Agile Organizations Spend Money on People, Not Bodies

“Money is not a barrier – just get it done!” This seems like a good problem to have, but far too often, this leads to disaster.

Decision makers in this situation often fear that although the demand is here today, what do I do if I bring in really good people, only to have to let them go somewhere down the road. A seemingly reasonable reaction is to leverage traditional staff augmentation at the lowest possible cost. Spin up several teams to get work done in parallel to meet aggressive time constraints.

The following problems are almost always inevitable:

  • People come in without the agile or technical training they need to hit the ground running
  • They are beholden to a contract and not to our customers and the primary motivator is billing time and not creating quality
  • The good people that come in are contractually unable to join your organization
  • Overall development quality is below your typical standards

To avoid these problems, the key is to value quality over quantity. Say you are thinking about adding 15 people to spin up 3 new agile teams using a traditional staff-aug model.  I will argue that spending the same amount on 5 really amazing people will outperform the combined output of the three new teams, especially in the short term.

The following benefits are realized by simply adding fewer people:

  • Fewer “managers” or other leadership structures required (fewer Scrum Masters or Product Owners)
  • Lower onboarding cost and opportunity cost reduced for existing staff
  • Less space requirements
  • Significantly less coordination cost to keep multiple people all heading in the same direction

With that said, the most significant benefit in this approach is the impact on the culture. We now have people we can trust to own solutions and that can really be autonomous. Great people create great environments.  There is really nothing more motivating than working with really competent people.

Now, going back to the idea that the need may be temporary. Any large organization will always find a spot for great people. There will always be a need somewhere but, if overall reduction is absolutely required, doing so through natural attrition is usually sufficient.

The cost per person will almost certainly shock some people. The key is to focus on the total cost versus the value delivered. Costs should either be the same or less over time and the value created through creating a great place to work should absolutely tip the scale.

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Brian Warden

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