Software Development Partner Hiring Models: Team Extension vs Project Based


Remote software development options come in many different forms. Yet, when most think about it, they predominantly refer to project-based work. As the ‘traditional’ remote development solution, it’s often the default approach, however, this is changing. Increasingly client’s are embracing a more flexible team augmentation approach to meet their needs. In this blog, we explore the key capabilities clients are typically looking for when they hire a remote software partner and highlight which option is superior for each capability and why.  

What is a Team Extension?

The team extension model is often used to effectively scale development resources in order to source the skills and expertise needed in a project. By bringing in individual developers who have the exact experience and know-how to deliver the work, team extension allows businesses to scale the size and capabilities of their development teams, ensuring output is delivered on-time and to the necessary quality. 

These external developers typically bolt-on to the internal team, providing support where needed and filling knowledge gaps. In doing so, they enable startups to avoid delays in development and help to ensure critical milestones are achieved.

What is a Project-Based Team?

A project-based team is the traditional model for hiring a software development partner. In this approach, the external team is given a self-contained project and is expected to manage and produce the necessary technical output. In a project-based team, the client oversees the project with daily catch ups, but leaves the logistics of delivery to the external team.

Project-based teams work with clients to deliver projects and are responsible for ensuring delivery to pre-defined deadlines. Clients choose a project-based team when they want a more hands-off approach to delivery.

Team Extension Vs Project-Based Team - Flexibility 

Both the team extension approach and project-based teams offer clients good flexibility to adapt their output as and when required. This means clients are rarely locked into a course of action and can change to reflect new priorities or strategic objectives. With that said, there are limits to the extent of these changes in the project-based team model, particularly in highly complex projects with needs agreed up-front. 

With the team extension model, client’s have total flexibility and limited commitment. The team extension approach allows clients to switch developers in and out at an individual level, ensuring only the highest urgency skills are in place at any one time. This can be particularly useful on projects that change over time. In many cases, this is referred to as the ‘rent developer’ model as it allows companies to bring in specialists for as long as they are needed - this is typically determined in monthly increments. 

Project-based work is often agreed up-front, with a clear scope of work defined and objectives outlined based on budget, timeline, team size and other factors. Remote software partners that focus on project-based work will often work to a ‘time and materials’ model based on hourly or day rates. To guide this work, milestones are often agreed before delivery and a product roadmap is typically designed. From here, changes can be made throughout the project, but in most instances, these need to remain within the scope initially agreed.  

Winner: Team Extension

Offering clients the flexibility to adapt as and when required, the team extension model is more flexible than the project-based team. With that said, most project-based work can be adapted when necessary, these engagements are just more constricted based on the originally agreed scope of work. 

Team Extension Vs Project-Based Team - Ownership

Both team extension and project-based team models give client’s the opportunity to take ownership, but, with the team extension approach, such ownership is mandatory. 

When engaging a project-based team, one of its greatest strengths is its limited requirement for management. If they choose to do so, clients can brief the work and let the team get on with development, requiring only regular check-ins and feedback  to ensure everything is on track and of a high standard. 

With the team extension model, project ownership is mandatory by it’s very design. As the team extension approach is designed to bolt onto existing teams to provide additional resources and skills, they need to be specifically instructed and managed as such. 

Winner: Draw

While team extension offers greater ownership, project-based teams offer varying levels based on the client’s preferences. In this context, neither option is superior as they both offer the necessary flexibility to meet client preferences.

Team Extension Vs Project-Based Team - Scalability 

When it comes to scaling quickly, both team extension and project -based teams can offer clients the opportunity to grow and shrink, as required. 

The team extension approach is often perfect for high-growth companies as it offers the flexibility to ramp up and down in a short space of time. Some partners can offer day-to-day scalability, while others may need a week or two, but whatever the case, team sizes can be quickly adapted to meet the project requirements. In most cases, the only limitation of this model is the resources available from the partner, scalability may be challenging if the requirements grow rapidly. 

While there’s no doubt project-based teams can scale to meet the needs of the project (using a ‘time and materials’ contract), it often requires discussion and organisation. It’s not natural for this model to change on a day-to-day basis and aligns better with a more fixed resource requirement. 

Winner: Team Extension

For scale up companies with rapidly changing requirements and a need for additional development resources, the team extension model is perfect. Allowing for reactive scalability, team extension ensures start ups only ever have the resources they need, when they need them. Unless project requirements are fixed or unlikely to change, team extension is the superior option.

Team Extension Vs Project-Based Team - Time Commitment

By design, the team extension approach is relatively time consuming as new developers need to be briefed on their role and managed to ensure they’re focusing on top priority work. As external developers often require regular guidance to ensure they’re aligning with internal staff and projects, major management resources are required.    

Project-based teams are largely self-sustainable, once the parameters of a project have been agreed, they can work independently to deliver the required technical output. While they do require daily standups to provide feedback, ensure they’re on track and check the product is of a good quality, they are largely  self-managed and so require minimal administrative time.   

Winner: Project-Based Team

One of the greatest strengths of a project-based team is it’s self-sustainability. Once given a project, they only require minimal guidance and feedback to produce the final output. While a Product Manager will still be required to offer continuous feedback, day-to-day management will not be required. 

Each Remote Development Partner Engagement Model Deliver Value

Both team extension and project-based teams deliver value to companies aiming to scale their development capabilities without hiring in-house. If a project has a defined scope and is designed to develop an MVP, prototype or new features, then a project-based approach probably makes sense. With that said, team extension is incredibly valuable when it comes to ramping up quickly, while also helping to deploy resources in full execution mode within a matter of weeks that can deliver high quality output efficiently.

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