If you want to remodel your home, sometimes hiring an individual, such as an electrician or a plumber, is the right thing to do. However, if you have a larger project that requires a team effort and lots of coordination, then you will likely want to hire a contractor and a crew.
After speaking to many learning and development managers, I discovered that they face a similar decision when it comes to outsourcing learning and development consulting. Should they bring in a learning solutions vendor-partner to take on a fixed-bid project, or work with a staffing partner to augment their team with a learning consultant for a fixed period of time?
When we at SweetRush present to a client, we always show both services. Sometimes the client asks: “When should I have you place a learning consultant within my team, and when should I outsource the entire job to a vendor like you?”
Fortunately, looking at just a few considerations can illuminate the right path. Below I offer up the guidelines we use when advising clients on whether to staff up or outsource.
First, however, let’s briefly define staff augmentation and project outsourcing.
Staff augmentation: Sometimes called contract labor, contingent labor, or temporary staffing, staff augmentation is when an organization like ours, or a staffing agency, places a learning consultant (or multiple learning consultants) to work under your direct management on an hourly basis. From an HR perspective, you receive many benefits in this arrangement since the learning consultant is not working for you, but for the agency that has placed him or her. Usually you will be billed monthly, based on the hours worked, at the agreed-to rate for those hours.
Project outsourcing: With project outsourcing, you contract with a vendor-partner to take on a defined project, often at a fixed bid. You will not directly manage the learning consultants on the project team—rather, you will communicate with a few key team members, such as the project manager (or program manager for very large engagements), and perhaps the instructional design and visual design leads. You will review milestone deliverables at predetermined dates (as per the project plan), and be invoiced at milestones as defined in your agreement with your vendor-partner.
Six Guidelines for Whether to Hire a Temporary Learning Consultant or Outsource to a Team
Now, let’s get back to the question of bringing on a learning consultant versus outsourcing the project to a team. Here are the guidelines I share with clients when navigating this decision.
Tasks versus definable projects: If a project can be fully defined and a fixed bid developed, you should outsource the entire project. If, on the other hand, you have a series of tasks that are coming down the pike and you need a learning consultant to take them on as they arise, then working with a company like SweetRush to temporarily provide a learning consultant for your team is the right way to go.
Project size: If the project is large and beyond the scope of what one learning consultant can realistically handle, we recommend outsourcing to a vendor-partner that has a large enough team to take on such an initiative.
Of course, if you have learning consultants in-house to take on this project, but are missing just a particular expertise to complete the team, you should consider it as a perfect opportunity for staff augmentation.
Quality: If you need a learning consultant who is a specialist to take on a focused effort, staff augmentation talent can provide excellent quality. However, if you have an entire project that requires several different skills, you would be better served by a team. Even if your instructional design consultant is a generalist and can take on the project from soup to nuts, he or she simply will not be able to offer the same quality an entire team of specialists can offer. (My apologies in advance to you generalist instructional design consultants, for whom I have the greatest respect!)
Mature vendor-partners have teams of highly focused and expert learning consultants, including project managers, engineers, quality assurance staff, copyeditors, and multimedia specialists (which, on our team, includes graphic designers, game designers, 2D and 3D illustrators and animators, user experience designers, and more!). These vendor-partners come to the table with proprietary tools, processes, and support systems. Instructional designers benefit from the guidance of lead instructional designers and peer reviews. So, if the project demands quality, outsource the entire project to a vendor.
Good-enough quality and speed: However, sometimes you have a smaller project where speed (time to delivery) is an issue, and “good-enough” quality will suffice. In this case, a generalist learning consultant is likely the right answer. A single individual generalist can often move more quickly than a team of specialists. Why? There is no passing of the project back and forth—one person embraces the entire project with the mandate to get it done. As discussed, the overall quality of the deliverables will not be as high, but this may be good enough for the situation at hand.
Your time: Another important consideration is your time. Do you have the bandwidth to manage a learning consultant directly? If you do, and the variables presented above point toward staff augmentation, go for it. But if you (or someone else on your team) will not have the time to spend directly managing this resource, you’ll likely be served better outsourcing to a vendor-partner.
Cost: Deciding whether to choose staff augmentation or to outsource the entire project is actually not a cost-based decision. If you follow the guidelines above and consult with your vendor-partner, you will make the right decision for the situation. The right decision will also be the most cost effective, and it will provide you with the best ROI.
Most vendors offer one service or the other. SweetRush is somewhat unique in offering both, and we will always advise a client who approaches us for one service about the other service if we think they will be better off with another option. I hope this blog has provided a foundation for you to make an informed decision on which path is best for you.