is a vital source of our partnerships and projects for us, and we value giving back to our community through mentoring work and local community building projects among other things.
In many cases, if we take work and opportunity for our region and turn it over to others, we are failing to best serve our community. We understand that when people and organizations invest locally, the entire community reaps the benefits.
While we occasionally hire outside of our region for exceptional candidates, we truly enjoy having a local team that we can see face-to-face regularly.
Great people are what makes great software.
So if that’s true, would carefully crafting a team be important? Would meaningful personal relationships and transparent communication matter? Would narrowing our focus to best support our clients and partners help? Would fostering community have value?
As a product agency our unique value proposition is our handpicked team, our hard-won experience, our intentional specialization, and our leadership’s vision.
So if all of that is true, then why entrust the most critical task we perform to someone else?
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