Creative problem-solving demands a better model
Slalom’s delivery network—a collection of regional delivery centers, staffed by smart, experienced software engineers—creates digital products and experiences, purpose-built for our clients. Here’s how.
June 7, 2016
Shipping software projects overseas was once all the rage. And for predictable, well-defined projects, it made sense. When it came to innovation, however, the offshore model fell short.
Tough, amorphous problems and true innovation demand real-time collaboration. That reality spawned Slalom’s delivery network: a collection of technical “nerve centers” for software development. Those centers exist to help our clients build engagement, growth, and loyalty through digital products and experiences.
The true cost of offshoring
In the onshore v. offshore debate, hourly cost per resource doesn’t tell the full story.
“We’ve moved from comparing dollars per hour to the number of user stories per dollar—it measures value delivered and efficiency of that delivery,” says Mike Cowden, general manager of the delivery network, adding that cost per hour doesn’t account for the value that’s created.
“About five offshore resources can be replaced by one of our onshore delivery resources,” he says. “We have clients that have measured the cost per user story, and while we may not be their lowest cost-per-hour resource, we’re their lowest cost per user story.”
That’s because today’s technologies and the near-constant demand for innovation scream for real-time collaboration and a more creative, nimble approach.
“Projects have become much less defined, and everything happens in real-time,” says Cowden.
Offshoring works just fine for predictable, repeatable projects and non-core tasks. But strategic and innovative initiatives can’t be neatly handed off between time zones with little more than an idea of what’s needed. Offshore work often requires duplication of roles in both locations, and leads to misunderstood requirements through time zone differences, quality gaps, extended delivery timelines, and intensive contract management—resulting in higher costs.
“About five offshore resources can be replaced by one of our onshore delivery resources.”
Meet the delivery network
The network of delivery centers—currently five in total, with others in the hopper—is purpose-built to help our clients imagine their next generation of digital experiences. Slalom’s delivery centers combine expertise, process, and proximity to solve complex problems, while offering the fastest time-to-market available.
Local + regional
The network spans coast to coast, with delivery centers in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, and Toronto. The centers, which are located near local Slalom offices to support clients and teams in the same or adjacent time zones, provide regional remote delivery capabilities at scale for the local markets.
The centers don’t break Slalom’s traditional local-market model—they add to it. The combination of delivery center and local-market resources allow even the biggest Slalom offices to achieve a size and scale that they couldn’t alone.
Take, for example, a recent project with The Warranty Group, a Chicago-based client. Our local Chicago market joined forces with the delivery center to build ProtectionPlace: a one-stop shop for consumer electronic protection plans. The powerful pairing of local market and delivery center resources brought the client’s vision to life, while solving one of its core challenges: learning to talk effectively to consumers.
Smart, experienced problem-solvers
What started as a hypothesis—if we hire really smart and experienced software engineers and place them in regional delivery centers, we can do regionally-distributed and remote agile development—has been a resounding success in the marketplace.
“I was employee number one,” says Cowden. “Now, we’ve grown to over 500 people in 5 years, and there’s really no end in sight.”
The centers are home to a breadth and depth of expertise, including: software engineering across all the stacks (Java, Opensource, .NET), all things cloud (AWS, Azure, etc), mobile development (iOS, Android, and Windows phone), user experience, modern web (Sitecore, Adobe), customer engagement and CRM (Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics), DevOps (Puppet and Chef), and technical delivery leadership. They’re staffed by smart, curious technologists who are eager to solve problems in new and innovative ways.
The team is deeply interested in solving complex problems. And that interest-turned-excitement yields results. To date, the delivery network has supported more than 650 clients, such as Qlik, Charter Communications, Buffalo Wild Wings, Agilysys, Beachbody, Brooks Running, and XL Insurance, to name a few. They’ve helped companies build internal and customer-facing mobile apps, built companies from incubation to launch, and move products to the new SAAS-based world.
For a behind-the-scenes look at our delivery centers, check out an ongoing blog series by Steve Resnick, practice area director in Slalom’s newest delivery center, Boston. Over the course of the series, he’ll deep dive into how the centers do regional agile development and how the teams grow and onboard new talent, as well as highlight interest project successes.
Benefits of working with the delivery network
The team doesn’t just push something out the door and walk away. Rather, they continue to support and share knowledge so the client’s product improves and stays relevant over time.
And the onshore regional delivery model allows for collaborative, real-time problem solving. The team works in the same time zone as the client to help alleviate the communication breakdowns, midnight conference calls, and hassle of shipping code halfway across the world at quitting time that are par for the course in an offshore project.
Predictable, repeatable outcomes are in high demand, but they’re hard to achieve—whether it’s due to lack of standardized processes, clarity, or skills. “But when we build these solutions, that’s exactly what our clients get,” says Sony Rusteberg, managing director in the Chicago delivery center.
The team treats digital experiences as a process, not a finite project. Doing so puts a sustainable solution in place that provides predictable outcomes, both now and in the future. And, along the way, the team provides the training and infrastructure required to help mature the clients’ internal teams to ensure they can maintain and grow the product over time.
One size doesn’t fit all. What resonates with one audience may fall flat with another, and what makes sense for one business model doesn’t always translate nicely to other models and industries.
The team builds custom products to support any industry and any customer. Rather than pushing a specific solution or technology, they work with our clients to build the best product for them.
The team focuses on “aligning with the business and delivering quality software at scale, which creates time-to-market of the right solution,” says Stephen Roger, managing director in the Seattle delivery center.
Build, refine, deliver—together
All this is smothered in the delivery network’s secret sauce that’s a mix of ultra-customization, distributed agile development, and what Cowden dubs “proximity to the problem.”
That combination provides our clients with:
- custom-fit solutions, and most importantly, the tools and know-how to maintain and grow the product as it evolves
- tangible products at every step of the way—and the ability to change their mind as the project progresses—thanks to short, iterative sprints allow you to see the product at every step of the way
- real-time, side-by-side collaboration, so the product is constantly refined throughout the work day