Product Management Expert Adam Atzion on Outsourcing Your MVP and Managing Freelance Developers

Creating your MVP is a critical step in the journey of your startup. And because it needs to happen early in the life-cycle of a business, odds are you don’t have an in-house tech team on hand to built it. Labs mentor, Adam Atzion, product manager at Pampuni, held a Labs session all about building an MVP and how to do it right when you’re outsourcing your tech development.

Why you need an MVP before you think about raising money

You could have an incredible, industry-changing idea. “But everyone has ideas. An idea is not enough,” Atzion says. “You need to bring something else, and that something is your MVP. And by MVP, I mean proof of concept. You need to get that done before you reach out to a CTO or angel investors or venture capitalists.”

How to vet outside developers

Unless you’re technically savvy enough to build your own MVP, you’re probably looking at hiring outsourced help to get it done. And Atzion says you’d be surprised by what you can get done with freelance developers found on sites like Upwork. The key is hiring the right people for the right job.

There are many sites you can use to find solid freelance developers, but Atzion uses Upwork as an example of a large online marketplace for exactly this type of work. “But it’s not just about the tool you use,” he says. “It’s about how you get the juice out of it. First, know when to elaborate. On most online marketplaces, freelancers pay to apply for each job or project through a credit system. They’re not going to apply for every single job that’s posted. So if, for example, the posting template calls for a short description and you put a long one, it makes it less likely that people will apply. And I would create a one pager that describes the project. I’ve gotten a lot of attention by doing that, and it helps attract the right people.”

You should also carefully read any reviews or feedback about developers who apply for your job. “That information makes it easy for you to decide whether someone is a fit for your project,” Atzion says. “For example, if you want to ave money and it’s a simple job, you can hire someone who, based on their feedback, seems to be more of a beginner. But if it’s a complex job and you need a real professional, you may read about their experience and find someone with a bigger portfolio.”

How to communicate in a way that gets your MVP built the way you want it

One of the biggest challenges about working with an outside developer is creating open and effective communication with them. “The key is creating specifications about what you’re asking them to do,” Atzion says. “And there are three forms of specification. First, there’s the mock-up. A mock-up is very visual, so you need some design skills to create it.” If that’s outside of your wheelhouse, “there’s the PRD, or product requirement document, which is a text document. The problem with this is it’s very dry, and if two people were to read it, they’d most likely come to two different conclusions about what they’re supposed to build.”

The best approach is to combine the two and create a wireframe, Atzion says. “It does involve some UX because where you place things has a lot of meaning for the developer. But it demonstrates your idea in a visual way using simple objects. You can use PowerPoint, for example. It’s not a design tool that you need to have a lot of experience to use, but you can create a screen, buttons, and text boxes with remarks for the developer. And that’s what so important. Notes like, ‘I want this to be a full screen, the site needs to be responsive, use JavaScript for this object,’ etc."

“Mastering your specification is like creating a great blueprint for a building,” Atzion says. “After an architect finishes the blueprints and hands them off to the construction worker, who starts building, questions only arise for two reasons. First, the architect didn’t do a great job and didn’t answer all of the questions the construction worker may have. Second, the construction worker is not experienced and doesn’t know how to read the blueprints. If you’re both doing your job, no questions should arrive and the project should be straightforward.”

Keep it Agile

No matter what form of communication you set up with your developer, whether it’s daily email updates, calls, or texts, “one basic idea that should be kept is the Agile methodology,” Atzion says. “It means creating your work in small sprints. The traditional sprint is 14 days, but I try to limit myself to three day sprints. It’s easier to be successful when the project is cut into small pieces.”

Your job as the person employing the developer is to make sure they have everything they need before a new sprint begins. “If you’re the architect and the developer is the construction worker, you need to ensure they have the maps, the illustrations, the blueprints, and that everything is well explained,” Atzion says.

Understand your role in the outsourced work and process

Atzion divides your role into three parts. “First, you’re the architect. You create the specification. Second, you’re the contractor—you’re making sure the work is getting done by the construction worker. You can’t just hand it off and say you’re headed to the beach. You need to be in touch on a daily basis, even hourly basis, with the developer to make sure that you answer all of their questions and that everything is clear. And the third role is doing the quality assurance tests on each and every thing the developer creates.”

Resist the urge to try to make your MVP your dream product

Last but certainly not least, remember what MVP stands for while you’re creating your specification, hiring a developer, and managing their work. It’s a minimum viable product, not your ideal product with all the bells and whistles you imagine it having in the future. “You’re not creating your second, third, or fourth version of your product. You’re creating something much more simple,” Atzion says. “Don’t overcomplicate it.”

Learn more about product development and product management.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

Interested in connecting directly with this mentor? Ask your Labs Manager for help.

You've successfully subscribed to WeWork Labs Insider
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to WeWork Labs Insider
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content. Check your email If you are not already signed in.