When you need professionals to build a site or app for your enterprise, you will find yourself faced with several key choices up-front. One of the most important is whether to hire a one-stop-stop that claims to do “everything,” or to hire multiple, specialty teams for your project’s design, development, marketing and so on. This key choice reflects a familiar trade-off between the apparent convenience of working with a one-stop-shop, and the higher quality generally found in multiple, dedicated teams. Although the apparent convenience of a one-stop-shop is certainly tempting, there are genuine concerns to consider, such as the agency’s ability to maintain professional-grade quality across all aspects of an important project. Working with multiple teams, on the other hand, may seem daunting, but has become increasingly easier in recent years and gives you the opportunity to work directly with dedicated professionals devoted to each stage your project.

Different skill sets

It’s worth keeping in mind that design, development, and marketing (just to name three facets of most IT projects) address entirely different stages of the product life cycle, and call for entirely different skill sets. Granted, there are developers with a strong knack for design and user experience (UX). And there are visual designers and UX specialists that know a lot of code. But at the end of the day, professionals working on substantial projects with a deadline can’t do it all, and with very few exceptions will stick to their specialty. This is all the more true in 2018. Specialization has come a long way in recent years as technology and software has reached new heights of sophistication. And being a Jack-of-all-trades is no longer practical when each platform requires years of experience to handle at a professional level, and perhaps a decade or more to master.

How to spot a specialist

One of the best ways to determine whether an agency is a good fit for your project is to gauge the level of expertise the team has in the tools and resources your project requires. One of the quickest ways to gauge a team’s expertise is to check out their blog and Twitter feed. In the case of an agency that claims to have development expertise in a specific platform/code-base, look for two things in particular in their public posts: frequent mentions of the platform/code-base in question, and evidence that the team is participating in the corresponding development community.

Posting about their platform

Developers are generally very vocal about all the ins and outs of the platforms and languages they’ve devoted their professional lives to. Their public posts will generally reflect that expertise and enthusiasm. If they’re PHP experts, they’ll probably blog at least once about the latest major PHP release. If they’re Drupal experts, they may share tips on when to migrate from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. If they’re seasoned WordPress experts, they’ll likely  cover any important new or updated plugins for WordPress SEO, caching, comment-spam blocking, e-commerce, and so on. On the other hand, if a dev agency tells you that they’re WordPress specialists, but all their posts are about another platform, then that’s a red flag.

Participating in the development community

Attending, speaking, organizing or sponsoring development conferences and camps is one of the best ways to stay at the bleeding-edge of your specialization. If a dev team is truly specializing in a specific content management system (CMS), coding framework or language, their teams’ public posts will generally reflect a presence in the corresponding community. WordPress developers will be all over the next nearby WordCamp. Drupal developers will be attending and speaking at Drupal Camps, if not DrupalCon, whenever possible. And so on. If you’re seeing no evidence of participation in the community corresponding to the platform the agency claims to specialize in, you’re probably not dealing with genuine specialists.

A few challenges

It would be unfair not to mention that there are a few potential challenges that you may face if you choose to work with specialty agency. The most obvious is that you will be hiring and working with multiple teams to complete your project instead of just one. However, thanks to wide-open communication channels, and close relationships between complementary agencies, working with separate teams to handle design, development, marketing and so on is easier and more affordable than ever in 2018.

Inter-agency communication

Today, communication channels between agencies are wide open, and no specialty agency works in isolation. For example, don’t be surprised if you see your dev team having live video chats with your design team as they look over wireframes and translate them to code.

Relationships between agencies

If you choose a seasoned, highly experienced dev team, they will already have a network of strong relationships with the most trusted design shops, marketing shops, and so on in their niche. If they’re building you a Drupal or WordPress site, they’ll know lots of highly qualified Drupal or WordPress theme designers and user-experience (UX) specialists. If you want to launch a marketing campaign, and you’re on a budget, they probably know several up-and-coming digital marketing teams that can give you a discount. Altogether, these close relationships can tie independent teams together as tightly as any single shop could.

Choosing multiple, dedicated teams

As argued above, one of the most important decisions you’ll make when embarking on an IT project is whether to hire a one-stop-stop or multiple, dedicated teams. Here it’s important to remember that the various stages in the life cycle of your project, such as design, development and marketing, call for entirely different skill sets. One of the quickest ways to determine whether an agency has the professional skill set you need is to check their team’s public posts. Are team members posting about the platform you need to complete your project, such as WordPress or Drupal? Are you seeing evidence that they are participating in the corresponding development communities? If the answer is no to either of these questions, you may be dealing with a one-stop-shop without the professional level of expertise your project requires. Yet it would be unfair not to consider a few potential challenges you will face when working with multiple, specialty teams as well. However, in 2018 we now enjoy greatly enhanced inter-agency communication, and strong inter-agency relationships, that are increasing cooperation and making multiple, dedicated teams more feasible and affordable than ever.