Delivering Next-Generation Digital Platforms that Drive Customer Engagement

DPES: Product Development for the Age of the Customer

"To remain competitive in today’s market, businesses must build customer- and partner-facing software platforms to enhance the way they engage with customers. This new class of systems must support the continuous engagement with millions of customers and the interaction with millions of devices and sensors and it must integrate with back-end systems, ecosystem partners, and a range of data streams. […] Under the umbrella term of DPES, these firms build a wide array of next-generation systems for their clients, including digital experience platforms, IoT platforms, systems of insight, systems of engagement, eCommerce platforms, and video and media platforms."

- THE FORRESTER WAVE™: DIGITAL PLATFORM ENGINEERING SERVICES, Q2 2016

With businesses competing to offer the best experiences to their customers with the shortest possible turnaround time and a balanced IT budget, quickly assembling hybrid teams comprised of business, technology, and creative experts has become a necessity for product development and, by extension, digital platform engineering services (DPES). To build an effective hybrid team, businesses must consider the right skillsets, as well as a variety of geographies and time zones, to create a development culture that runs on continuous innovation, integration, and delivery.

With the right resources and delivery centers in place, projects get delivered on-time and on-budget, and businesses are “equipped to market and prepare the rest of their own organization for the implementation of this new digital platform” (Forrester). But with so much complexity, how can you find the right technology partner to engineer and deliver your next digital platform?

Harmonizing Quality, Innovation, & Time-to-Market with Globally Distributed, Fully Integrated Teams

Developing a new software product is a calculated process that requires a technology partner that can optimize quality, innovation, and time-to-market. For optimal execution in DPES, everything must happen simultaneously, requiring both the technology partner and the client to build the right team, identify the solution, and develop it in a short period of time. For the partner, harmonizing these three distinctive measures of success happens not only by offering capabilities that extend across the full product development lifecycle, but also leveraging talent pools around the globe. These collaborative global teams ensure the successful completion of the project by motivating each other, generating new ideas, applying new strategies, and winning together.

By using every geography, competency, technology, accelerator, and communication method available, your business can add true meaning to the words “globally distributed digital platform engineering.” One strategy is to run connected delivery centers for each project with the following model in mind:

1. Client defines multiple parallel projects / functional areas jointly with technology partner, and they mutually work on resource planning and allocation across projects to optimize costs while maintaining quality delivery.

2. The partner and client define a governance model and strategy to proactively manage outcomes.

3. Predictable financial model is established for the core team, and variable capacity is implemented via extended team(s) based on project demand.

4. Productivity increases over time due to cross-training, standardized onboarding procedures, knowledge transfer to newcomers, knowledge retention, and continual improvement.

Leveraging talent from all over the world, the right DPES partner will have the capacity to create the ideal team for any stage of the platform engineering life cycle. From consultancy to engineering to design, it’s vital that your partner assembles a comprehensive team of experts with the right basic structure to innovate and deliver in record time. Consider the team structure on the following page when building your team for a project.

ENGAGEMENT MANAGER

ACCOUNT MANAGER

  • SMALL PROJECTS

    • ~10 TEAM MEMBERS

    • 6-12 MONTHS

  • NEW DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

    • REQUIRES ANALYSIS

    • LARGE-SCALE PROJECTS 

    • TIGHT DEADLINES

  • LONG-TERM PROJECTS

    • 20+ TEAM MEMBERS

    • REQUIRES COMPLEX INTEGRATION AND/OR ARCHITECTURE DESIGN

  • HANDS-ON TEAM LEAD/ARCHITECT

  • BUSINESS ANALYST/ PROJECT MANAGER

  • DELIVERY MANAGER

CORE TEAM MEMBER(S)

CORE TEAM MEMBER(S)

CORE TEAM MEMBER(S)

CORE TEAM MEMBER(S)

CORE TEAM MEMBER(S)

CORE TEAM MEMBER(S)

  • PROJECT TEAM

    Business Analyst, Testing Team Lead, Lead Developer, 4-5 x Developers, QA Engineer

  • PROJECT TEAMS

    expanded on-demand

  • PROJECT TEAMS

    expanded on-demand

SHARED QA

Optimizing Onboarding for Highly Effective & Productive New Teams

When it comes to onboarding new team members, deciding what essential information to share in the shortest possible amount of time can be difficult. It’s important to establish repeatable processes that are flexible and relatable for any project or industry, so that team members new to the project or development environment have what they need to get started on the job. Here are some best practices that can help in onboarding new employees:

  • Create repeatable onboarding processes to indoctrinate newcomers to all client workstreams/projects so they become productive from day one of the engagement
  • Compile comprehensive documentation, checklists, training videos, demos, project materials, and industry-specific materials to ramp-up for the project specifics and provide an industry overview for the job in question
  • Set up ongoing knowledge transfer sessions as a part of standard induction for newcomers
  • Assign each newcomer a mentor so that they have a repeatable and self-starting process to become productive in a reduced timeframe
  • Establish competency centers to assist in ramping up new employee or team member knowledge
  • Schedule onsite trips for critical phases of the project to expedite the decision-making process and improve communication, team building, and knowledge transfer
  • Ensure teams are continuously learning about the industry for which they’re working as part of their day-today activities to give them a better appreciation and context when it comes to realizing solutions
  • Conduct internal team-building events to celebrate successful releases, milestones, and accomplishments When properly executed, the practices mentioned above can result in a reduction of workload and effort for existing delivery and customer teams. This helps to onboard newcomers while keeping existing team members engaged.. It can be a real balancing act, but once the pipeline is established, it becomes easier to implement with every new project.

