Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 10;   March 12, 2003: Some Costs of COTS

Some Costs of COTS

by

Last updated: July 18, 2019

As a way of managing risk, we sometimes steer our organizations towards commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, methodologies, designs, and processes. But to gain a competitive edge, we need creative differentiation.

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 edge
Jane 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
A toasterThe 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Games for Meetings: III  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Footnotes

[Eastwood 1990]
The RookieNick Pulovski (character played by Clint Eastwood) in The Rookie. Dir. Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen. 1990. Order from Amazon.com.
Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

The crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979Accepting Reality
Those with organizational power can sometimes forget that their power is limited to the organization. Achieving high levels of organizational and personal performance requires a clear sense of those limits.
Dunes in Death Valley, CaliforniaHill Climbing and Its Limitations
Finding a better solution by making small adjustments to your current solution is usually a good idea. The key word is "usually."
A black kite, a species of hawkEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: II
Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases — let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content, even when what they contain is little more than "um."
The Niagara River and cantilever bridgeBottlenecks: I
Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?
Rep. John Boehner displays the Speaker's gavelEnding Sidebars
We say that a sidebar is underway in a meeting when two or more meeting participants converse without having been recognized by the chair. Sidebars can be helpful, but they can also be disruptive. How can we end sidebars quickly and politely?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A meeting held in a long conference room.Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
A dictionaryAnd on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!