Choosing a company to help you with your technology project these days is harder than ever, thanks to the high volume of people and solutions entering the market. Below is a quick guide to help you navigate 3 common choices that are available, along with an overall effectiveness score for each.


Staffing Firms

Also known as Staff Aug, Body Shops, Contracting firms, and my personal new favorite, “body-leasing”

These firms are a great choice if you have existing management processes and solutions in place and just need someone to help you over the hump. To make this work effectively, you would likely need internal resources to assist in helping drive requirements, manage the QC and testing processes, and assure change management is taken care of.

If you are busy and are already working 80 hours a day to keep up, staffing firms often are a terrible choice as this extra body isn’t giving you anything to take things off your plate, which is likely a reason you hired them in the first place. Also, staffing firms have an extremely high turnover rate with their contractors so quality and reliability are always a huge risk.

Primary Advantages

  • Can be the quickest to get started as recruiters conveniently have “the perfect resource that just came available” at their fingertips
  • Financially, it’s a low risk overall as most reputable staffing firms offer some form of guarantee. In terms of timeline/quality risk, see below.

Primary Disadvantages

  • If the person works out long term, you are stuck paying a “management fee” despite the fact that you are the one doing all the management
  • If the project changes and you need to pivot, your only choice is to get additional bodies
  • It is a crapshoot if the person they send matches what you need. All of them will tell you they are highly vetted, but my 20 years of experience says otherwise.
  • Many times, you have to find them a place to work, in your office, which can be inconveniently or costly.

Insider Secret: 95% of staffing services masquerade themselves as solution providers so buyer beware. Also, these shops are known to take the approach of throwing a bunch of resumes at you and hope you pick one. Since they get paid by the hour, they have no risk in giving you multiple people and letting you waste your time until the right one comes along.

Overall Effectiveness Score: 1/5


Project-Based

Also known as Dev Shops, Software Shops

As the name implies, this is where you hire a person, or a firm, to come in and complete a specific project. Unlike the staffing option, you are not concerned with how the work is getting done, only that it meets the requirements set forth in the contract. This makes this option a great choice if you have a single project in mind and are looking for a company that will just get it done without adding any extra work on your plate.

This method however only works if you have a clear vision of what you are trying to build. If you are still searching for answers, or if this is your first custom project, you would be better off with the solution provider choice below.

Primary Advantages

  • Easier to manage
  • Can have defined budgets, timelines, and deliverables

Primary Disadvantages

  • Higher risk in project failure
  • Leaves almost no room for changes that are discovered during the project. Usually, very driven by scope.
  • Sudden business changes can create massive amounts of change orders

Insider Secret: Most of the risk in project-based work comes from the implied ambiguity of the scope, sign-off, requirements, etc.. Many firms out there are only interested in getting the initial deposit and 80% of the payment, and customers can be burned and bogged down in fights over what was done versus what was said. Another huge issue that often causes projects to fail is bringing in firms who have very little business or industry knowledge, which will cause cost overruns down the line. When choosing a provider, the most important factors above all else to consider are trust and domain knowledge. If you get a firm that you trust and know what they are talking about, the rest of the factors are trivial in comparison.

Overall Effectiveness Score: 3/5


(Trusted) Solution Provider

Also known as Partners, Solution Providers, Business Value Partners

The third, and typically the best choice, is to bring in a Trusted Solution Provider. Unlike a staffing firm or a prominently project-based firm, a solution provider is more focused on your company or team success as a whole, rather than a particular project. Good solution providers will work with to make sure the project you hired them to do makes sense, and the great ones will guide you even if it’s not in their best interest. For example at our company, we have often made recommendations to customers to remove features that negatively effected our bottom line because it was in their best interest.

Solution providers, or at least the great ones, blend project-based work and staff based work throughout the project, even on a day-to-day basis, to give you the best of both worlds at all times.

A solution provider solution works best when there is an internal resource to help champion their efforts. Also, the company has to be willing to embrace improvement and change.

Primary Advantages

  • The best combination of staffing and project-based solutions
  • Great long term partnership and support
  • The great providers create such positive ROI long-term that any immediate costs are negligible by comparison
  • High Trust creates speed, reliability, and long-term success

Primary Disadvantages

  • Is an adjustment for a team not used to change
  • Requires high trust
  • Best with providers who know a specific business domain or industry

Insider Secret: Finding a successful solution provider you can trust and rely upon is almost always worth the effort. When comparing vendors and proposals, do not be fooled by those bigger firms with their fancy mockups and proposals. Search out a firm that you feel you can rely upon when the #$%& hits the fan. Trust me, that extra $20/hr you may pay will more than pay for itself when you find the right relationship. Also, the best-trusted partners usually happen in smaller-to-medium sized firms (3–100 employees). After all, how much of a relationship can you have with the employees of a 1,000 man team?

Overall Effectiveness Score: 5/5


Experience: I am currently President at Gulf Coast Solutions, a solution provider specializing in creating technology-enabled solutions to improve existing business processes, especially in fields such as industrial services, construction, maintenance, and turnarounds. In my previous life, I was an IT leader of a $1B contracting firm and was the CTO/Architect on various start-ups.

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