From startups to large enterprises, the question of ‘Should we build or should we buy?’ is a perennial issue for engineering leaders.
Challenges in this debate can range from cost and business value, to team morale, ego, and bureaucracy. With so many factors, how can engineering leaders today navigate the decision?
Episode 1: Software platforms: DIY vs. buying it
Dawn Parzych breaks down build vs. buy in this article, separating the decision-making into topics of cost, functionality, and experience. She takes a detailed look at what each heading entails if you buy or if you build, giving the reader an in-depth guide for navigating their own journey.
Episode 2: To build, or to buy, that is the question
Wouter Van Geluwe approaches build vs. buy through the case study of a customer data platform in this article and uses it to make the reader aware of three common pitfalls in a build vs. buy decision. These pitfalls include not factoring in unknown customers, not answering the questions of stakeholders, and not thinking thoroughly about the maintenance of bought solutions.
Josh Barr knows what it’s like when a build clearly isn’t working anymore, and when the switch to buy needs to be made. In this article, he walks the reader through his journey at Xero from using a struggling, internally-built product to achieving velocity with an external solution. Josh explores the challenges they faced, how they executed their search for a vendor, and how they tested that vendor against their built product for maximum improvement.
Episode 4: The long tail of product features
In this article, Arjen De Ruiter explores how to grow from a product to a platform company using the product long tail. This involves a small development team focusing on the company’s core product itself and then working with external partners to provide additional solutions. Through making this organizational shift, Arjen describes how organizations can maximize business value, and gives the reader an in-depth guide to the framework.
This article is an in-depth writeup of a roundtable discussion LeadDev hosted; focusing on the experiences of attendees in their companies past and present as they navigated this particular decision-making process.
The discussion included a presentation from LaunchDarkly’s Dawn Parzych on the ten things leaders should consider when build vs. buy decision-making, and stories of built feature flagging tools going wrong, bought products slowing teams down, and what happens when you regret a build vs. buy decision – but it’s not a decision you made. Participants ended the conversation understanding the impact of context, and how the best thing they can do is to learn the considerations they need to balance, and accept that the decision they make is right ‘for the current climate’. This healthy acceptance then enables organizations to adapt and change their tooling decisions as they themselves adapt and change.
Episode 6: Addressing the challenges of build vs. buy
LeadDev then hosted another roundtable discussion on build vs. buy, and this article is the writeup of the second event.
Attendees of this roundtable also watched Dawn Parzych’s presentation, and then went on to have a discussion based on the following questions:
- What’s most important when considering buy vs. build?
- What is something you bought and ended up building?
- What have you regretted building in the past?
- What are you currently considering buying or building?
Attendees largely focused on discussing core competencies, not only having the competency to support and maintain a build, but also the competency of the business value: is the build going to distract from doing what needs to be done to serve customers? Regrets of building machine learning pythons, email marketing systems, and OKR tooling also surfaced, and the roundtable ended with the majority of attendees wanting to look into Wardley Mapping going forward as a tool to aid their decision-making process.
This conversation centered around the costs of build vs. buy decisions, and how to navigate them, with our panelists – Omar Koncobo (IT Director at Ulta), Andrea Heyman (Software Engineer at Etsy), Sangeeta Narayanan (Media Cloud Engineering Director at Netflix) and Dan Blundell (Head of Core Engineering at Gymshark) – and moderator – Rod Begbie (Engineering Leadership Coach at BestPracticer) – discussing their own experiences of doing so.
During this discussion, our panelists explored:
- What first question they would ask an engineering leader coming to them for advice on build vs. buy
- What makes a build vs. buy decision easier to make
- How to think about and evaluate costs of a built vs. bought solution
- Ways to break through the mindset of ‘We made our decision, so now we have to stick with it’
- Overcoming internal reluctance to bought solutions
A final takeaway
The debate of build vs. buy is perennial for a reason; the weight of circumstance and context is heavy in this decision-making process, and no one can decide for an engineering leader whether build or buy is the correct move for their organization.
Knowing the considerations, and practicing healthy acceptance and empathy for themselves and their teams ensures that leaders can have confidence in the path they choose to take, and act accordingly when this path isn’t quite right anymore.