The cheap art of the highly promising

15/07/2021

True story:

A friend of mine recently got a fantastic job in the UK end of one of the world's biggest gaming platforms - so at the internal software development company that builds software for the console. Now, everything you do on these kinds of devices gets captured, so every time you score a point or progress in the game in some way, it all gets sucked back to a very big data warehouse somewhere.

Now the theory was that the company has a fantastic resource which they could mine and slice and dice, getting all sorts of interesting answers about how people are engaging with the games, which bits of the games they like/don't they like, and lots of amazing insights would flow out of that that could then be shared with game writing partners to improve future versions of the device and further delight the gamer. And indeed, for years they've been capturing masses of data, but they hadn't actually ever got round to doing anything with it, and now it's become such a massive amount of data, it had become really hard to know where to start.

So fortunately for Verasseti, they had recruited my chum to tackle that problem. But he admitted to me he didn't know quite where to start. Now in my experience, most companies would go, okay, we've got terabytes and terabytes of data; let's model it all and talk to loads of vendors and spend six months deciding on the perfect tool for it and commit lots and lots of money upfront.

But my very sharp pal knew that was risky, would take too long, and could easily end up taking him and his team down a rabbit hole that it would be hard to escape from. He wanted a low-risk and low-cost type of approach, with quality work done by experts for sure, but work that could map the territory more than anything else.

A low-risk approach that now promises very good returns to the business

So, he picked up the phone to me and my team. And it was a happy ending to my true story: by doing just two weeks of prototyping, we quickly came up with some simplistic reporting functionality to try and explore what might be possible. We walked away once good early results were in, which my friend then used as justification to set up a team and then explore this more thoroughly; and now, he's in the main corporate HQ overseas, with a team of 40 people who now do what we did in what seemed to be the right way of doing it--but on a much, much bigger scale.

This project was a modest cost to him, but he's used what we did as a justification to do it properly and at enterprise budget level: a low-risk approach that promises very good returns to the business. And I am telling you this story as I think it's the perfect example of a phenomenon I like to call 'the cheap art of the highly promising!'

What I mean by that is that we get a lot of great, satisfying work for great short-term projects like that. And while COVID has put some of this kind of discretionary short-term project work like this on hold, I see more and more work already starting to come through where people decide to take a punt with a small focused external team like us versus keeping it in-house.

After all, if an IT manager is asked to achieve some kind of goal, they have three ways forward. One is you do it yourself, but at the moment BAU or fighting to keep open during Lockdown probably means your resource has to be directed onto that. Two, you give it to the management consultants/SIs, and yes, that's never a stupid move, but might not meet your budget or time KPIs. And three, you hire a junior, which means paying the recruitment agency, on-boarding them, getting them productive, and managing them.

Now, all those are legitimate and appropriate ways of satisfying the demand. But I do think there is a fourth route: for small projects that will deliver some benefits are important, so not implementing SAP but a quick swoop in to get something done, using a small software house is the perfect answer. And often, as in my example, the easiest way to get it done is to talk to us, agree a fixed price, and watch us deliver it on time.

A bit of work that you've been dying to get done

A lot of companies won't be interested in small pieces of work like this. But we believe that they can be a lot of fun, and if you do a good initial job, they have very long tails and lots of follow-on work once trust is established. We're actually very happy to do smaller project work like this, we're very happy to work with a fixed price-and for you as a client, we have huge amounts of experience. You're getting a team, not an individual, and we will crack the problem even if it kills us!

So if you also know there is a bit of work that you've been dying to get done but not had the internal resource to get round to because of COVID, or don't want to write a business case for a new PAYE person or have the patience for a visit from the bodyshoppers, why not challenge a small experienced and trusted independent team like ours and see what they can do?

Worst thing that can happen is a bit of money gets spent, and you now know the approach they tried isn't the right one. And best (and most likely): you end up with an amazing project like that gaming manager, and finally get a huge item off the corporate to-do list ticked off.

By James Percy, Managing Director, Verasseti