The case for delivery centers: part one
There’s no place like home.
Steve Resnick | September 4, 2015
Read our second post in The case for delivery centers series about approaching software like a Tetris game, then learn about what makes our software engineering culture great.
The 80s brought us big hair and “outsourcing.” The 90s brought us the Internet and “offshoring.” Together, they created the global market for software development. Since labor is the big cost in software development, companies shifted labor to locations with lower costs. Great for business, great for consumers, and great for emerging markets.
But while some jobs can be outsourced and offshored, others can’t. Jobs with straightforward, clear instructions can be; jobs with incomplete requirements or inconsistent goals cannot. Tasks that follow a pattern can be; tasks that require unique solutions are more difficult to offshore. It’s not that offshore teams are less capable, it’s just that the distance from the client makes it difficult to create an ideal solution to an amorphous problem.
We all want to create great products. Whether it’s delivering healthcare differently, creating a better way to buy razors, or building a local bike-sharing network, unique solutions require great software. And great software requires great teams, and great teams require a great place to work.
And for that, there’s no place like home.
Slalom’s delivery center model
Slalom delivery centers are the nerve centers of onshore projects. They’re staffed by some of the best software architects in the business, alongside bright engineers coming out of top universities. We opened the first delivery center in Seattle in 2010, the second in Chicago in 2012, and the third in Boston in 2015.
We work and live close to clients, making communication far easier than it would be if we were halfway around the world. We’re in urban centers, near universities, and close to public transportation. Our teams come together and disperse based on client needs, but we stay together across projects. From lunch-table banter to Friday happy hour, we’re involved in each other’s lives.
If you’ve worked on Agile projects, then you know that it requires a willingness to learn, a willingness to adapt, and most importantly, a lot of practice. Fortunately, we have a lot of all of the above in our delivery centers.
Agile works best when teams are stable. Once we learn each other’s strengths, it’s easy to divide the work in a way that enables everyone to work on what they love. Billy is best at UX, and Jennifer knows the mid-tier, and John eats up storage and security. And then everyone pitches in across the board because nobody succeeds unless the team succeeds.
Delivery centers contribute to team stability by maintaining a large staff of engineers and architects from which the teams are formed. So while team composition will vary from project to project, we’re colleagues within the same center, sitting together before the project begins and after it ends.
Agile also works best when teams are in the same place. It’s far easier to describe what makes a product good vs. great when standing in front of a whiteboard than it is via phone, email, and IM. Delivery centers directly support co-located teams via an open-space layout, shared kitchen, free snacks, and meeting rooms.
With a good Agile process in place, we then hire the best people we can find—seasoned software architects with solid hands-on experience. We surround the architects with entry-level engineers who are quick to learn and eager to produce to create a capable, diverse team with tons of experience and potential. With that team in place, we partner with our clients to create exactly the solutions they need, operating at a lower cost than traditional consulting teams (due to our blended team model) and higher velocity (due to our delivery center). Good for clients, good for teams, good for all.
About this series
Over the next 12 months, we’ll chronicle the growth of Slalom’s delivery centers in Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. We’ll talk about some interesting projects, how we do Agile, how we onboard college grads, and how our teams grow. Our hope is to share the excitement with everyone, so onshoring becomes a “thing” in cities everywhere.
Read our second installment in The case for delivery centers series about approaching software like a Tetris game.
Steve Resnick is the Practice Area Director at Slalom’s Boston delivery center. He serves clients by providing the people, processes, and places that enable everyone to do their best work.