We are entering a new era of global teams. What started in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a way for corporations to reduce costs has evolved into common business practice and a competitive advantage for those who get it right. Technological, economic and environmental factors have accelerated the adoption of remote, outsourced and offshored teams. This phenomenon has been especially prevalent in the software industry. For example, the IT outsourcing industry has a size of over $342 billion in 2020, and by 2027, it is expected to grow to $410 billion.
However, there is a common misconception that the quality of work and skills located outside Silicon Valley is not as good as Silicon Valley engineers. This is what I call the myth of the Silicon Valley developer.
On an individual basis, the playing field has leveled. For the past 15 years, education and content around software development have become ubiquitous. If you want to become a highly skilled software developer, there is no need to go to a top school, or attend a university for that matter. Those are just among the many options to learn (see freeCodeCamp, Lambda School, Coursera). If we look only at individuals, we can now find the same level of skills in the valley, Nebraska, South America or Eastern Europe.
What does this playbook look like? It is made of software delivery practices that are aligned with the company culture and business operations. It focuses on the following key areas:
Focus on the right technical KPIs.
Research continues to show that the software delivery industry has four key metrics: lead time, deployment frequency, mean time to restore (MTTR) and change failure percentage. These four key metrics differentiate between low, medium and high performers in organizations. If you want to be on the latter, optimize your KPIs around these metrics. As John Doerr, the creator of the OKR methodology, stated, “Measure what matters.”
Focus on business outcomes and user-centricity.
Product management encourages organizations to measure success based on the value their offerings deliver to customers rather than on milestones reached during product creation, as traditional project management practice does. Technology should be the means to an end; that end is creating business value for your organization and users. Many top tech companies know this and have structured their team topologies around product management, not project development. Product management incorporates Agile, DevOps and lean methodologies. It’s responsive to user feedback and changes project conditions, encourages flexibility and adjusts midcourse instead of tying all decisions to an initial project plan.
Culture: continuous feedback, organizational learning and psychological safety.
Top-performing engineering teams operate in cultures that foster experimentation, taking risks and learning from failure. If you want a team that feels comfortable taking risks and learning from mistakes, you need to optimize for psychological safety.
When team members feel safe to talk about problems, problems can not only be fixed but prevented. Solving problems requires honesty, and if there is a fear of expressing oneself, there can’t be honesty. Hiding a problem is an Agile anti-pattern. In knowledge work, psychological safety is one of the top predictors of team performance. Hence, it should have the same importance that physical safety does in manufacturing jobs. Experimentation and risk-taking are the drivers behind innovation and continuous improvement.
Silicon Valley engineers appear to be more skilled and faster than their peers because of the process, not the people. After building software products for over 15 years and working with people from all over the world, I can confidently say that talent is everywhere. Silicon Valley does not have a competitive advantage on talent anymore, but it is still beating everyone else. It builds better digital products and ships software faster because it understands that the integration between software delivery frameworks, methods, organizational culture and business operations plays a crucial role in solving complex problems and building intangible assets. That’s its secret sauce. Read more via Forbes