Search for SWAT

There is famous French expression cherche la femme (find the woman) implying that behind a cause of almost any event there is a woman (well, in its most common meaning the phrase has negative and sexist connotation). Cherche La SWAT or “Search for SWAT” is an approach I have been using and recommend others to use when selecting an IT service partner, offshore vendors included.  I honestly believe that behind almost any success in our industry there is a SWAT team…

A couple days ago I had a pleasure of meeting with two guys who’s been running their local technology shop for quite some time now. Both were top notch developers who’ve been in the industry probably at least as long as I, maybe longer. A bowl of outstanding Pho in a greasy spoon Vietnamese restaurant, college campus attire, and potential partnership created special ambiance that is particular conducive for nerd bonding.

After quick introduction and buzz word exchange we realized that we were only a degree apart and for awhile were working for startups that we fiercely competing with each other. We laughed through tears talking about how a company with 2 developers and 12 marketers and no product can put out of business a superb product with 12 talented engineers and 1 marketer behind it and then after sharing similar stories about dot com bust and being screwed by VC and CEOs we finally dove into discussion of technical capabilities of the firm my hosts were representing.

It is amazing how quickly these two guys who are as remote to sales and marketing as naïveté to Capitol Hill were able to give me a sense of comfort in their services and products. I guess many sales guys can take a few tips from these nerds. Well, faking competence takes a lot of competence and thus no need for faking ;)

Probably the main reason for such instant connection was a common mind set and similar language even though spoken with very different accents. What was the most important is that these guys had very similar pitch to what I have been using when promoting my services for very long time. These two guys were representing a SWAT team – Specialists With Advanced Tools.

There are many SWAT team out there, yet they are a tiny minority in the vast pool of IT resources. There are a few things that are common between SWAT teams, in particular they

  • are typically comprised of top notch professionals with substantial experience or/and IQ off the charts;
  • are typically specialized shops with individual contributors not making claims outside of their domain;
  • often are small in size and tightly knit teams, many of their members have history of working together possibly in some other firm(s).

SWAT team pitch is typically around results, quality, and productivity. In development arenas they tend to offer veni, vidi, vici model – pragmatic approach to delivering the product and no concern for recurring tasks, when it comes to providing ongoing services they are typically very pragmatic and process oriented. They do not tend to dazzle you with marketing materials and prefer to quickly cut to the chase. If they want to show off anything than it’s typically their weapons – advanced tools – for example a development framework they developed and refined over the years.

Besides obvious benefits of SWAT teams (efficiency, reliability, focus, etc.) there are a few exceptionally important aspects that set SWAT teams apart from a majority of service providers including most prominent companies. To some degree you can call those aspects “advanced tools” as well:

  • Established network of technology leaders and individual contributors of all ranks.
  • Time and scale proven technologies, solutions, libraries, patterns, and reusable components.
  • Best of breed technology tools as well as process, policies, and methodologies.
  • Established relationships with software and hardware vendors.
  • Established partnerships with consulting organizations and offshore providers.

I hope by now I made it obvious that SWAT teams are the teams to find and work with. The trick is the “find” part since there are not that many of them and plus there are plenty of imposters. To a large degree that is very much like for employees – “looking for people is very much like digging for gold, you literally need to go through tons of dirt, but you are looking for gold, not for dirt.”

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