The rise of the agile workforce – where freelancers, “cloud labor,” and business process outsourcing firms augment the work of full-time employees– has given many types of companies a way to be more productive with lower operational expenses for salaries, rent, and benefits.
Information services and other data-driven firms in particular, derive even greater benefits:
- Faster turnaround for new product roll-outs and other time-sensitive projects.
- A focus on revenue-generating activities that leads to more customers, more efficient use of management time, and expenses that only increase after revenues go up.
- Higher quality work in the areas outsourced, because results are contractually guaranteed, unlike work performed by employees.
This “force multiplier” approach to labor does, of course, carry risks as well.
- Partners often lack domain knowledge (subject matter expertise), so they may have trouble with industry-specific terminology.
- Workers may not understand the context of their work or what end-users need from their work output.
- Expectations for the impact of the agile approach may be too high.
- It’s easy to underestimate internal project management and QA roles required.
As the “hybrid” in-house/out-of-house method of handling projects and managing companies in general becomes the norm, firms are getting much more savvy about navigating this new landscape. Project managers capable of coordinating concurrent initiatives with varied stakeholders are more and more in demand. Also, new kinds of outsourced services are proliferating and filling more specialized industry niches, potentially making it easier for companies across industries to amplify their resources even further.
Whatever the future holds, it’s clear that it will be run by teams spread across different firms in multiple time zones. The folks running those teams may not be working with fellow employees in a vertically integrated corporation, which would seem to introduce a degree of risk. In reality, that also means there’s no longer any excuse for missing deadlines. Project managers won’t be able to point a finger at the IT department for their slow delivery on a tool they need to do their jobs (whether that’s exactly true or not) but they can deliver more quickly and more consistently with a diverse team of specialized partners that are contractually obliged to be reliable.