Strategies for Smart Staffing & Motivating Teams

Beyond effectively onboarding new team members, it’s also important that you utilize the strengths of each employee on projects. When dealing with cross-functional, geographically distributed teams, this can become even more difficult. To make things easier, we recommend the following strategies when staffing your team:

  • Execute optimized delivery location strategy: When multiple delivery centers are involved in a project, finding and balancing the right team structure with seniority, leadership, skillsets, expertise, strengths, headcount growth scale, and other factors across various geographical locations is critical. Luckily, you have plenty of resources to choose from, which is one of the major benefits of working in this manner.
  • Proactively resource and staff projects: Bring in the right resources ahead of the demand, so that you are ready for team rotations, additional capacity, and augmented productivity. Even in smaller-scale engagements, try to leverage this best practice ahead of the demand and need.
  • Maintain healthy attrition rates: Implement rotation plans for key personnel to support their career growth and/or expose teams to other parts of the project, including different responsibilities and technologies, to promote team cohesiveness, reduce attrition rates, and keep teams motivated.
  • Find out the client’s future roadmap: This is essential to aligning teams and giving them a higher level of purpose and increased awareness of their daily impact to the project. Ask the client to share customer success stories from the field, case studies, and industry publications to provide increased levels of development team engagement and product ownership, as well as reduce undesirable attrition as teams see the chance for career progression and the real value impact on the industry that their work is focused on.

When you build these best practices into your staffing strategy, your teams will be more engaged and motivated to do their best work. It isn’t a guarantee that everything will be perfect, but if something does go wrong, you should have plenty of resources and expertise to correct the problem.

Best Practices: How EngX & DevOps Methodologies Fuel DPES

Globally distributed development and delivery requires an innovative set of methodologies to ensure each project is staffed and executed with maximum success. To employ a total delivery mindset, use Engineering Excellence (EngX) best practices, such as:

BEST EDUCATION

  • Engineers are trained and pass all required tests, then sign the EngX manifesto as their commitment to a product ownership mindset that emphasizes quality coding practices and deliverables.

BEST TEAM

  • Engineers are hired and selected based on competencies and seniority level, and given the right tools to succeed through a unified onboarding process.

BEST PERFORMANCE

  • Within a Lean Development Environment, engineers perform code review, test automation, and configuration management while leveraging integrated engineering platforms to enable continuous integration/ continuous delivery. All engineering process metrics are measured on the go and reported to a control dashboard.

In addition to ensuring project teams are aligned with EngX best practices, your business should employ distributed Agile and DevOps methodologies that place a heavy emphasis on taking an iterative approach to each project by:

  • Holding daily SCRUMs for updates by location
  • Focusing on a fixed scope for each sprint
  • Offering superior management of change requests/production defects
  • Promoting continuous improvement with retrospective meetings after each sprint
  • Leveraging specific tools to make sure everyone is on the same page:
    • Foundational server for storing and sharing assets across teams
    • Quality dashboards for transparency across all Dedicated Delivery Centers

These methodologies serve as a foundation for distributed delivery, enabling cross-functional teams of expert engineers, testers, project managers, and analysts to easily maintain nonstop development on complex platform solutions.

Successful DPES through Globally Distributed Testing & QA

The processes and methodologies covered so far are also integrated into testing and QA, but this stage of the development process needs special attention as it is crucial to delivering bug-free technologies and enterprise-grade software. For DPES and product development, the time spent conceptualizing and coding platforms means nothing if it’s not rigorously tested before launch.

To test more efficiently, consider developing turnkey accelerators to speed test automation and ensure QA across projects of all sizes and scopes. To help avoid breakdowns and passing testing jobs from site to site, here are some of the best practices to follow to ensure code quality:

  • Follow a collective code ownership mindset so the entire team owns the codebase and enforces code reviews
  • Employ coding standards, guidelines, and patterns to improve readability and ensure unified implementation
  • Utilize formalized code review processes, ad-hoc code reviews, and pair programming principles to find and fix implementation mistakes so no single-author code gets into production
  • Use automated static code analysis to gather code metrics, review problematic code, and find issues overlooked by peer code review
  • Apply unit-testing and test-driven development methodologies to start testing at the lowest level of functionality
  • Set up continuous integration workflows and automated integration testing to get immediate feedback and reduce efforts required to find issues
  • Configure deployment automation and continuous delivery processes to remove the human factor from production deployment and establish automated rollback procedures for production incidents
  • Define version control system branching models for well-defined separation between production code, production hotfixes, features, and bug fixes.

