A Cure for the 'Not Invented Here' Syndrome

Jun 19, 2018 | by Wolf Ruzicka

Technology is accelerating at such a rate that it permeates all industries. In fact, software is the only industry that cuts horizontally across all verticals. Here at EastBanc Technologies, most of our customers are not software product companies, yet they are embracing technology even though their core vertical is something else entirely.

However, we frequently encounter the “not invented here” syndrome where companies are heavily biased toward tools designed in-house and averse to the idea of externally-developed products. In cases like these, we explain that experience, retained knowledge, and skill (at the systemic, individual, and team level) are essential prerequisites to efficiencies and success in an enterprise level software project. Building a new software product, unlike tweaking an acquired tool, requires a team who has done it multiple times.

Think of it this way. Has Mercedes Benz ever built an enterprise software product? Of course not. Just like we’ve never built a car.

But that doesn’t mean a company has to approach software development as a wholesale outsource effort either. In-house engineering teams play a key role in the development of custom tools. They have a keen understanding of their internal customer pain points and what areas require improvement. But, when it comes to creating a software product from scratch, the proficiency likely isn’t there. In 99% of cases, in-house engineers have limited experience working alongside a software product architect, system architect, or an enterprise architect at scale to create a minimal viable software product.

The implications are significant:

Hire the Right Expert

Experienced software product teams with hundreds of projects under their belt can help you avoid these complications. They know what to look out for before issues arise. They are also more likely to have experience with agile methodologies that embrace being proactive versus reactive which is not as common in the “not invented here” environment. You wouldn’t expect your car mechanic to be able to design a car from scratch. And, not every software engineer can build a product from the ground up. Use the right experts for the specific job, not just a team with related experience.

Instead, use in-house engineers in ways they can make significant individual contributions to the development process. For instance, they play a critical role in assisting the external team in prioritizing feature development and tackling individual tasks. Ultimately, as the drivers of the effort, they also serve an important role as the internal rock stars!

Learn from the Mistakes of Others

Agile development is easy to study and easy to grasp, but to do it well on large, mission-critical efforts requires unique real-world experience. The benefit of breaking through the “not invented here” syndrome is reflected in the old adage: “A smart person learns from their own mistakes. A genius learns from the mistakes of others.” A strategic in-house team should embrace the experience held by outside partners who have already made their mistakes.

A powerful, synergetic effect occurs when internal and external experts collaborate towards a mutual goal. Both sides are co-dependent and couldn’t do it without each other – or at least not as well. Because Agile depends on tight collaboration across cross-functional teams, knowledge sharing is optimized, and a greater common understanding is achieved – and this extends to the executive level as well.

Unfortunately, executives often aren’t aware of this complex interplay and would be well advised to stay engaged in each initiative on a regular basis. They needn’t be involved all the time but scheduling periodic, short feedback loops will ensure they benefit from minuscule pieces of fast progress and foster the right processes across IT. This will ensure they see immediate, incremental results, get exactly what they need, and drive greater engagement.

Don’t Assume the “Not Invented Here” Risk

Without an experienced partner and an all in-house approach to software development, the risk of failure is yours alone. Executives should be risk managers. If they allow the “not invented here” syndrome into their organization, then they accept a much higher degree of risk. With an expert vendor, you share it or can even move it to them completely.

Trying to build something in-house for the first time, will take much longer than if you’ve done it a hundred times, delaying value creation for customers. In today’s fast evolving tech environment, this could mean losing the edge, delayed revenue generation, and lost opportunity.