Buy Vs. Build – The Political Aspect

I’ve been involved in quite a few “Buy vs. Build” decisions over the years. Too many, in fact — but I’ll get to that in a second. The decisions have a familiar tenor to them; we more or less make the decision we wanted to make when we raise the question, and we find evidence to support our decision.

I’m joking. But only slightly.

As much as I hate to say it, even if we were to apply the most rigorous objective standard to the Buy vs. Build problem, there’s still the human aspect, dare I say it, the political aspect to the problem.

That political aspect to the decision is probably the most important, because people don’t make decisions based on data, they make decisions based on feelings.

To solve for this wrinkle, it helps to understand people’s backgrounds. If your team doesn’t have a lot of experience with Document DBs, you may find either they are overly apprehensive towards persuing a DocumentDB solution, or they are a little too eager to implement a DocumentDB solution because it would be good for their learning experience. It may even release dopamine for them to learn this new technology.

With all that in mind, here’s what I look at when leading a team that’s making a buy vs. build decision from a political perspective:

  1. Does the team have experience in the domain they want to ‘build’ in?
  2. What are the background of the people on the team? Do they specialize in a particular technology or does their resume have lots of different stacks and technologies in it?
  3. What is the political will for building? For buying?
  4. Do your organization’s OKRs/KPIs optimize for very short term results? Do they even have the understanding of ‘long’ projects? What about organizational impact? Growth? Learning?
  5. How hard is it to procure technology licenses in your organization? How hard is it to start a new project?
  6. What’s the reputational impact on the team in 6 months if we build and it goes south? If we buy and it goes south? 1 year? 3 years?
  7. Is the team that is making the build/buy decision part of the profit center of the company or a cost center?
  8. Are the people making the decision close to the business or far away from it?
  9. Is there an executive sponsor that is pre-disposed to build? to buy? Is that executive sponsor’s position in the organization solid? tenuous?
  10. Is the project that the build/buy decision supports reputationally risky? Is there broad organizational buy-in for the project?
  11. How are costs charged in your organization? Are they charged to the team when you purchase licenses? are they charged to the team when you build an organizational platform?

There are lots more political questions you can ask, and I’d love if you shared yours. Hit reply and let me know.

Leave a Reply