Always Test in Agile Sprints to Ensure Bug-Free Platforms

When putting testing into motion, coordinate with the product management team to synchronize testing with development, sometimes even testing items before developing them. Today, testing is no longer an afterthought, but instead an end-to-end process baked into every stage of development. With this testing mindset, your organization can deliver a more efficient engineering process and prevent time wasted on redeveloping platforms from the bottom-up due to foundational defects.

Ensuring Project & Delivery Management Excellence

Beyond the technical personnel and client contacts, it’s important to have a project manager (PM) and/or delivery manager (DM) to ensure everything is running smoothly. A PM and/or DM works with the account manager(s) to learn project requirements, establish timelines, schedule communications, and own delivery with the client. To make sure nothing is lost in translation, it’s vital that you take a unified approach that is understood by all parties involved.

One successful delivery model for effective project and delivery management includes rigorous account governance, not only from the delivery and engineering perspective, but also from the account and business side to establish clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the project. This includes mapping client-side stakeholders and determining appropriate escalation channels, so that everything is identified ahead of time and there is a clear communication channel when problems arise.

At the end of the day, it’s the account manager who is responsible for overall delivery success, but the account manager is only as good as the project managers and delivery managers on the team. Every account and delivery team should have significant oversight with strong leadership on the project management or team lead level to provide clarity in the overall account and leadership structure. This will ensure that the right communication plans, governance structures, project management, planning sessions, resources management, risk mitigation, project health metrics, and leadership structure is in place to deliver excellence.

An Ongoing Communications Plan for Long-Term Projects

  • Daily - Development team has ongoing operational interaction with client team and stakeholders during planning sessions, daily stand-ups, grooming, demos, etc
  • Weekly – Status reports are made available to the client
  • Monthly - Account Governance Team meetings with client stakeholders to synchronize on status updates, discuss any issues and risks, remediation steps, roadmap, and take action on feedback
  • Quarterly – Account Governance Team meets with partner executive in-person

Efficient & Clear Communication is Key to Achieving DPES Success

With the aforementioned methodologies and practices shaping each project’s processes, there are several worthwhile dynamic tools and communication methods to overcome challenges associated with time zones. After initial in-person meetings and strategic planning with the client are complete, it’s crucial to start implementing an efficient communication process from client to team lead to delivery center to delivery center, and so on. Take an efficient, digital approach to communication throughout the project, using the following methods:

  • Set up a unified project workspace (e.g. JIRA) with clearly defined areas of responsibility, deadlines, and escalation paths to provide each team member a single source of personalized access to project tasks
  • Employ collaborative team dashboards to monitor and share progress throughout the project
  • Plan communications schedule and project meetings leveraging time-zone differences
  • Hold a weekly internal sync between technical leads and account governance teams on risks, status, feedback, and ongoing improvements
  • Hold a weekly review of internal delivery dashboards to address any risks, status reports, challenges, plans, and go-to-green plans
  • Utilize video conferencing, conduct daily standups with onsite lead and/or client to plan daily activities, clarify questions and report status
  • Followup with all parties involved after each meeting to track progress and pinpoint tasks
  • Promote direct communication between developers and subject matter experts for maximum efficiency

Many of the considerations made in planning and executing a project may seem simple, but when accounting for language differences or change management across globally distributed teams of hundreds of employees, it’s rarely easy. When the result is increased time-to-market and decreased costs for the client, it’s always worthwhile.

Global DPES Development Infrastructure Models

Depending on the size and scope of your project, the amount of resources required and the number of delivery centers involved will vary. For best results, you want a technology partner that offers flexibility and scalability, as well as a large employee resource base and bench that includes specialists with skills spanning the entire end-to-end development life cycle. This reduces limitations in developing your platform, and allows resources to be adjusted accordingly throughout the project.

For large-scale projects, a technology partner will often leverage multiple delivery centers spanning different time zones to keep development moving around the clock. In our experience, this is one surefire way to speed time-to-market, as well as develop platforms on a continuous basis. As a baseline, consider EPAM’s daily timeline:

Hour-by-hour timeline

Bringing Your Platform to Life

Launching a new technology platform – to the market or for use within your organization – can be a lengthy process. It often takes months or even years to advance from concept to design to development to delivery, and it can take even longer if time is continually lost due to poor communication, faulty processes, quality issues, and the limited number of hours in an average workday. As with anything else in business, the more potential mishaps you can avoid from the outset, the better.

It all starts with selecting the right technology partner, which can reduce your overall costs and speed time-to-market. For large-scale projects, look for a partner who follows at least a few of the best practices for globally distributed development outlined in this paper – look for one who shares your values and understands your goals. For smaller projects, look for a partner who does the same, because the time spent building that relationship will prove invaluable when you’re ready for something bigger and better. Whatever you do, we wish you the best of luck in creating a digital platform that offers an unforgettable user experience!

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