When you are about to start building something the first question to ask is, of course: couldn’t we buy it somewhere. In project management theory there is a seriously-sounding name for this consideration – “make or buy analysis”. It is described in books as a process of considering, weighting benefits and costs of both options to arrive finally to a final conclusion. All that looks pretty impartial, scientific almost .

However, in the real world some other issues come to play – as I can observe recently. Apart from the obvious – politics or egos at play – some beliefs and training affect such decisions very much.

There are for example believers in the Church of Outsourcing, who believe that building anything that can be bought is absurd by definition – and it is a given that doesn’t require any further substantiation. There are those who subscribe to the Cult of Scale – those believe that everything scales ideally, linearly. There are probably some other churches.

However there is something deeper – it is managers training. Managers are expected to deliver predictable results at minimal risk. When faced with a decision that means choosing between doing things by the book or in a new way they tend to choose doing it by the book. That means predictable, known process yielding predictable results at predictable costs. “Make or buy” means in fact – make something new (to an extent unknown) or buying something existing (largely known). Deciding to choose “buy” is safer, because there is less risk but it precludes the benefit that “make” has – that what will be made might be in some way better.

In other words – if you decide to go by the book you get results from the book. If you go for something new you face higher risk, but there is a reward for it. I think many managers decide to go for less risk because that’s how they have been trained and that’s what they are used to. And also because in many organizations their personal reward comes more from predictability than innovation.

Observing all that reminds my of the quote from Suzuki Roshi – “In the beginner’s mind there are countless possibilities, in the expert’s there are few”. And makes me look more closely at where I stand in all that – and why? Am I attached too much to what we have developed already? Or did I still manage to keep my mind open?