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We run a niche web development agency and we are struggling with scaling and I was hoping someone could point me in the direction of resources.

We build custom WordPress websites for clients with a 100% remote development team. Our biggest problems are (a) getting back to the clients on time and (b) we have a 6-week long waiting list of clients who want to work with us.

We want to be able to manage more projects at the same time, but without compromising the quality. that defines our reputation.

We have too much work for our remote team, but not enough work to hire a handful of full time people.

Any advice would be much appreciated! Thanks in advance!

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Scaling a company is not easy. I think you can't give an answer that fits every situation and every kind of company.

Looking from the outside, I would think in:

  1. Identifing the problems you need to solve.
  2. Changing your production process to reach the solutions.

I would suggest some initial reading on both subjects:

  1. "Getting Real. The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application" to get some insight on several problems that a small company should face and "Remote. Office not required" to let you know if you're missing something on how to manage your remote developmente team.
  2. "Agile Project Management with Scrum" and/or "Agile Software Development with Scrum" to start thinking if your company could benefit from a more structured (yet light) production process.
  • Thank you so much. I will check out the reading! Much appreciated. – TheW May 31 '15 at 16:19
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The first place I would start is with a value stream analysis (or going old school PMP, a critical path analysis).

Start at the beginning of your process and start mapping out each high level task, Determine what the inputs (dependencies) and outputs are for each step. Record the cycle time for each step (how long does it take to perform). Once you've got this mapped out it gets a lot easier to see where your process is taking a lot of time.

A visual view (white board, post its on a wall, etc) works the best as it engages your brain differently.

Three thoughts, based on what you've mentioned:

  • Hire a consultant to help you with your process reengineering. It is so very easy to get lost in the trees and not see the forest when you work inside a company. Bringing in someone even for a day or two can often be exactly what you need to to get a viewpoint that will break you through to your next level. Think of it in the Bill Gates Dollar metaphor. How much time will you spend working on it that you are not working on building value for your client backlog? Is it worth your time to pick up the process improvement dollar on the street?

  • Kanban may work better than Scrum for your work. Trying to plan sprints around the work is going to be a lot of overhead with remote teams. Also, most of the work you're doing is probably "repetitive" in that each client wants much the same thing. Kanban works well for this.

  • Limit Work in Process. How many things are being done at a time? Where possible break down the work into smaller chunks and swarm the work. Instead of ten sites at one time, with one developer each, swarm on two sites with five each. Requires more coordination, yes. Even with a remote team it can be done. Published a 300+ page, 20 author, 10 additional staff book with an all remote team using email and chat only this way.

  • Wow. Thank you! 1. When we build a website we have standard things (i.e. the core WP install/plugins). We use a web project template in Basecamp so we know what has to get done, but we have more of a linear flow than a parallel flow. 2. Because our team is remote, they all have other things to do and tend to lose focus when the client isn't focused. 3. Our core is relatively simple since all of our sites are healthcare: =Discovery=>Mockup=>Code=>Publish/QA One good dev and one good graphic designer work well with a good PM on each project. – TheW May 31 '15 at 21:39
  • I already know that my developers can handle 5 sites in progress each. And I know one PM can handle those 5 sites. Maybe it's as simple as this "for every 5 sites we want to build, I need (1) PM (1) Developer (1) Graphic designer" and then multiply. But then we hit the training, reliability roadblock that always seems to show up. – TheW May 31 '15 at 21:42
  • If I were to use a Kanban approach, would each web page be a user story? I've searched for an hour or so and I can't seem to find much about using Kanban for Web development (I even searched google images to find a sample board). Thx. – TheW Jun 1 '15 at 3:01
  • Kanban cards (user stories) should be something that can be done in less than a day. A real day, not the mythical 8 hours of hands on keyboard day. So most likely a "page" is more than a single story if is is more than just UI work. As for WIP, think about how you can instead swarm those five sites. Get multiple Devs on a single site. Knock it down fast, send to client for feedback and work on another site while waiting. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Jun 1 '15 at 20:15
  • "Limit work in process" is very much valuable thing to understand. – Hafiz Dec 16 '15 at 8:55

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