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How to waste half a million dollars a year developing software

If you’re the head of digital or the lead software stakeholder in a company, the buck stops with you when it comes to software development… heavy wears the crown and all that. But one of the biggest obstacles to doing that job efficiently is your team’s burn rate. Especially if you’re a startup or a small/medium-sized business, you can’t afford to waste half a million dollars every year on a team that isn’t right-sized to the software project(s) you’re working on. But where does that waste often come from?

Design strategists and/or solutions architects.

Why these staffers might not be the right full-time hires for your business

Design strategists and solution architects can play a crucial role in the development and success of a product… but it comes at a cost. A large cost. These professionals are generally very experienced and in high demand. As such, their salaries often range from $150,000 to $300,000 per year (or even more in some cases). If you have one of each on your team? There’s $500k in resource allocation right there. But for many companies, these experienced pros might make a lot more sense in limited doses as opposed to putting them on full-time staff.

Why are these staffers so expensive?

Design strategists and solution architects — good ones anyway — bring a very high level of expertise to the table. They have extensive experience and a deep understanding of the design process, which allows them to identify and solve complex design challenges. They generally bring higher-order critical thinking and creativity skills — difference making capabilities that rightfully command big bucks.

Why they’re worth the money, and absolutely necessary for your project… sometimes

Now, let me be very clear — you need these folks. You cannot, cannot, cannot overlook design strategists and solutions architects in mission-critical stages of software architecture and design. When you’re making executive calls on the entire architecture of how your solution or product is going to work, you can’t skimp on that expertise. If you get it wrong at the outset, you’re only setting yourself up for a lot more monetary pain down the line.

As my good friend once said, “buy once, cry once.” If you pay the money for a premium product or service, you only have to buy it once. Yeah, you can save a lot of money buying a cheaper version of that product or service… but you’re probably going to have to buy it again in a year or two and wipe out any savings (or it ends up costing more).

When it comes to software, you have to know that what you’re building can scale — that’s the name of the game. And if you don’t get the initial architecture and design right? Wave goodbye to that all important goal.

A note of warning: Just because someone says they’re a “design strategist” or a “solutions architect” doesn’t mean they really are. There’s a huge difference between a bona fide one of these seasoned professionals and good devs who just say they are. So while we absolutely love staffers who can do these things well, you have to be very careful (and dang sure) you’re getting the real deal.

Despite how good bona fide design strategists and solutions architects are, you might not need them on permanent staff

The level of expertise bona fide solutions architects and design strategists possess also means that they’re in high demand… with salaries to match. Companies that want to employ the best in the field have to be prepared to pay top dollar for their respective services (this is especially true for large corporations and startups that are trying to build cutting-edge products that can stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace).

And even though these specialists are highly skilled and bring a lot of value to the table, they may not be needed for the entire duration of a project. In many cases, you only need their specialized skills during the initial design and build, or for major redesigns or changes to the product direction. So if you’re keeping them on full-time staff, that means you end up paying large salaries for these specialists without getting full value for their investment.

So how should you use design strategists and solutions architects?

One solution can be to hire them on a consulting basis rather than hiring them as full-time employees. This helps reduce the overall cost of these specialists because you’re only paying for their services when they’re needed. This also gives you more flexibility, as you can bring them in only when necessary, rather than having to pay their salaries year round.

Another idea is to invest in design-focused software and tools that can help your team manage the design process more effectively. Some strong automated tools can help teams collaborate more easily, aid in streamlining the design process, and ensure everyone is working toward the same goals. This can help to reduce the need for design strategists and solution architects, and can allow you to achieve some of the same end results with a smaller team of (cheaper) designers.

It’s also important to recognize that not all design challenges require the expertise of a design strategist or solution architect. Sometimes, a junior designer or product manager can handle a particular challenge. By carefully considering the specific needs of a project and the expertise of the team members available, you can make more informed decisions about when to bring in outside specialists and when to rely on your in-house team (or vendor of choice).

That’s where something like our Innovation Lab comes in — we workshop your idea or product, put it through stringent testing, conduct user validation experiments and more. And one of the most important deliverables from the Lab? A full resource plan and target timeline based on your project; that resource plan not only covers what staffing you need, but when you need them and for how long.

By taking a more strategic approach to hiring design strategists and solution architects, companies can ensure that they are getting the most value for their investment, while still being able to build high-quality products that meet the needs of their end users.

Bottom line: bona fide design strategists and solutions architects can be worth every penny… but it’s often not all year, every year as a full-time staffer.


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Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is a veteran entrepreneur and founder of Dallas-based digital product studio ENO8. Jeff founded ENO8 to empower companies of all sizes to design, develop and deliver innovative, impactful digital products. With more than 18 years working with early-stage startups, Jeff has a passion for creating and growing new businesses from the ground up, and has honed a unique ability to assist companies with aligning their technology product initiatives with real business outcomes.

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