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Enterprise Engagement Models with a Digital Product Agency

By Nick Epson on July 15, 2021

It’s fairly typical for large companies to heavily rely on vendors and outside firms for certain portions of their business – as it’s becoming less common to hire or individually contract all the talent needed to develop and maintain a digital product, enterprises often rely on a custom engagement model with a digital product agency. Digital product agencies are effective change agents because are able to move quickly and deliver solutions to the market faster and more effectively than internal teams or larger consultancies. To help enterprises understand the possibilities and values of going this route, we’re going to take a look at several different “configurations” that are possible when working with agile agencies like Blue Label Labs.

Why consider an engagement model with a digital product agency engagement?

You’ve come to the realization that you need a piece of custom software for your business. This “aha moment” usually comes after doing enough homework and seeing firsthand that everything currently available on the market or the existing products within your business isn’t quite up to snuff. You might have a team of developers and designers, but there are one or more challenges present that would inhibit them from delivering an effective result – more than likely, you’re lacking good people in one or more areas and certainly subject to limitations imposed by bureaucratic issues that affect every large organization.

Provided you know the skillsets needed to bring a digital product to life and how to vet candidates, you can build your own team. However, this is usually easier said than done. Even when you’re equipped with the knowledge to tackle this endeavor, there are a few layers of issues businesses often encounter such as: 

Your internal team doesn’t have the needed skill-sets

So you have developers but they’re not cut out for the job. A lot of times, established enterprises will have developers on their team but their skills are limited to supporting software they were originally hired to support, like the DataEase database you’ve been using since 1997. As such, you probably have a guy, who’s been supporting the system since he was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed junior dev but today, he is the archetype of a jaded senior developer. He’s a smart guy but is far more likely to seek out another job supporting a legacy database system than to learn all the “new stuff” on the market to build a stellar product by today’s standards. Still, even those with the drive and capacity to get up to speed with modern development practices and frameworks, it will take time and practice for this person to be able to apply their newly acquired skills to deliver the results you need for an effective product.

The internal team is too slow

Sometimes, you might have the right people for the job, but not enough of them. For example, you might have a few good UI designers but only a set of developers for the front and backend who are not only responsible for building new features but also supporting and maintaining the platform – not to mention, they have to handle all the DevOps processes as well. Now, you’re facing one or more of the following issues.

Your de facto bureaucracy slows everything down

You’re an established business with all the right pieces in place but nothing seems to move forward because of a combination of things stemming from your size. You might be a “chill” company with a solid culture – and even adhere to an agile methodology yourselves – but there’s always more bureaucracy and red tape so getting things done is like trying to run through chest-high water. Digital product agencies can act as a change agent internally and breakthrough bureaucracy and bring a product to life much more quickly than internal teams or even a large, external consultancy. Big consultancies are usually just as slow because of the exact same reason. If speed and agility matter, then your best bet is digital product agency as we’re inherently faster simply because there aren’t layers like when working through a proxy like a consultancy.

You can’t hire fast enough internally

Development jobs are everywhere and with just a modicum of motivation, good developers and designers (to a lesser extent) can and will easily find jobs where they feel they’re justly compensated. Most likely, the best developer for your project is already in a position where they’re content. Even with readily available talent, there’s still the process of negotiating and onboarding followed by all the preliminary steps of research, planning, testing, and so on before development can truly begin.

Difficulty determining which skillsets are needed for your project

If you’re not well-versed with at least a high-level understanding of what goes into making an app, you’ll need to find someone who is. Businesses can turn to consultants but this is often a time-consuming process as you likely need to invest some time finding the best person or firm for the role who will then need to spend time learning about your business before they can come up with a solution. Even when you have someone close enough to the business with the knowledge to design a functional team, they’ll still be subject to other issues we describe in different points throughout this section. 

Desire to incubate a new venture or idea outside the walls of the organization

Like it or not, groupthink is a thing. We like to think that we’re immune to these phenomenons and similar influential mechanisms like advertising until you realize you’re reading this on the latest iPhone while wearing a pair of Crocs and a Michael Kohrs belt. Some businesses are blessed to have individuals or teams who are brilliantly self-aware and creative enough to navigate ambitious endeavors like digital product development. Still, even the smartest kids in the room can miss a question or two on an exam or leave a few grammar issues in an otherwise well-written paper. Regardless of your observational prowess, outside help from an experienced partner is inherently better than going it alone. Just ask the Goldman Sachs or Hewlett Packard guys.

