Building or Buying Your Way to Success in Product Management?

Product Management is a multifaceted field that requires a harmonious blend of strategy, creativity, and technical acuity. Every product manager, at some point in their journey, faces the critical decision of whether to build a new feature or technology in-house or to procure it from an external source. This build vs. buy dilemma is not only a product development issue but also a vital strategic decision that can determine a company’s trajectory.

The Core of Build vs. Buy Decisions in Product Management

Choosing between building a proprietary solution or purchasing an existing one from a vendor involves several considerations. These range from strategic alignment with corporate objectives, time-to-market constraints, cost comparisons, simplicity, and considerations such as data security and compliance—factors that companies like Microsoft weigh heavily in their product development processes.

Strategic Alignment

Products must resonate with the company’s mission and goals. Microsoft PowerPoint’s PM Manager reiterates the importance of ensuring that technology investments align with the broader organizational strategy, emphasizing that solutions outside this scope are candidates for third-party sourcing.

Time-to-Market and Competency

Market demands can pressurize organizations to deliver quickly. If internal development extends beyond competitive timelines, buying becomes the preferable option. Additionally, companies need to consider whether they possess the necessary competencies to build the desired solution or if they would be better off leveraging the expertise of established vendors.

Cost, Simplicity, and Compliance

The cost of development—both initial and ongoing—must be juxtaposed against the licensing and integration costs of purchasing a solution. Solutions introducing unnecessary complexity or technical debt can hinder rather than help, steering the decision towards building an in-house solution tailored to existing architectures. Furthermore, corporations like Microsoft cannot compromise on data security, which often tips the scale in favor of developing bespoke solutions.

Frameworks and Industry Insights

Frameworks are instrumental for navigating through the build vs. buy decision-making process. A PM Manager from the Microsoft PowerPoint team recommends considering industry trends and utilizing frameworks that incorporate strategic and tactical parameters to facilitate these decisions.

Despite the frameworks available, the decision ultimately hinges on numerous factors, including corporate stage and culture. For example, startups lean towards buying due to their focus on speed and agility, while large multinationals like Microsoft might opt to build to ensure compliance, security, and customization.

Crafting a Product Roadmap in the Face of Uncertainty

The conundrum doesn’t end with the decision to build or buy; what follows is charting a product’s future through a product roadmap. A product roadmap should detail an ordered list of enhancements, new features, and, just as importantly, engineering improvements. This dynamic tool must allow room for tactical flexibility while staying strategically focused.

Product Roadmap Essentials

The roadmap should emphasize core user journeys and business objectives, with allowances for engineering bandwidth to address any unexpected tech debt. As per industry experts, approximately 30% of engineering resources should be earmarked for such adjustments.

Transparent communication is vital for maintaining alignment across teams, especially when stakeholder preferences may swap at a breakneck pace. Having a standardized goal-setting framework like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) can solidify this alignment.

Conclusion

The art of product management involves making educated decisions that can significantly impact a product’s competitive edge and a company’s resource allocation. Balancing build vs. buy decisions requires analytical prowess, industry insights, and a deep understanding of a company’s strategic objectives. While such choices are pervasive throughout one’s product management career, frameworks and strategic planning can guide these decisions towards success, as manifested by industry giants like Microsoft. With product roadmaps steering the voyage, product managers can navigate their way through the uncertain waters of technological advancement and market demands, securing triumph in the artful management of products.

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