Staff Augmentation vs. Project-Based Consulting

Staff Augmentation vs. Project-Based Consulting

The planning process for a software project can be intensive, especially if you’re not sure you have all the resources you need to complete it.

Fortunately, there are many strategies that can help you acquire – and use – the right resources for your software development needs.

Among these options, the two most common are called staff augmentation and project-based consulting. But what exactly are these strategies? How are they different? And which one should you choose for your next software development project?

What Is Staff Augmentation?

What Is Staff Augmentation?

Let’s start with staff augmentation.

Staff augmentation is a term for hiring an external company to help fill any gaps in your current internal staff.

It’s easiest to understand this with an example. Let’s say you currently have an internal software development team with 10 people. You feel like this won’t be enough to complete your software development project in the time you’d like, so you call a staff augmentation company to help you close the gap.

You make an arrangement for the staff augmentation company to send 3 new software developers to work in your office, for a prearranged fee. They’ll only stay with your company for the duration of this project, or on a timeframe as determined by your specific arrangement.

Congratulations! You now have 13 developers to help you tackle this project.

The Benefits of Staff Augmentation

The Benefits and Challenges of Staff Augmentation

So, what are the benefits of this approach?

  • Vetted, experienced software developers. For starters, as long as you’re working with a reliable staff augmentation company, you can count on getting vetted, experienced software developers. As we’ll see, the project-based consulting approach can sometimes be more of a gamble. If you’re looking for the best, most talented people available for your budget, staff augmentation might be the best move.
  • Office-based work. Some software development companies like this software because it allows them to bring new, temporary software developers into the physical office. There are many advantages to this, such as being able to closely monitor and supervise their work; they’ll also get the opportunity to interact with other developers face to face. There are some downsides to this as well, as we’ll see in the next section.
  • Ease of use with existing development teams. If you already have a software development team, and you’re only looking for a few extra developers to add, staff augmentation is highly convenient. You can make use of your most talented resources while temporarily adding the new resources you need.
  • Local hours. Because you’ll all be working in the same location, you can work the same hours. When outsourcing, you’ll sometimes run into time zone issues that prevent software developers from working overlapping shifts. This isn’t a problem with dev staff augmentation.
  • Relatively low costs. Staff augmentation developers are typically associated with a higher rate than other workers. However, when you consider the benefits, these costs are relatively low. Staff augmentation is much simpler and cost effective than looking for full-time hires in most scenarios – though it’s still not as cost effective as project-based consulting.

The Challenges of Staff Augmentation

There are also some unique challenges associated with staff augmentation.

  • Research and analysis. If you’re going to hire reliable temporary software developers, you need to do exhaustive research and analysis. Not all software development staff augmentation companies are equally valuable, so it’s on you to research multiple different options and find the best fit for your needs.
  • Extra costs and HR needs. There are some extra costs associated with augmenting your staff, and your HR department will have some extra work to do. You’re responsible for taking care of these new hires as if they were employees of your own, which introduces some legal complexities you may not have to deal with when outsourcing.
  • Office requirements. Remember, staff augmentation means you’re going to have more people working in your physical office. You’ll be responsible for providing those people with desks, equipment, software, and other tools necessary to do the job – and your overall office costs may increase as well.
  • Lack of flexibility. You don’t have as much flexibility with staff augmentation as you do with project-based consulting. Staff augmentation companies typically have standard contracts and standard rules of conduct to which you must adhere. Compared to project-based consulting, there aren’t nearly as many options.

What Is Project-Based Consulting?

What Is Project-Based Consulting?

Project-based consulting is a slightly different approach.

You’ll sometimes hear this strategy referred to as outsourcing, and it comes with much more flexibility than staff augmentation.

That’s because there are several viable outsourcing options available to you. Regardless of whether you have an internal team or not, you’ll be relying on external parties to get more software developers to help you complete a project.

That could mean hiring a handful of freelancers/independent contractors you found through a simple search. It could mean working with a local software development company for a specific project. It could even mean outsourcing to a software development company overseas so that you can reduce your expenses.

The solutions here are numerous, and the right ones depend on your motivations. For example, if you’re simply trying to build a piece of software as cheaply as possible, outsourcing overseas makes more sense than working with a local development team.

