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Identifying the Right Development Team at the Right Time

07-26-23 Catherine Meade

No two codebases have the same needs from a development team, so why should we expect our developers to fit in a one-size-fits-all model? With Sparkbox’s right team at the right time approach, we partner with teams to provide specialized expertise for each challenge as it arises.

We’ve all read (or written) those job posts looking for the “unicorn wizard rockstar” developer: someone who is an expert in both frontend and backend development, can write PHP with their eyes closed, has dabbled in design and .NET, invents new CSS properties in their sleep, and maintains 55 unique CMS instances. Obviously, that’s a hyperbole. But we look for these unicorns because each team needs a vast number of skills throughout the life and continued iteration of a product.

We want our teams to have a broad range of skills in order to best solve the challenges presented to them. However, teams need passionate individuals with specific specialties–a team is by definition a group of individuals all working together. In the ever-changing tech world, we must be robust and flexible in order to succeed as industry leaders. But hiring universally-skilled individuals or keeping uniquely-skilled specialists busy with the work available at any time is next to impossible. There has to be a better way, right?

At Sparkbox, our “right team at the right time” approach is more than just staff augmentation or trying to hire a single individual for all potential obstacles. We identify both the appropriate team size and the appropriate team skill sets for the specific moment in the project—no unicorns required.

The Right Development Team

So how do we bring our clients the right team size with the right skill sets? The Sparkbox development, design, and project management leadership meets via Zoom to review project staffing weekly, discussing the needs of every current and upcoming engagement. Openings are matched to individual contributors from every department—noting the team member’s skills, specialization, and availability. This ongoing evaluation builds a well-balanced and productive team for each project.

This revaluation of strategic and specific planning allows our team to be able to solve the problems our clients are facing right now. The team members chosen are experienced in offering consulting recommendations for the current situation—meaning when our client’s needs or goals change, we can adjust the team makeup iteratively in response.

Right Team at the Right Time in Practice

Let me share just a few examples of what the right team at the right time could look like for your team’s unique development needs.

Example: A Cohesive Design to Development Workflow

Let’s start with a standard example—the traditional design to developer workflow.

Recently we did some quick CMS homepage work for a Fortune 500 auto industry manufacturing and distribution company. Happy with how things turned out but recognizing there was a lot left to do, this client requested an estimate for continuing with the implementation of additional recommendations. However, their budget for the year had already been set, so we needed to offer a solution that fit within a tight timeline and a limited number of hours while still getting them all the tools they needed to carry the project forward without Sparkbox.

This client had some internal development capabilities availability already, so they prioritized completing the UI Design. We always want the insight of a Technical Lead during the design phase, but their allocation often can just be part-time. We recommended four weeks of one additional full-time UI Designer, which would then transition into a full-time frontend/CMS developer. So the total headcount remains the same for predictable project velocity, but the team makeup changes to fit the balance of work required. Team members without full workloads are moved off the project to give the client as much time as we have available to focus on their project goals.

Example: A Tandem Effort Done Right

Perhaps the traditional design to dev pipeline I mentioned above is standard in your organization, so how about something a little more unique?

Another client I worked on last year had engaged us in two efforts in tandem. This cloud services client was rebuilding their entire public-facing web ecosystem with a brand new design and modern tech stack. We drove a high-impact Drupal 7 migration with an impending deadline and hundreds of pages to convert while leading efforts with their innovative, less deadline-intensive design system team.

The client’s core challenge was growing the Drupal 7 team significantly to keep up with tasks. They had work available for an ever-increasing headcount, but they couldn’t support the continual and staggered onboarding while keeping the velocity strong for individuals in several codebases–Drupal, Contentful, script migration, and design system(s).

Our right team at the right time approach offered an opportunity for Sparkbox to benefit both of the clients’ teams.

First, we onboarded new team members to the design system team so our developers could learn the various systems and offer innovative ideas for component structure. This allowed developers to build strong working relationships with the client’s permanent design system team members. We then moved our developers over to the high-velocity migration team. Having developers familiar with the design system increased their competency in implementing it. This familiarity even allowed us to regularly submit pull requests to the design system for the migration effort which increased productivity and cohesiveness.

Ultimately, both teams were better for it and able to successfully launch their products.

Example: A Frontend Designer Bridges Departments

Okay, for my last example, well… sometimes unicorns do exist.

This client, another high-scale manufacturing organization, also came to us with design system needs. They had a robust, Angular-based system to start with but desired modernization and a better documentation system for subscribers—including a full-scale migration from Sketch/Invision to Figma. The majority of the work had our UI Designers building out both pre-existing and incomplete components in Figma with new documentation while also implementing recommended UX, development, and accessibility improvements.

We identified an individual to fill a Frontend Designer role for this client. Not only were they a strong JavaScript developer, but they were also an adept Figma practitioner. They were able to run the local instance of Storybook for the design system without any other developer, adding one additional resource for component consistency. They offered first-pass development reviews for components and were responsible for auditing and documenting missing elements. They also created some truly incredible Figma prototypes with programming-like implementation—a benefit our team had not foreseen when assigning them.

This Frontend Designer (right team) could then remain with the client team as the project went on (right time) and the workload shifted from Figma to Angular—picking up development tickets like any other dev. Although unlike any other dev, they brought months of Figma and design context to the engineering team.

The Right Development Teams at the Right Time Create Better Products

No two codebases have quite the same needs from a development team, so why should we expect our developers to be magical multi-skilled creatures of myth? And how do we support needs that change during a project lifecycle? With Sparkbox’s right team at the right time approach, we partner with teams to provide bespoke expertise for each challenge as it arises.

Curious about what we could do with your team? Call Katie Jennings or drop her an email.

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A portrait of Vice President of Business Development, Katie Jennings.

Katie Jennings

Vice President of Business Development