Collaborating with agencies as an in-house developer

In parts one and two of this blog series I wrote about the benefits of adding a developer to an in-house digital team and some of the differences for developers when it comes to working in house. This time, I'll cover collaborating with external suppliers.

Working as an in-house developer means you won't be short of different directions you can take your career in. The only potential problem with all of this possibility is that, if there’s only one of you, you might end up being spread pretty thinly. Inevitably there will be times when you just can’t do it all and will need to rely on external support to get some things done.

Depending on the type of projects you're working on, it might be as simple as getting in an extra pair of hands for a couple of days or working on a longer term basis with a partner agency. It’ll tend to be the bigger projects that go out to agencies. Sometimes because it’d simply take you a lifetime to do them in house along side all the other demands on your time. Sometimes it’ll be because the opinions of an external agency tend to carry a bit more weight in some organisations than those of an internal team, which can be a bit frustrating.

Hopefully your organisation’s procurement process will allow you get involved in the selection of whatever agency you’ll be working with - and it really should because this is one area where having somebody in-house who can come at a project from a technical perspective is invaluable.

Keeping your project on track

So often, problems arise during the course of a project because of scope creep or the knock on implications of changes not being fully considered. Having someone on your team who is able to take the business needs of the organisation and translate them into a detailed brief for an agency means that the budget you are spending on external resources is focused on getting the job done rather than figuring out what it is you're asking for. It makes for a much more productive working relationship and you're more likely to get what you want, on time and on budget.

When you are choosing an agency to work with, it can be really useful to have clear development standards defined that they’ll have to sign up to. That way you can be confident that, whoever is working on your site, someone else will be able to pick up the code further down the line and support it.

For an in house developer in a small team, there's a risk that you start seeing a lot of the interesting, larger scale projects going out to agencies, simply because you don't have the capacity to deliver them all as quickly in house. You run the risk of beginning to feel that you're missing out on the good stuff.

While some agencies have an approach to collaboration like throwing a hand grenade over the wall and running away, I've been lucky enough to work with some really great agencies who value close collaboration. Those projects where the in-house team and agency are able to work closely together are always the most successfully and with the least friction points.

As with all relationships, communication is key. Regular contact and catch ups, even if there's not much going on at that particular time, are an essential way of keeping your collaborative projects on track. If any problems to come up, you're able to tackle them quickly.

Reaching out

If you're the only developer in your team, having that opportunity to work closely with other developers every now and then can be a welcome reminder that there are other people out there who share some of the same frustrations and problems that you might normally have to deal with on your own. That’s why looking for ways to get involved in the wider development community can be really useful too.

There’ll be conferences, workshops or meet ups you can go to - as well as all sorts of online spaces where you can connect with other developers.

Being closely involved in any development being carried out by agencies puts an in house developer in a much better position when it comes to ongoing support of the site.

As a developer, being part of an in house team can give you the opportunity to really get under the skin of an organisation and have a lasting, long-term impact. It'll also allow you to try new things, and stretch yourself in all sorts of different directions you probably can’t anticipate.

You can listen to the lightning talk that this series of blogs was based on over at Boagworld.