Meeting In The Middle: How Agile Service Companies Need To Work Blue Chip Players
The opportunity to work with major established corporation is a startup's dream come true. But how do you manage Agile in a traditional workplace?
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
For many, working with blue chip companies is a marker of success. But like fulfilling any accomplishment, it does take hard work to make it happen — and even more to foster a partnership that lasts. Startups naturally run at a different pace, and working with blue chip companies means that smaller teams need to seriously adapt their processes.
But reconciling a startup’s Agile processes with a corporation’s legacy structure is no simple task. However, having partnered with numerous blue chip companies to develop software products — including Galanz, Audi, and Microsoft — I’ve learned my fair share about how to work with large, global players over the years. Here’s what most sticks out.
You Need to Be Concrete
When you enter into the first meeting with a blue chip company, it’s not particularly effective to talk about what you can do. The company leaders already know this. Rather, they partnered with you to put something into action. More specifically: they want to see a product in their hands — and fast.
Since digital transformation happens so quickly, this is especially important for any software-based product or service. The time to market is critical, so it’s frivolous to spend months planning projects in advance. A service company needs to be able to hit the ground running, work agilely — and ideally, deliver the first product iteration within a two-week span.
While for smaller companies this might seem infeasible, it is what blue chip companies expect. Consider, for example, that Google and Apple release a new version of their operating systems annually, but also release several smaller updates throughout the year. Keeping the release cycles short is crucial for staying up with the pace of innovation — but also, it simply demonstrates to blue chip companies that a service company is capable of performing. It’s the best way to hook a new partner in.
It’s Important to Train Blue Chip in Agility
It’s no secret: startups are often more Agile than blue chip companies. Actually, in many cases, this is exactly why corporations choose to partner with smaller players in the first place — they want to welcome innovative talent on board to sharpen their competitive edge. However, bringing an Agile team into the mix isn’t all it takes; for partnerships to be truly successful, blue chip companies need to learn to be Agile, too. And it’s on the service companies to show them how.
Service companies have a great opportunity to educate blue chip teams on more Agile ways of working. And in software development, that involves training clients to take on the role of a product owner. In the real essence of Agile, this is no textbook course. Rather, it’s about throwing people into the water to teach them how to swim. A service company team member might take on the role of a proxy product owner to demonstrate what it entails, but then hand over the reigns to the client to run full speed ahead, and define the priority functionalities for each sprint that takes place.
And if the development team is made up of employees from both the blue chip company and the service company, this is an even better lesson on agility. Product owners or company leaders can compare the effectiveness of the teams, and in turn, improve their own developers’ way of working.
However, You Should Still Be Sensitive to Long-Held Processes
In my experience, blue chip companies that learn to work agilely have more successful results. But there is a catch: for service companies to foster a partnership that lasts, they also need to assess their surroundings to adapt to a customer’s way of working. Large, corporate companies have plenty of constraints. They have long-held structures and stakeholders to please. They have also important compliance requirements to meet.
So if a service company runs into a meeting to continuously scream "Agile" without remorse, the relationship simply won’t work out. Service companies need to prove they’re capable of meeting any compliance requirements, and follow the most important processes etched into corporate giants. Because if they don’t fit into these processes, nothing will move. In fact, I believe this is precisely why not all service partners are able to work with blue chip companies: they’re so agility-focused, it’s hard to follow their client’s seemingly less efficient processes.
At our own company, for example, we often find that purchasing departments have difficulty working on a time, and material contract base. They’re used to fixed time, fixed priced projects — and their IT systems can only work with these. In understanding this, we’ve come up with different contract models that both allow our teams to work Agilely, but also enable the purchasing department to add the contract into their systems. It’s all about finding the right balance.
Interpersonal Skills Matter
Beyond domain and technical knowledge, the Agile team needs to deploy interpersonal skills. While it does help if the project managers aren’t new to the topic, what’s most important is that the team works well together. When working with blue chip companies, soft skills matter.
Even if the depth of knowledge is not there, a developer’s soft skills enable them to learn quickly and work effectively — that is, collaboratively, with urgency, and with sensitivity to the blue chip company’s unique needs. Typically, the challenges faced during digital transformation projects are similar across the board, the projects use the same programming languages, and they follow the same design patterns — so in many cases, the learning curve isn’t too great. We’ve had teams move successfully from working with an automotive client to financial client, and a hi-tech client to financial client, for example, because they boasted the soft skills needed for the job.
Overall, working with blue chip companies is all about meeting in the middle. It’s important for a service company to stay true to its Agile roots, however, also be sensitive to its client’s processes. It sounds simple, but to me, it’s the secret formula to success.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.