Staff Augmentation: When and Why to Use It

There are a few business scenarios in which managers find they need to augment their software development and quality assurance staffs, and in today’s fast paced  IT marketplace, those scenarios are becoming more and more common.

The “bit-off-more-than-you-can-chew” scenario. You just landed a new contract, software development project or client. Great! That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is, when the ink is dry on that deal, you begin to look around at your already-overworked staff and realize that you simply don’t have the manpower wto do it.

The “of-course-we-can-do-that!” scenario. There’s an old trick actors use when they’re auditioning. Whatever skill the director says is needed for the part — horseback riding, skiing, speaking a foreign language like a native — the answer is always: “Yes, I can do that!” … whether they have those skills or not. In the business world, that means you’ve taken on a project that is just beyond the scope and reach of your team. You’ll need to hurry up and find someone with the specific skills to get the job done.

The “you-need-it-when?” scenario. This happens when you’re forced by internal or external forces to accelerate your project timeline. Sometimes, your development team is already working at capacity, and your sales team needs a certain product yesterday. Short of forcing your team to adopt a 24/7 work schedule and risk a mutiny of your good people, you’ll need more bodies to do the work and get it done on time.

It’s time to staff up

If you find yourself in one of these scenarios, what then? One option is to simply hire more people. But that doesn’t work for every company or department or project. Especially when you’re talking about IT, but even when you aren’t, projects tend to flow in cycles. A great surge in activity for a period of time, and then it falls off. You may not want to have that additional staff overhead during slower periods, especially if you’re operating on a razor-thin profit margin. Or, the project needs to be done yesterday and you simply don’t have the time to recruit, hire and train a permanent staff member.

The choice then becomes whether to outsource the project or augment your staff. Both options are ways to staff up quickly with people who can hit the ground running on your project, allowing you to go full steam ahead while keeping the costs of those hires very low.

Typically, companies find these workers through agencies that specialize in the skills they’re looking for — software engineering or data analytics, for example — so there’s no exhaustive recruiting, endless rounds of interviews, background checks, drug testing, training, onboarding and everything else that goes into hiring a permanent employee. The agency will have done much of that legwork for you.

Agencies tend to be more like body shops that keep a huge resume base and give you their best match. Consulting firms like Saturn are more focused on identifying the right skills and experience level to ensure success and develop a long term partnership.

Let’s do a deeper dive into staff augmentation and outsourcing to help you determine which is right for you and your current and ongoing needs.

Staff augmentation

Staff augmentation is exactly what the term indicates: hiring people with specialized, project-relevant skills on a temporary basis. It will boost your staff’s capacity with someone who can hit the ground running.

Staff augmentation pros:

Flexibility. Staff up or staff down whenever you need it, with zero hiring hassles.

Direct oversight. Your temporary help can work in the office directly with your teams, so you can see them in action and supervise what they’re doing. In lieu of the exhaustive training you’d give a new permanent hire, this is a great way to make sure things are running smoothly and the temp worker is doing the job.

Easy integration with your team. Unlike outsourcing, in which you hire a dedicated team to work with yours, with staff augmentation, you are integrating one or a couple of external developers or engineers into your team. The difference? There’s no cultural baggage, processes and norms that might come if you hired a vendor with a dedicated team. Also, there’s no conflict between your company’s goals and mission and those of your outsourced vendor.

Your existing staff keeps its job security. The whole point of staff augmentation is adding people on a temporary basis, so your staff knows this is a one-and-done scenario.

Possible cons:

Assimilation time. You’re not going to give your temps a full-on training and onboarding experience, but you’ll still need to show them the ropes, talk about culture issues like what people wear to work and get them up to speed on the other norms of working in your office.


Outsourcing is a cousin to staff augmentation, but it differs in a few important ways. While staff augmentation allows you to bring in a few key people to work with your team in-house or remotely, with outsourcing, you are hiring an outside vendor with its own existing development team, or you’re using an outsourcing agency that recruits an external team to work with you on a project basis. While staff augmentation can be considered outsourcing, outsourcing is usually not considered to be staff augmentation.

Outsourcing pros:

Freeing up staff time. When you’re outsourcing with an external team, you can delegate tasks and offload some of the work so your team can focus on other areas of the project, or free them up to hop onto another internal project.

Possible cons:

Less control. It’s riskier to outsource, because your hands aren’t in the pie full time.

Communication and time zone snafus. If you’re working with a developer who lives halfway around the world, they don’t work when you work, and they may not speak your language well enough to communicate clearly about the project.

Either option will save you the money and time you’d spend hiring, create less overhead on a permanent basis, and allow you to complete your project on time.

About Saturn Systems

Saturn SystemsSaturn Systems is an entirely U.S. based software engineering firm that provides a broad range of services, from project-based development and quality assurance testing to fully integrated staff augmentation teams. Saturn's Rural Outsourcing model couples the lower cost of doing business in Duluth, MN, with an experienced engineering team - making Saturn an attractive alternative to high-priced metro firms and the inherent difficulties of offshore services.

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