It is important to have the right skills available on your team if it is to be successful. But what do you do when you know there is a gap in the available skill set among your team members? One way to quickly fill that gap is to add consultants to the mix. Let’s look at some strategies for finding those additional team resources for that next hard-to-staff project.

A quick fix for short-term needs
In today’s highly dynamic IT shops, development managers are often faced with rapidly changing staffing needs based on project requirements. This has spurred many organizations to downsize to a “core” development staff made up of key personnel who can handle day-to-day service requests. Consultants or short-term contract professionals can then be acquired to handle increased resource requirements for individual projects.

Look locally
If you’ve decided to use a consultant to help fill some gaps in your development team’s skill set, you should know your options. Here are three general categories of short-term contracting professionals you can find close to home.

Independent contractors/consultants
The least costly of short-term help is the independent contractor. This professional usually has a specific talent that’s high in demand and short in supply.

For the contracting organization, this person represents the highest risk in the event of failure. Therefore, many organizations don’t rely on independent consultants for mission-critical applications. Instead, they employ them as supplemental staffing for routine application work.

Professional consulting groups
Many organizations will contract with professional consulting groups to cover strategic project resource requirements. These firms maintain a standing in-house reserve of available consultants with diverse talents who are assigned to temporary projects.

Because the consulting group maintains a wealth of talent, the risk is reduced for the hiring organization. Contracts with consulting groups often include penalties and risk sharing in the event of failure. To cover expenses, fees are usually substantially higher in these contracts.

Software development firms
Often, a project is put out to bid to a contracting organization. This is frequently a means to cut costs when a customized solution is necessary. Typically, the hiring organization will comanage the development using the contracting firm’s resources.

Cost to the hiring organization is usually controlled by the contract. This solution can be less expensive than developing in-house or employing the help of professional consultants.

Go abroad
If you’re unable to find the skills you need in your own backyard, it might be time to expand your horizons. With the development of the Internet, contractors are becoming available from around the world.

Independent foreign contractors
Many independent foreign contractors seek opportunities in the United States for short-term and long-term assignments. Organizations often pursue these professionals for specialty skills otherwise unavailable through traditional means. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) requires the completion of an H-1B work visa application prior to any job offer, which is usually a process of six to 10 weeks.

Cost and risk are usually low in these agreements because of the level of commitment necessary from both parties. But due to the visa process, you can typically expect a substantial wait for the resource to become available.

Offshore consulting groups
The most recent development in contracting is the rapid rise in offshore firms offering inexpensive consulting help. Offshore consulting groups usually provide a wide range of software development services from a remote location via the Internet.

Many development managers believe contracts of this type run a high risk due to communication issues. One way to offset this concern is for the consulting group to maintain a physical presence at the contracting business’s location in the form of a project manager or a team leader.

Many organizations are reducing the size of their in-house development teams in favor of a project-oriented approach to staffing. Specific skills are acquired from external sources to provide the necessary resources to staff in-house projects.

As a team leader or development manager, you currently have many options to choose from. It’s up to you to analyze your organization’s needs and, based on project constraints, strike a balance between cost and risk.