Podcast 32: In-house vs. outsourcing

Paul Boag

Decisions, decisions… develop in house or use a third party web design company? This is discussed in this weeks podcast along with other bits and pieces.

The decision of whether to develop your website in house (by taking on additional staff) or outsource it to the third party web design company can be a tricky. This week Paul and Marcus look at the pros and cons of both approaches as well as throwing in some additional options for good measure.

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Also in this weeks show:

In-house vs. outsourcing

The decision of how you are going to resource your web project will radically affect not only the price of the project but also how that website develops in the future. It is therefore important to understand the options available to you and to know the pros and cons of each.

Although there are some alternative approaches that I will discuss later, you basically have two options available:

  • You can use internal resources within your organisation to develop your new web project. This can either be existing staff or new employees that have been recruited specifically to work on the website.
  • You can outsource the project to a specialist web design agency who can work either on a fixed price or time and material basis.

Either option has both its advantages and disadvantages:

In-house development

In short, an internal development team demonstrates a greater commitment to placing the web at the heart of your business

If you envisage that your site is going to need ongoing support and development (beyond basic text amendments that could be completed via a CMS) then hiring in-house staff may well be the best way to proceed. Although this does produce an ongoing financial commitment in the form of salary, equipment and training, it will ultimately be cheaper than the higher rates you will be forced to pay an external agency. An in-house development team will not only understand your business better than an external agency but will also be in a position to push the virtues of the web internally on an ongoing basis.

In short, an internal development team demonstrates a greater commitment to placing the web at the heart of your business and a vision to ensure your site evolves overtime instead of going through sporadic redesigns.

Outsourcing your web project

External agencies are often better placed for dealing with more challenging sites.

Of course having an in-house team isn’t always appropriate. For a start the ongoing financial commitment may simply not be an option even where site evolution is the preferred approach. Secondly, external agencies can sometimes have the advantage when it comes to complex and cutting edge sites. External agencies are normally larger than in-house teams including more specialists in specific fields (e.g. accessibility, usability etc). In addition because of the competitive nature of external agencies there is more pressure on them to keep up-to-date with the latest innovations and developments. As a result they are often better placed for dealing with more challenging sites.

Finally there is a danger in some organisations that the in-house web team can become “institutionalised” whereas an external agency will bring a fresh perspective that can challenge internal preconceptions.

Management mistakes

Of course the biggest factor in undermining in-house teams can often be mistakes made by management and not anything to do with the team itself. One such problem is recruiting the wrong person for the job. Often smaller organisations will recruit a web developer when what they really need is a web strategist and evangelist. Although coding and design are important skills, a smaller organisation needs to have somebody with business acumen that can help the organisation identify opportunities to utilise the web and to promote its use internally.

However, probably the biggest mistake made my management is ignoring the internal team they have. As a member of an external agency who works with in-house teams on a regular basis, I am constantly amazed how often we are brought in only to validate what the in-house team has already been saying. It is as if our presence is required simply to mediate in the internal politics that can often be found in larger organisations.

Other approaches

Of course choosing how to develop your website doesn’t need to be a black and white choice between in-house or outsource. There are in fact a number of other options to suit different organisations:

Ad-hoc specialists

For larger organisations it may sometimes be appropriate to bring in specialists to compliment an existing in-house team. For example specialists in accessibility, usability or design can often work well alongside an in-house team primarily made up of coders.

Part time contractors

For smaller organisations that cannot afford fulltime in-house staff but who wish to enjoy the benefits that come with that approach, there is the option to take on a part-time contractor. These individuals will probably have 2 or 3 websites they manage on a regular basis but still will be able to work more closely with you than an external agency.

Maintenance contract with an external agency

Although probably the most expensive approach, maintenance contract with an external agency does provide the best level of service. If the agency provide the right kind of service this can be very much like working with an in-house team. The agency will really get to understand the business, evolve your website on a regular basis and still provide all of the benefits of an external agency.


In many ways the title of this entry is somewhat misleading. The decision between development in-house or outsourcing is not a black and white one. Different solutions are right for different organisations. However I believe one thing is universally true, whether you use an external agency or in-house staff, you need a “website owner” within your organisation who is the project manager for any work done and the evangelist for the site within your company.