6 Questions to Ask Before Building a Home-Grown System: Why Building a Home-Grown Solution for Your Strategy Execution Doesn’t Always Work
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak to individuals from a diverse group of companies on the leading edge of strategy execution at AchieveIt’s StrategyExecution event. In addition to discussing best practices around building a plan for execution and how to create a culture of execution, a large topic of discussion was operationalizing strategic plans.
At least daily, we at AchieveIt speak to clients and prospective clients about ways to operationalize plans. Every day I hear about new processes and technologies, the majority of which seem to make execution extremely difficult. Fortunately, more and more people using manual tools like the Microsoft Office suite are beginning to switch to tools like AchieveIt to improve their execution.
Despite this change, there is one situation that continues to perplex me: the decision to build versus buy a solution. Having used a home-grown system in a previous life, I can personally attest that it doesn’t always succeed as planned. With that in mind, I’ve developed six questions that I typically ask someone considering building versus buying their strategy execution tool.
1. Does your development team have the expertise and core competency in Strategy?
While most organizations have IT resources, building something specifically for strategy takes industry expertise. If in-house IT and development teams don’t understand the ins and outs of strategy, and particularly strategy execution, it’s likely the software will miss the mark. If they don’t have the expertise, it is also important to think about what additional time will be spent in development that prevents them from working on other internal projects.
Like Michael Wilkinson just said in our most recent webinar, “You can use PowerPoint to write a book, or Excel to make a presentation. But it’s not what each tool was built specifically for.” There are tools out there made by strategy experts, specifically for strategists. Using a tool that is designed from the start to enable the 4 drivers of execution to give strategists a break from having to describe the intricacies of strategy execution to those within different areas of expertise.
2. Does your development team have the capacity to provide ongoing support and updates?
Far too often I’ve seen organizations make the decision to build a system without thinking about long-term development. While an organization may have resources up-front to develop a new system, it is critically important to think about the ongoing maintenance, support, and future development that is necessary for success. I’ve yet to see a software solution that works flawlessly from day one without needing bugs fixed or improvements made, so it’s likely it won’t work flawlessly for an in-house solution either. Not to mention, it’s highly likely that you will want to continue to make iterations to your software to ensure long-term success in this agile business world.
When considering the resources needed, don’t just focus on the short-term and forget about what’s needed throughout the life of the software. Most of the clients I’ve worked with who switched to AchieveIt, for example, were blown away by the fact they didn’t have to submit a ticket for changes/enhancements and that we made updates every two weeks.
3. How soon do you need the product?
In the realm of strategy and strategy execution, there is often no time to waste. While developing a solution with existing resources may be preferred internally, strongly consider how long the development will take. What key initiatives and strategies are at risk of not being completed due to the development time? What are the impacts on your business of not achieving these goals?
It pays to be realistic about estimating your development timeframe, as well as the transparent cost of traded time. It may not be pleasant to crunch the numbers, but it’s the only way you can know whether or not a home-grown solution is literally worth your time (or money).
4. Does your team bring expertise from other companies and industries executing strategies?
While there is no doubt your IT team can develop software, one of the greatest benefits of buying versus building is the industry backing and experience your chosen team brings to the table. Strategy execution is difficult for organizations of all shapes and sizes across industries. Consider the free information and best practices you may be ignoring by building your own solution.
I can really only speak to AchieveIt specifically, but understanding the difficulty and importance of execution, we’ve packaged our software with industry-leading best practices and support gathered from thousands of hours spent directly with clients in similar situations. This addition is definitely worth weighing into your pros and cons list.
5. Would the tool you create be useful to just one team, or would it have a broader use you can apply to multiple departments?
I know, through talking to clients and prospective clients, that a major headache is the inability to view multiple plans in the same place, at the same time. Several clients that have come to use AchieveIt after utilizing home-grown solutions typically cite this as a negative of the abilities of their internal software. If your IT spends time (and therefore dollars) developing a system from scratch that only one department, e.g. the Office of Strategy, can use, is it really worth it?
To be clear, AchieveIt may not solve the needs of every group in every organization. But having a dashboard and an overall view of what’s on track, off track, or at risk across many different teams is hugely helpful to heads of other departments, as well as C-level employees. If your homegrown software isn’t mapped to make that easy to see, it may be worth re-evaluating.
6. Are there existing products in the market that meet your needs?
If your first inclination is to build a product internally, please do your organization a favor and conduct a quick scan of the existing market. Whether you are in strategy or another field in need of a new solution, the emergence of SaaS solutions continues to expand, enabling purchasing decisions to be easier every day. Who knows, your perfect solution may already exist, which could save a considerable amount of time and money. But even if the perfect solution isn’t there, don’t immediately decide to build.
In the world of software, consider how close a software meets your needs. Make a checklist of hopes/desires and evaluate solutions accordingly. Many SaaS companies are always looking to improve their software based on client wants and needs, because if you’re looking for it – chances are someone else is too. While it’s highly likely that no provider will meet all of your wishes, it’s worth considering if the benefits outweigh the negatives as well as what tradeoffs you are willing to make.
One SaaS Solution to Strategy Execution
At AchieveIt, we’ve taken all six of these questions into consideration through our growth as a company to ensure organizations enhance execution through innovative software and industry best practices. Before you decide to build your own software, or use a piecemealed one, take a test drive of AchieveIt.