The Importance of Having a Deep Bench

April 13, 2011

It has been a really busy start to the year, and this week as we have a couple teammembers traveling and a couple fully occupied with large projects, I was able to take a step back and smile about one of our core assets -- keeping a really deep bench of talent. 

I remember when NMC was just getting started and organizations would hesitate to work with us because we were just a two or three man shop.  At the time, I was always a little insulted by the implication that a smaller team couldn't competently do a good job for a client.  Now, as we've grown, I have started to see the merit in that frame of thinking. 

A client doesn't want to sign on to be at the mercy of one person's bandwidth or knowledge -- they want to be assured there is a team that can always be there to support them and help them devise great strategies.  As a vendor, there are a couple of ways to allay this fear: by partnering with other best-in-class teams or by building out your own internal staff.  We do both here, as we often partner with other agencies that have a specific talent outside our own focus, but I want to take this opportunity to focus on how we look at building our own capabilities.

It's not infrequent at all that a client may deal with several different people on our staff about project details.  That's not because we're trying to pass off the client, but it's because everyone here is fully capable of handling any client request, and each person seems to have their own specialties or strengths that marry particularly well with certain client goals, so we try and leverage the knowledge of everyone on our staff to help our clients.

It should be clear that when I say "deep bench," I just don't mean having enough bodies to fill a meeting or voices to drown a conference call, but I mean a diversely talented team.  As we've built our team over the past five years, we've realized that even more important than first assembling a talented team is continuing to support them in their growth.  This fact is especially true with a web agency, where new technologies and strategies are invented almost daily.

Internally, we have taken several steps to help our team further their talent and ambition.

First, we allow our developers to do freelance work outside of NMC.  To some people this policy seems counterintuitive.  They would believe our employees should be 100% focused on our company at all times.  We agree with the core of this belief, but don't think it needs to extend outside of work hours.  We don't believe it's our right to restrict what projects our team works on outside of NMC, but more importantly, those freelance projects just further develop the experience and talent of our team.  Our developers frequently apply knowledge or techniques learned on a freelance project to an NMC client.

Second, we encourage our team to allocate time at work to focus on side projects.  Josh wrote a great post the other day about how he used his spare time at NMC to build a microframework for PHP, Slim.  Not only has Slim ended up becoming a handy tool on a number of our projects, but the exercise also helped Josh deepen his understanding of PHP, REST, and more.  By giving Josh the flexibility to focus on a side project, the whole NMC team and process is now that much stronger.

Third, we learn from each other.  We all participate in a Campfire chatroom throughout the day where we often post relevant articles, troubleshoot problems, ask for advice, and more.  Encouraging this dialogue is a phenomenal way to ensure that we're all learning from each other and tackling problems in the most effective and efficient manner.  Additionally, for the past six months, we've also been doing a Friday Presentation (creative name, right?) where someone here gives 15-20 minute talk on something that really interests them and with which they have some good experience.  Examples of past topics areresponsive design and Google AdWords.  These talks are a great way for us to learn from one another and delve deeper into current topics.

There are other examples, but those are three that instantly came to mind. 

In addition to the peace of mind from knowing that we're continuing to progress as a team, these efforts have also led to each of our developers getting attention from around the web.  Since joining NMC, every developer on our team has had websites, plugins, designs, techniques, etc. featured by major web publications, which is pretty cool!  That type of press not only makes us feel good about our philosophy, but it also is great ammo to use in pitches and directs a nice amount of traffic to our site.

Everyone on our team is uniquely talented, but I think we would all agree that we've been able to further flourish here due to NMC's committment to building and maintaing a deep bench.  I would love to hear what other companies do to cultivate and leverage their own teams.



Vasant Nayak's avatar
Vasant Nayak

I totally agree with the idea of allowing members of the team work on 'outside' projects - this allows for 'breathing room' and to bring back to the table creative solutions. It also shows that the company has confidence in its people.

You folks have a great team - creative and responsive. Here is wishing you great success!


Leave a comment