Engagement models for enterprises working with digital product agencies

At its core, Blue Label Labs (and yes, others like us) is a group of legitimate “tech people” which means we “get it” when it comes to building products of any size whether for an underdog startup or through an engagement model with a major corporation. Here, we embody the whole notion of “being agile” by extending our services to meet specific needs. Because every project is unique, we adapt our structure and process based on needs.

To further elaborate, the following sections describe some of the most common ways we tackle enterprise engagement is as follows.

Product Strategy 

If you’ve read other pieces of content on our site, you’ll notice we reference the Design Sprint process a lot. This is because it’s quantifiably the most important aspect of any project as this five-day long process not only condenses discovery, designing, prototyping, and testing to see if your “good idea” catches on with an audience. We use this to formulate strategies that consider your business as a whole before kicking off MVP development or, in some cases, we find that a solution we’ve imagined just doesn’t work.

If you have the people who can take a polished idea and run with it, we can sit in for a Design Sprint with your team and anyone else who will play a role in this product’s development. We can help you with just this portion as an engagement model as this gives your team a detailed blueprint that the right people can turn into a sustainable solution. You could find that you’ll need a bit of our help in some area but without the full agency support and that’s ok too. Worst case scenario, you find out that your idea isn’t going to cut it – you’re better off knowing this before you go full speed ahead into developing a product that’s going to flop.

Plus, after going through a formal Design Sprint, you should be equipped to apply knowledge gained from this experience to future endeavors which can help save time and improve the quality of output at each step of the process.

Augmented Staff

We can augment your staff as an engagement model wherever talent is needed, whether it’s because you’re lacking the right skill sets or your people are preoccupied with other pressing matters. For example, this could mean we supply a developer who will be managed by your team or perhaps a designer or product manager (PM) who can take charge of a team. In other cases, you might simply like having someone around who’s not a part of your core organization to be able to tap into a different perspective. 

Frontend / Backend Development

Some of our work with iHeartMedia, like the Coast to Coast AM app, was produced using one of these more specific engagement models. They had a backend development team and infrastructure already in place but they needed people to build the frontend. We performed the discovery and design then developed frontends using React Native where we worked with their internal development teams who delivered the backend APIs. We also used a similar engagement model during our work with LaundryPay and Tide Laundromat.

Porting for Different Platforms and Form Factors

For starters, we firmly believe that it’s best to avoid rewriting anything from scratch. Much like how a good home rehabber can turn a property that looks like it’s crumbling to the untrained eye into a masterpiece, we do the same for software. Rarely are the bones ever so bad that there’s nothing worth reusing which will save time and money.

With that in mind, we can jump in and help repurpose your software for new platforms. Most commonly, we help businesses that have just an iPhone or Android app port their product to the other platform. We can also help build out cross-functional, omnichannel systems from existing systems by helping design and develop for other form factors like the web as well as wearables or other IoT devices. 

System Integration

Many times, established enterprises will have created and adopted a slew of different systems and databases over the years but nothing plays nicely together, if at all. Rather than try to rip apart and condense everything into some centralized system, we can use a variety of tools at our disposal to design and develop APIs that will effectively “un-silo” your disparate systems. A good example of this engagement model is found in our work with LaundryLux where we served as system architects that designed and spec’d the cloud APIs that their internal development teams would need to bring the product to life in addition to designing and developing the product as well.

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This list is by no means exhaustive. There’s always the possibility that someone can approach us with a proposal for an even less conventional model that doesn’t fit nicely into any one category. We probably can’t supply you with a UX designer who doubles as an in-house gourmet pastry chef on Tuesdays and Fridays but we’re open to most other ideas.

We can find a custom engagement model for your enterprise

Like the software we build, we subscribe to the philosophy that “custom is best.” To us, custom means flexibility in offering solutions without the bloat. We can do it all but if you need some support from just a segment of our talent pool, know you’ll be served by people who we trust to deliver results. For more information, to request help for some aspect of your project, or if you have a proposal that doesn’t specifically require that one of our team members also possess five-star culinary skills, get in touch with us here.