Developing an app? Here’s how to choose between an in-house and a remote development team

When building a tech company every founder and CTO needs to decide how they will structure their tech team. The options available are fairly well established.

  • Hire developers that work with you in your office (in-house team)
  • Hire developers who will work from home (remote team)
  • Hire a team of developers provided by an external software development agency. Often such agencies would be off-shore and hence work remotely with you

What’s best for you? The short answer is – it depends. The cost will play an important role in this decision, but there are several non-quantifiable factors you need to consider too. If you’d like to compare the likely cost of an in-house team vs a remote team provided by an agency we’ve broken down the costs of an in-house dev team in New York here. Here’s everything else you need to consider, other than cost/budgets;

  1. Can you attract the best local talent? 

There is a huge difference between a 10x developer vs a journeyman. This is relevant with anything, not just software development. But, software by nature has strong asymmetric returns. For example— a brilliant developer may singlehandedly create an MVP of a product that goes on to become a billion-dollar company, while a mediocre developer may write a lot of code that simply gets scrapped. The time and effort put in may not be different but the end results may vary wildly. In software, as in many other fields with asymmetric returns, the best talent isn’t only a fraction better than the mediocre players. What they produce is exponentially better in value. 

The question at hand is ‘Are you going to attract the best talent in your locality?’ If you’re based in a tech hub, your chances of acquiring that top talent will likely be low when you compete with giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook.  But you shouldn’t be discouraged. Rather than sticking to your locality, make the whole world your hiring market. Go remote. 

2. Is speed your priority? 

Studies show thatthe average hiring time for a software development engineer in 2017 was 41 days“.  On top of recruitment time, A typical team needs to go through a process of team development i.e. forming, norming, storming, and performing, before they can operate at peak levels.  If you’re in a race against time to get to market ahead of the competition, hiring a ‘ready-made team’ from an external agency will help you avoid these obstacles altogether. When time is of the essence, a team from an agency with a prior working history will always reach the ‘performing’ stage faster and you’ll end up saving months in recruitment time too.

3. Lean and focused teams are in

Auren Hoffman is right when he says that “Almost every company spends over 95% of its time doing what every other company does. And it spends less than 5% of its time on things that are unique to the company. This makes no sense.” It’s a well-known fact that larger teams move slower and are harder to coordinate compared to smaller teams. Simply keeping everyone on the same page (more difficult than you’d expect in the highly dynamic world of technology) becomes an almost impossible task as team size grows. At Calcey  we are huge fans of Jeff Bezos’ ‘two pizza teams’ concept and we organize our software development teams accordingly. 

So how can you keep your core team lean and focused? You outsource through external agencies for everything other than for the few key core competencies that make your business unique. Surprisingly, software development doesn’t fall into this category even at some tech companies. Sometimes, their core competency may very well be product design, branding, and customer relationship management. 

4. How specialized is your business domain?

If you’re in a niche, complex business and your software project requires a deep understanding of your domain, then opting for an in-house software development team makes sense. They can learn and absorb your business domain over time rather than forcing you to spend considerable time and energy teaching an outsourced software development team about your business. You would also not be able to directly control churn within your remote development provider’s team and hence may need to repeat this onboarding process again and again if too many experienced hands leave the team.

5. Are you willing to invest in a team?

What’s the type of team that comes to your mind when you think of developing software?  Do you imagine a team made up of 3 or 4 developers? Or a team with developers and other supporting roles such as PMs, Software Architects, and QA engineers? Just a couple of developers might do when you’re starting out and only looking to create a scrappy MVP. But once you need to operate at scale; serve a sizable user base and integrate with 3rd party apps in your ecosystem etc. this bare-bones team will quickly reach its limits. At that point, it would be time to bring in the supporting roles and get your developers who were previously shipping code at abandon, accustomed to industry-standard development practices. This isn’t always an easy transition, and any technical debt created by your original developers would be exposed and will need to be fixed. 

If you’d rather avoid these growing pains or don’t want to invest to create a fully-fledged development team, it makes sense to go with a remote development agency that can provide a fully-fledged team that can manage the full software development life cycle from day one.

6. How much flexibility do you need?

Software products often need to change tech stacks as they mature. Furthermore, development may have to speed up and slow down at different points of time. If you opt for an in-house team it’s worth considering how you will manage such changes. Can your team re-skill when you need to change tech stacks? Will you be able to hire quickly when you need to speed up development and have flexible staffing arrangements in place to ramp down the team when you slow down?

Often this is where an external agency will shine. Their business model revolves around managing staffing requests and serving clients using a variety of technologies. So flexibility and versatility are often baked into their mindset and contracts.

7. You don’t know what you don’t know

When confronting a challenge your solutions are typically generated by your prior experiences. It’s very likely that there are better solutions out there, but we can only consider a sub-set out of these solutions— those that we know of. So what does this mean? Simply put, the broader your perspective the better. 

Having a broad perspective is easier said than done in the dynamic world of technology. The industry evolves at a breakneck pace and new frameworks, libraries, and tools are constantly introduced. How many of these latest and greatest tools we are exposed to depends on how often we are faced with the novel, fresh challenges. Ideally, a highly motivated developer would keep in touch with the latest developments, but given the pace of change in the industry, this is impossible. So necessity is a better driver of learning. 

What all this means is that an in-house tech team that is embedded in one business domain and a narrow technology stack will often have a narrower perspective and idea set in comparison to an outsourced agency which is more versatile due to the nature of their business.  

Principally, both approaches to software development are beneficial, however, their effectiveness can vary depending on the situation. Remote development comes at the benefit of providing a broader, more versatile team while in-house development gives your developers a deeper understanding of the project.  On the other hand, in-house teams come with the headache of time spent on recruiting and finding people with the right ambitions to help the company in their core business functions. The added benefit of having a remote development team is they often have more flexibility which is better than having less. Which option you go with depends on your own unique circumstances, but whatever it is, choose wisely.

Cover image credits: Unsplash/@wocintechchat