Web Development: Agency vs In House

Author - Alex Price

Posted By Alex Price Founder

Date posted 13th Jun 2017

Category Blog, WordPress


Many businesses and brands will go through phases of needing web development work to be carried out across their websites or projects and have to make a decision – should they bring in internal developers (as contractors or employees), or turn to a web development agency to carry out the work. It can be hard to define a right or wrong answer, but below are a series of questions that should be asked and (slightly biased) views of how they could look in each scenario:

Who manages the work?

Most of the time, there is nothing ‘simple’ about a web development project. There are almost always unknowns before starting a project and unforeseen complexities as the project progresses. Scoping out these risks, attempting to avoid them and minimising their impact whilst keeping things on track, on budget and with expectations managed can be a full time job in itself.

Web development projects delivered by internal teams can pose an enormous risk because the structure and process is often not in place for developers to be able to do their work effectively, not least by lacking the right people to oversee the work.

In the agency world we have dedicated account managers and project managers overseeing every client relationship and project delivery, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities to keep everybody happy and everything on course.

But for businesses or brands with less established internal digital teams, there may not be any dedicated or experienced project management resource to carry out this function. Instead a marketing or design team member from within the business gets tasked with managing the development at great internal cost to the business, and even greater cost when their lack of experience means things run on much longer than they should.

What process is followed?

Any established agency will have invested large amounts of time and internal cost in developing their processes.

At 93digital the processes and tools for project management, communication, resource scheduling, time tracking, quality assurance, development server environments, browser and mobile testing and more have developed over many years, and continue to evolve as we strive for efficiency, effectiveness and transparency in everything we do.

It’s this investment in process that allows us to do what we do to an exceptionally high quality, on time and on budget. Yet it’s also this lack of clearly defined process that is often missing from internal development teams and ends up throwing projects off course and over budget whilst key stakeholders throughout the business lack transparency.

Who specialises in what?

One of the largest strengths of using an agency is that it will have resources of specialist, talented people who understand their operational processes and have chosen to focus on one part of the digital world and make it their own. They are passionate and experienced in their chosen trade, but also used to working in a fast paced team environment.

A potential weakness of bringing in an internal developer or team is that they are often more generalist as they are required to work across a greater range of tasks. This is usually because it doesn’t add up to hire a load of experienced specialist developers internally, or because the person responsible for hiring them doesn’t have a strong enough understanding of the specialist skill sets required to deliver the work to the highest standard.

Whilst a generalist internal developers may at face value appear to have a cheaper day rate than an agency, they may not be able to offer the quality that an agency will when working on more complex tasks or aiming for that premium finish.

Who has the ideas?

If you know exactly what you want, then bringing in internal developers may well be a good option. This assumes you’ve done all the possible research, discovery and definition to arrive at a clear and concise backlog of tasks that need actioning, and now the only thing left is to implement them. In this case, an internal or contract web developer could work their way through this list one by one to tick them off. Easy.

But where is the value add? Internal developers can work exceptionally well as ‘suppliers’, but not so well as ‘partners’. So what’s the difference?

Some agencies, such as ourselves, seek relationships where we become a trusted digital partner to our clients. We question their briefs, tell them when we think they are wrong, actively seek new opportunities and encourage our clients to be brave. We’re proactive, not reactive, because that’s a big part of our proposition. In fairness, there are plenty of agencies who are also just reactive suppliers, so this is worth looking out for when selecting an agency too.

The very nature of the relationship between an internal web developer and their employer makes the above hard to replicate. There is a hierarchy that can prevent ideas from rising up and being seriously considered, but more often it is the case that internal developers don’t consider coming up with ideas and pushing their employer to be innovative part of their job description. They are there for a fixed time period to complete a finite list of tasks, and not much more.

What else can a developer do?

A team of developers is usually not capable of doing much more than just developing. This may sound obvious, but in contrast agencies are often able to offer a wealth of complimentary services in addition to web design or web development services. From strategic consultancy, to specialist user experience research to interaction design, conversion optimisation and SEO, agencies may have other value added services that will help their clients achieve their goals.

Ready to start planning your next WordPress design or development project? Have a careful think about the pros and cons of an in house team vs a WordPress agency. It might not be that you have to pick one or the other – a combination of in house and agency could also work and offer some advantages, but make sure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and agreed before you start working.

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