Giant Machines does not consider itself a typical, formulaic “dev shop.” This is in part because the term can often connote ways of working that run counter to our approach. We don’t even put ourselves in the same category as “dev shops.” At Giant Machines, we focus on building partnerships alongside products. A focus for us is to avoid information asymmetry. Clients and GM create an action plan and determine product requirements together, working toward a shared objective rather than a zero-sum outcome where corners get cut to minimize costs.
But how do we do this—and how do we do it well? Let us explain.
- The common pitfall: Clients don’t directly interact with and collaborate with the builders (and vice versa!)
The GM way: We integrate our team with our client’s team
We’re careful to circumvent a common framework that can stem from this knowledge gap. We focus on avoiding this gatekeeper role for the client, where engineers, product, and designers are only available to the client via a sales person or project manager. This way of working doesn’t allow clients to learn and develop self-sufficiency around the product.
With the GM approach, we integrate our teams so there is no misalignment on needs or decisions. Clients can get real-time feedback about the product development process, ensuring that the success criteria are fully met. This approach de-risks the project for both teams.
- The common pitfall: Clients simply request products and features
The GM way: We uncover the value and strategy before defining, and developing, the product and features
We avoid a transactional model of simply executing client feature requests. Instead, GM seeks to understand the “why” from both a macro and micro perspective together with the client. At a macro level, answering the “why” unlocks insights into the “what:” What are we driving toward, and how should that inform decision-making during product development?
Put frankly, Product Director Nicole Rufuku says GM is not just going to build what you told us you want. Instead, we’re going to ask the question: why? And we will help you answer that question.
“We’re going to help you make smarter decisions, and we’re going to be like a shaman guide in that process because those are really hard questions to answer,” she says. “That’s harder than the actual process of building the technology. If you answer those questions well upfront and throughout the process, then the building becomes more straightforward.”
- The common pitfall: Clients get a product but no knowledge of how it’s been created or how to carry it forward themselves
The GM way: We make you smarter along the way
According to Nicole, client education and coaching throughout the product development process occurs through Giant Machines’ emphasis on transparency and collaboration. As part of the build, GM aims to demonstrate what the process entails and what building technology is about.
“The journey of building software is a winding one,” she says. “There can be a lot of cliff edges and surprises. And along the way, the team needs to make tough decisions. Collaboration means that we make those decisions with the client, rather than making these calls on our own and hoping that the client will learn to live with them.”
- The common pitfall: Teams dive right into product development
The GM way: We go slow (at first) to go fast
At the start of a project, both GM and the client possess something the other must have in order to be successful.
“The client may not understand the technology or know how to build the product or how to communicate their needs with their own engineering and IT teams. We don’t necessarily know their business, their customers, and the product’s context within the client organization in terms of infrastructure,” says CTO Frank Cantelmi. “So that’s why we frontload our client work with in-depth questions and interviews to acquire that knowledge and drive better decisions.”
Without fully understanding what the client is driving toward, we can’t reach the success metrics we define together.
“As a technologist, there are millions of micro decisions that define a product,” Frank says. “There might be a database choice or something very technical that you don’t want to have a million meetings for.”
Going slow—at first— allows the client and Giant Machines to determine the “why” and the “what,” allowing the build to progress at speed and scale.
- The common pitfall: Clients are forced to start from square one
The GM way: We meet you where you are
Every client’s needs and circumstances are unique, and we adapt accordingly.
We don’t work with our clients in a formulaic or dogmatic way. Instead, we work toward a clear understanding of what work the client has already done and what decisions have already been made. This could be anything from wireframes to full feature explorations, customer research and tech stack decisions.
“That’s an important nuance that part of the experience for our clients is that while we know the 100 steps it may take to get from here to there and you’ve already taken 80,” says we’ll meet you at step 81 and bring you to step 100,” says Director of Product Sam Ha.