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3 lessons we learned from building 200+ digital products with an elastic workforce

Justus Podlinski

Justus Podlinski

5 min read

The rise of remote working solutions - accelerated due to impacts of the covid-19 pandemic - constitutes the so-called „new normal“. This raises questions - as it should - such as “how does this trend influence people’s working lives moving forward”? Even before "the new normal" MVP Factory has operated with remote first model for the last 4 years and we would like to share our insights with you. Above all we learnt flexibility is key!

More flexible working conditions are on their way to become the go-to format for a lot of companies, with reports predicting that by year 2025, 69% of IT workforce will consist of agile and non-traditional workers. To us, the Future of Work has already been a reality since before the pandemic - and we wouldn’t have it any other way. So with this in mind, we’re happy to share 3 of our most important learnings over our journey building digital products solely with embedded teams. This will include insights on how to leverage an elastic workforce format to the max in terms of efficiency. So let’s have a look!

What is the meaning of an “elastic workforce”?

First things first, by now you might be wondering what we mean by “elastic workforce” and “embedded teams”. In a nutshell, we’re referring to teams that consist of a mix of internal staff and externally hired practice experts, all put together to work on specific projects. Us at MVP Factory have been employing the elastic workforce format for several years already, in different intensities. Our ranges go from embedding one or two team members to working with fully embedded teams. This has been extremely beneficial! May this be for a startup client or a global enterprise, being able to staff top-talent external experts from a diverse background has been proven to be a major success factor on most of our projects. 

So why are so many people still skeptical about the elastic workforce approach? Well, like most things in life, employing embedded cross functional teams comes with its own set of challenges. Topics such as countless introduction rounds, frozen zoom calls and long onboarding sessions with people who will move on to the next project anyways, are definitely down points to be taken into consideration. That being said, the way embedded teams are managed either makes or breaks the effectiveness of relying on an elastic workforce. As we learned over the past years, there are some “do’s and don’ts” that should help you navigate this working format in the best possible way. 

So without further ado, here are 3 big lessons to consider while staffing your next project:

Lesson 1

The global pandemic led to a high number of projects being put on hold or stopped altogether. Clients suddenly found themselves struggling with financial shortages, which in turn affected their general commitment to internal innovation projects. Many of these shortages could be traced to huge sunk costs due to dispensable staff overheads. Nonetheless, we found that we could still work very efficiently by flexibly up/downscaling our workforce. In fact, with new fields of businesses opening up, we were able to onboard new staff very flexibly.

Key learning: As it turns out, elastic staff and the agility that comes with it was the driving factor that enabled us to leverage the pandemic as an opportunity rather than a setback. This flexibility, in turn, is also extended to clients - particularly in times of crisis.

Lesson 2

When it comes to working in a setting that operates with an elastic workforce, a lot of people fear that the implications of the “agency problem” could affect their results. Or in other words, they worry that a conflict of interest could take place - as it sometimes does in a relationship where one party is expected to act in the best interest of another.

We however, experienced something totally different. When well-managed, people can fully focus on their commitments and set clear personal goals that do not overlap with those of others, while pursuing and contributing to an overarching goal. This does not only positively affect motivation, but it also makes work cycles way more effective. 

That being said, we ourselves had to learn the hard way, that in order to realize these opportunities, a dedicated project manager is needed. It is essential to have someone that thoroughly understands and coordinates the different tasks and responsibilities every team member has. Skills such as stakeholder management, high understanding of the tech stack, time management and deep project overview are very much needed to succeed. If that is not the case, things can go south quite quickly. 

Key learning: Through semi-permanent staffing, people are able to focus more on their own work, while cutting out unnecessary waiting times. This not only reduces cost, but it also improves the quality of work - a classic “win-win”! However, in order to keep a tight ship, a dedicated captain (project manager) is needed.

Lesson 3

During a Venture Building project with a corporate client, we were faced with technical challenges. Among other things, this project involved specific IoT applications, which we had not worked with in the past. We searched for a freelance developer with prior experience in this field but quickly realized that it was almost impossible to find the perfect candidate with this background experience. 

So - we hired a developer with some buffer, so she could get familiar with the technology before kick-off. The result? Stellar. However, this taught us an important lesson - empowering people around you with education and knowledge always pays off. Especially when working with cutting edge technologies, it is of utmost importance to keep the people around you up to speed.

Key learning: Even when you don't have ongoing projects with freelancers and people outside of your company, make sure to engage and support them in their learning journeys.

Lessons learned?

It’s clear that building products with embedded teams comes with its own set of challenges. However, it also brings huge potential in the fields of efficiency, drive for innovation, flexibility… The list goes on! 

So make sure to prioritize agility, pay close attention to product management and keep your people up to speed. And if you don’t know where or how to start, just drop us a line and we’ll be more than happy to help out and set up the process.