Steven Sinofsky remarked recently that "quality is the new cool… and testing is the what's old is new again
". The same is true of the on-demand Product Team.
The offshoring concept has been replaced by the distinctly more fashionable 'talent platform' which is less about cutting costs (although that's definitely a factor) and more about product teams 'as a service.' Great engineers, designers, growth hackers and UX-ers can be located via UpWork
or Growth Geeks
and connected like an API.
The bleeding edge of this trajectory (in 2015) are companies like Gigster
who deliver product teams as a managed service or (in their words) a 'full-service development shop'. You send them your brief and they send you back an app. Andreessen Horowitz are investors, clearly hedging their bets that the Bay Area model is reaching the limits of its ability to serve the global need for software solutions to the world's problems.
Of course, there's a chasm of difference between an app (or a website) and a product
. And the difference is the level of commitment, investment and the time horizons the team are working toward. It's the difference between looking after your niece and nephew for the weekend and having kids of your own. Gigster can provide the child, but they can't make you a real parent.
Newsmart, the brand for whom I am Product Manager, is a digital service that teaches business English with premium news from the Wall Street Journal. It is not a startup. But neither is it a corporation. It's an example of the on demand / service model applied directly to digital product.
The permanent team on Newsmart is just 4 people. But our on-demand model means we can scale up to dozens whenever necessary. Product Management for me means next to no face to face communication at all. It means being permanently dialled into Slack, Aha!, Google Hangouts, Skype or Zoom. And it means English (of course). That goes without saying.
Although headquartered in London, Newsmart was birthed in New York by PreHype
(who deliver 'startups as a service' to more established organisations) and was designed and engineered by Castle
who are evenly distributed between New York and Samara (that's Russia, folks). I'm not sure Castle's service model is that different from a range of other agencies and suppliers, they just execute better than anyone I know.
As a news-driven educational service, Newsmart also has a Learning Team who bring the necessary publishing and pedagogical skills into the mix. This role is currently performed by ELTJam
(again headquartered in London) who co-ordinate a team of teachers and writers distributed all over the world. As I mentioned earlier, I've never met most of them yet we work hand in glove on a daily basis, publish content daily and ship every week.
Newsmart also relies on a host of individuals and freelancers, primarily via UpWork or Sketchdeck
, for graphic design, webscraping, exercise creation, digital marketing and lead generation services on demand.
If you're thinking this doesn't sound much like The Social Network, you'd be right.
The Product Team only connect in real time for just under an hour every week via a Zoom videocall since we abandoned Google Hangouts for reasons of reliability. There are no all night beer and pizza sessions. No hackathons. No bro-mance. And we don't get together every year at a different exotic location for a team summit. We can't afford it.