Build, buy, or hybrid? This is a question that software developers are constantly asking themselves when starting a project for a client.
Whether developers choose to build their product on their own from scratch, buy a pre-built model, or take a hybridized approach depends on their product type, skillset, and their development philosophy. At Nolte, we take the hybrid approach on just about every product, as we are working with lean teams that need to deliver robust solutions.
While this article is not intended to favor one software solution over the other, it does aim to give some tips and tricks on how to determine the use cases, and methods for discerning the correct path for your product. There have been entire books written on how to make the right decisions on technology as a whole, and this post will skip over much of that information. Instead, you’ll find a quick, simple process that can help you easily discover what method will be best for your team or company.
Of note: in some instances, we work with startups where Intellectual Property (IP) can be a huge asset for them, so we ensure that the solution is one that is designed, developed, and maintained by their companies exclusive ownership. Keep in mind that are legal issues when dealing with open source software, so I recommend conducting some research before accessing or activating any open source tools. The Linux Foundation has an Open Compliance Program which helps companies evaluate risks around using open source.
As with any technology, it is crucial to validate any hypotheses made around the problem you are trying to solve.
There are several DIY methods to accomplish this, such as running a full product sprint, which aims to deliver a working, tested prototype in an intensive 5-day sprint. Some other options include user persona development, prototype creation, and user testing. In any event, you should build custom software that has purpose and delivers value somewhere during the process, whether to the business or the end user. Without a vision and purpose, there is no way to test, evaluate, and leverage the created product. Whatever you’re working with, start with a hypothesis or goal.
Below, I’ve listed the pros and cons of build vs buy vs creating a hybrid product. When you’re assessing which is the right solution for you, always keep your intended objectives and hypotheses in mind.
Build your own software
Pros – Own the IP, Can contribute to open source as a bi-product, slower time to market, most flexibility.
Cons – More time consuming, high cost for maintenance.
Typical Use Cases – Digital / Software based companies will generally want to build and maintain their technology as it becomes part of the IP of the company and how they evaluate them.
Buy or Licence Software
Pros – Low upfront costs, low maintenance, quicktime to market.
Cons – low level of flexibility, restrictive functionality, generally does not solve ALL product problems, still require training and time to get up to speed. Generally need custom configuration and management.
Typical Use Cases – Most SaaS companies are what I would consider buy. These include hosting companies such as Heroku, CRM tools such as Sales Force, Marketing automation such as HubSpot or Pardot.
Hybrid Software (using both built and bought or licensed)
Pros – Low upfront costs, low maintenance costs, quicktime to market, IP ownership, flexibility.
Cons – Integration time and costs, maintenance costs are higher than solely buy.
Typical Use Cases – I’ve found that this is the solution most companies are using. A typical instance would be a marketing site that has some SaaS integrations for CRM, Marketing Automation, Analytics, Reporting, Chat, Premium Plugins/Features. Many of the WordPress based products we build subscribe to the hybrid model.
When it comes to selecting your method for developing a digital project, there is rarely a perfect fit from the beginning. However, by assessing your goals at the outset, whether it’s a fast delivery, an inexpensive solution, or an all-around high-performing site, you can find the best approach easily. At Nolte, I’ve found that utilizing a hybrid development approach results in successful products that are reasonable in cost, highly productive, and meet clients’ goals time and time again. What strategies do you use when determining your development strategy?
Share with us in the comments below; we’d love to hear!
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