Establish a Client-Consultant Integrated Team Model in Software Development

Sometimes, the successful outcomes of projects at Atomic hinges on creating seamless partnerships between us and our client. A seamless software development partnership refers to a highly effective and smooth collaboration between the client and the consultant (or development team) working together to create a software solution.

Fostering seamless partnerships takes care and planning from the start of the project. Recently, I finished a multi-year project with a large client team we merged with at the start of the project. Here, we’ll explore what I’ve learned. That includes the characteristics present in Client-Consultant integrated teams and the ins and outs of establishing one.

What are the characteristics of an integrated software project team?

An integrated software team is a collaborative and cross-functional group of professionals working together on various aspects of a software development project. These teams are structured to combine diverse skills and expertise, ensuring that the project is well-rounded and all-encompassing. The key characteristics of an integrated software team include:

  1. Diversity of Roles.  Integrated teams typically consist of members with different roles, such as developers, designers, testers, project managers, and domain experts, each contributing their unique skills and perspectives to the project.
  2. Collaboration. Team members work closely together, often in the same physical or virtual space, to facilitate communication and information sharing. This close collaboration helps in problem-solving, decision-making, and maintaining a shared understanding of project goals.
  3. Cross-Functional Expertise.  Team members are chosen based on their expertise and competencies in their respective roles. That allows the team to handle all aspects of the software development process, from concept and design to development, testing, deployment, and maintenance.
  4. Shared Responsibility. Integrated teams share responsibility for the success of the project. This means everyone is accountable for the outcome, which encourages a sense of ownership and commitment.
  5. Agile Principles. Integrated teams often follow agile methodologies like Scrum or Kanban, emphasizing adaptability, continuous improvement, and iterative development. These principles help teams respond effectively to changing requirements and market conditions.
  6. Customer-Centric Approach. The team focuses on delivering value to the end-users or customers. This customer-centric approach ensures that the software meets user needs and expectations.
  7. Efficiency and Productivity.  Integration of roles and responsibilities within a single team often leads to greater efficiency, reduced communication overhead, and faster decision-making, ultimately improving productivity.
  8. Innovation.  The combination of diverse perspectives often leads to creative solutions and innovative ideas, benefiting the quality and functionality of the software.

Is an integrated project team model right for your project?

We began our project by having a series of discussions with the client. Those helped us determine if an integrated team was going to aid or risk our project’s success. It’s essential to ask a series of probing questions that delve into the core dynamics of the arrangement. These questions helped us paint a comprehensive picture of the client’s expectations, our role, and the alignment of methodologies. By addressing these questions at the outset, we proactively set the stage for a successful and harmonious working relationship.

  1. How much does the client want to manage? How much does the client want Atomic to manage?
  2. What percentage of time should be spent coaching/teaching versus writing code?
  3. Is there a scrum process that Atomic can plug into?
  4. Where do the two teams’ development practices align? Where do they Diverge?

Are integrated software project teams worth the time?

An integrated Client-Consultant team offers some important advantages in software development. First and foremost, it fosters effective communication and collaboration, as both the client and the consultant teams work together seamlessly, sharing insights, requirements, and feedback in real time. In turn, this close partnership ensures that the software aligns as closely as possible with the client’s vision and needs, leading to quicker development cycles and reduced misunderstandings.

Additionally, an integrated team structure enables a rapid response to changing project demands and allows easy implementation of agile development methodologies. Moreover, clients benefit from the expertise and specialized skills of the consultants, resulting in higher-quality software solutions. In essence, an integrated Client-Consultant software team empowers businesses to achieve their software goals efficiently and effectively while maintaining a focus on innovation and customer satisfaction.

Primary Benefits of Our Team Integration

  1. Fresh Perspectives. Having outside perspectives was invaluable in our project. It allowed us to identify new solutions, best practices, and alternative approaches to problems that we didn’t have first-hand experience with. New perspectives challenged both teams’ norms and encouraged innovation.
  2. Knowledge Transfer. Because we worked so closely in all project phases, we had many opportunities for knowledge sharing and transfer between the two teams. Since our teams worked together from the start, knowledge transfer came almost naturally and soon became the “norm”.
  3. Stakeholder Satisfaction. Since our teams were well-integrated, we did not find ourselves in situations when the stakeholder was dissatisfied or surprised by project outcomes.

Preparations for Establishing a Client-Consultant Integrated Teams

This section explores the essential preparations my project team undertook to integrate our team with the client successfully. At the beginning of the project, we focused on fostering a culture of cooperation. We quickly moved to implementing the right tools and methodologies that would help us achieve seamless workflows and produce high-quality features. In the following paragraphs, I will highlight the key strategies and considerations that paved the way for a smooth transition while merging and expanding our software project teams.

Start by creating a Project Team Charter.

A project charter in software development is a formal document that serves as the foundation for a project. It outlines the project’s purpose, objectives, scope, stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities. When integrating project teams, it’s critical to expand the charter scope to include how the two teams will work together. We answered the following five questions in our charter:

  • How might we approach knowledge transfer in a way that reflects our team values?
  • How might we optimize for better developer pairing?
  • How might we “own” a backlog ticket from beginning to end?
  • How might we make project communication more actionable?
  • How might we stay focused on outcomes and key results?

The process of both teams aligning on the charter set the stage for effective project management.

Align on accountability.

We created an integrated team accountability matrix. The matrix was an indispensable tool in ensuring that the integration of our Client-Consultant software teams proceeded smoothly, with all team members fully aware of their roles and responsibilities, ultimately leading to a more efficient and collaborative working environment.

The first step in this process involved clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each member of our integrated team. By clearly defining these roles, it eliminated confusion and ambiguity within the team and ensured that everyone knew their specific duties.

An accountability matrix is often referred to as a RACI document. The acronym “RACI” stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed, and it serves to define and communicate the roles and responsibilities of team members for specific tasks, activities, or projects. The purpose of an accountability matrix in an integrated software team is multi-fold. It:

  • Eliminates confusion and ambiguity by clearly defining roles and responsibilities.
  • Improves communication by ensuring that team members understand their roles and the roles of others.
  • Facilitates efficient decision-making and problem-solving by identifying ultimate decision-makers.
  • Enhances collaboration and teamwork by aligning everyone’s understanding of who does what and promotes accountability and ownership by making it clear who is responsible for each task or activity.

Sync on sprint dates and ceremonies.

Aligning on sprint dates is another critical aspect of the team integration process. Synchronization on sprint schedules helped us work cohesively, ensuring that the entire team’s efforts were coordinated and focused on shared objectives. This coordination is vital for maintaining project momentum and achieving efficient software feature development.

Client-Consultant Integrated Teams

Reflecting on my recent experience in completing a multi-year project with a large client team, where we initiated the integration of our teams from the project’s outset, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of these partnerships. In this blog post, we’ve explored the critical characteristics that define successful integrated software teams, the essential questions to ask at the outset to determine the feasibility of such an arrangement, and the value of thorough preparation in establishing these collaborative teams.

The benefits of integrated client-consultant teams are evident, with improved communication, quicker development cycles, and agile adaptability. These teams leverage diverse perspectives, encourage knowledge transfer, and ensure stakeholder satisfaction.


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