The Benefits of Project-Based Consulting

The benefits and challenges of project based consulting

The benefits of project-based consulting are appealing to many software developers:

  • No extra HR or IT burden. You won’t need to burden your HR or IT departments with any new responsibilities or added legal complexities. You also won’t face any extra costs, beyond what you pay for the outsourcing. Project-based consulting is designed to be as simple as possible, meaning your organization can continue operations as normal.
  • No office requirements. You also have no office requirements. If you don’t have an office, this is especially valuable; you won’t need to provide your workers with any equipment, tools, or even a space to work (in most cases). If you’re already working in a small or crowded space, or if you work totally remotely, keep this advantage in mind.
  • Total flexibility. Project-based consulting is also favored because of its total flexibility. You can offshore the work to a company in another country, you can work with local people, you can coordinate a team of freelancers, or do a bit of everything. If you’re working with a freelancer and things aren’t working out, you can cut ties with them and move on. If you don’t like the terms of a deal, you can negotiate a change or find someone else. You’re never locked into anything, and you can create a partnership that truly works in your favor.
  • Low costs. Project-based consulting is typically less expensive than staff augmentation, especially if you’re willing to offshore the work or work with freelancers. The hourly rates are typically lower, there are fewer logistical complexities, and you won’t bear any additional costs in other departments of your organization. If you’re trying to develop software on the tightest possible budget, this is the option for you.

The Challenges of Project-Based Consulting

Of course, there are also some challenges in project-based consulting:

  • The necessity of vetting. Because you won’t have a staff augmentation company to do the work for you, you’ll be responsible for discovering, researching, and vetting software development candidates. This can be especially tough if you’re working with a company in another country, or if you’re trying to contact an elusive independent contractor.
  • Inconsistent results. Because project-based consulting takes so many forms and can manifest in so many ways, the results of this approach are extremely inconsistent. You might find an amazing, incredibly talented software developer willing to work for ridiculously low wages – or you might end up overpaying for someone who rarely shows up for work. Much depends on your unique individual approach and the choices you make.
  • Culture and timing challenges. If you decide to work with people in other areas of the country or in other countries around the world, project-based consulting can lead to cultural and timing challenges. You could run into a language barrier that makes it difficult to communicate. Your internal team and external team might never work the same hours. And software developers in other countries might have totally different philosophies on work ethic and development in general. Proactive communication can iron out many of these issues, but it’s still something you need to be aware of.
  • Teamwork issues. Staff augmentation is valuable in part because you can have new team members engage directly with your existing internal team in the same space and at the same time. Because this isn’t typically a reality for project-based consulting, you may run into some teamwork issues. If this project requires heavy and frequent collaboration, staff augmentation could be the superior approach.
  • Lack of immediate availability. Another appeal of staff augmentation is that staff augmentation companies always have available software developers, ready to go. This can be the case with project-based consulting, depending on the third parties you find, but it’s not a certainty.

Staff Augmentation vs. Project-Based Consulting: Which Is Best for Your Next Project?

Staff Augmentation vs. Project-Based Consulting

So, which is better for your next software development project? Should you use staff augmentation or project-based consulting to close the gaps in your currently accessible resources?

Both have strengths and weaknesses, and both are worth exploring.

Consider your:

  • Budget. Staff augmentation comes with a few extra benefits, but it also requires more from you in terms of both money and effort. If you’re working with a strict budget, project-based consulting is usually a better choice.
  • Existing team and office. If you don’t have an existing team or an existing office, project-based consulting is much more practical. If you already have a team of talented developers, a thriving office, and a desire to have everyone collaborating in person, staff augmentation is the way to go.
  • HR and IT capacity. Also think about your current HR and IT capacity. If you hire a staff augmentation firm, would you be able to provide your temporary new hires with all the HR support, equipment, and technology necessary to accommodate them?
  • Project nature. Finally, think about the nature of your project. The bigger and more complex the project is, the more impactful your decision is going to be. The more collaboration the project requires, the more you should lean toward staff augmentation. Just keep in mind that because project-based consulting is so versatile, it has the potential to fit more types of software development projects.

Before you can decide whether you want to use staff augmentation or project-based consulting for your next software development project, you need to get a firm grasp on your needs and limitations.

We can help you with that – and help you find the perfect solution for your software development needs.

Want to learn more? Or are you ready for a software development project consultation? Contact us for more information today!


Ryan is the VP of Operations for He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations--delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.
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Ryan Nead