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:
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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