By the time Jane arrived, Dave and Judith had already been over the question several times. A little out of breath, Jane sat down, sipped some of her famously strong coffee from the mug she always carried, and said, "So, what do you think?"
Judith began, "It comes down to Quasar or Elise. Quasar has a long list of big clients. Clearly they can do the work — they've done it before. On the other hand, Elise and her team have the know-how, and some clever ideas. And from their work on Marigold they know the business and everyone involved."
Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)
solutions are more likely to work,
but custom solutions are
more likely to give you the edgeJane sipped. "Tough choice."
Dave wondered if Jane ever slept. "Elise's proposal intrigues me," he said. "It could be the key to same-day approval. I just don't know if they can do it. Quasar has done it."
"Not same-day approval, they haven't," Judith said. "They've done big systems successfully, I'm convinced. But we need same-day approval."
Jane, Dave, and Judith are making a choice between a low risk, tried-and-true approach with little innovation, and a higher-risk, innovative approach that could provide competitive differentiation. Something similar is happening right now in hundreds of organizations around the world. It's always a difficult choice.
Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions are more likely to work, but they're less likely to give you the edge. Here are some thoughts to prepare you for the day when your turn comes to make this choice.
- Compliance has a downside
- An organization that overvalues compliance by its employees risks inhibiting their ability to innovate. Find a way to communicate to employees that compliance is important in some areas, and that creative differentiation is important in others. Off-the-shelf employees make an off-the-shelf organization.
- You aren't buying a toaster
- The term COTS is misleading — it suggests near-zero risk, as if the project were a toaster. There are no guarantees in complex projects. If "…you want a guarantee, buy a toaster." [Eastwood 1990]
- Your situation is one-of-a-kind
- Every product, service, and organization is unique. Their uniqueness creates risk. Using a vendor or technology that has been successful elsewhere isn't a mitigation strategy for the risks that arise from uniqueness.
- To run ahead of the herd, you must leave the herd behind
- To gain a competitive edge, you must do something different, something unique. Nobody ever got ahead by doing what everyone else was already doing.
- Make uniqueness a strategy
- Processes that won't differentiate your organization are candidates for COTS. But if you want to differentiate your organization, you'll have to do something different. Focus on processes that matter in a customer-visible way.
Customer expectations are rising continuously. What delights customers now will soon become the bare minimum. COTS helps you catch up when you're behind, but it can't put you in the lead. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- There Is No Rumor Mill
- Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually
false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage
- Assumptions and the Johari Window: II
- The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to the differing assumptions
of the parties to the conflict. Here's Part II of an essay on surfacing these differences using a tool
called the Johari window.
- Towards More Gracious Disagreement
- We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right,
or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some
thoughts to help you kick the habit.
- When It's Just Not Your Job
- Has your job become frustrating because the organization has lost its way? Is circumventing the craziness
making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?
- Solutions as Found Art
- Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they
aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways.
Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
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- And on April 3: Career Opportunity or Career Trap: I
- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap. Available here and by RSS on April 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
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