Project Management Thoughts

Build vs. Purchase: The Pros & Cons of DIY

Confession: I’m a bit of a Pinterest junkie. There. I said it.

I can frequently be found with my iPad roaming around Pinterest for ideas on handmade jewelry, recipes, house ideas and more recently, tying fishing flies. What can I say, I have eclectic hobbies.

This time of year, I start making grand plans in my head for the holidays. I commit in all earnestness to making gifts, planning meals, new decorations – all kinds of things.

These plans have become a bit of a personal tradition – with varying degrees of success by New Years. Typically, somewhere along the way, I’m not able to finish everything that I planned to make. So that handmade ________ gets replaced by something from the mall or the grocery store.

So which is the better route – doing it yourself or buying a finished product?

There are three factors that usually sway the outcome of my plans: Time, Investment and Quality. The change in course usually happens when one of these skews out of control.

My holiday plans aren’t the only place where the DIY approach is weighed. I run into this same scenario with our clients and also with internal projects. It can be really attempting to assume that doing something yourself is the better route. Sometimes it is – and sometimes it really isn’t.

In the consulting world, we have a saying: “It can be done Fast. It can be Cheap. It can be Good. Pick two.” Think about that. Fast + Cheap = not so good. Cheap + Good can take a LONG time. Fast + Good is NEVER cheap.

I’m willing to bet that in less than a minute you can think of at least one project at home or work where you thought you could get all three factors to combine. And it didn’t quite work out that way – did it?

So what is the right approach? To weigh out the options, ask yourself some questions:

Weigh the Influencers


How much time will creating _______ take? Don’t only look at the development process. There’s also planning, preparation, testing, refinement, training and delivery to be considered too. These elements may take on a different flavor when the project is a gift for your mom, a holiday meal or a business solution. But trust me, the stages are all there – and they need to be factored into your timeline.

There may also be outside constraints – such as when does ________ have to be done? No one is moving Christmas just because I underestimated how much time I’d need to make gifts. If your new solution provides reporting data, many organizations really do want their quarterly reports at the end of the quarter.

Then there are other schedules – the schedules of the people that you need to help you during the process, to test or approve your work, etc. And there are the schedules of getting materials or tools in that impact when you can even get started.

Forgetting to consider any one of these can easily blow your timeline out the window.



The all-important money question: what’s your budget? Have you considered everything that may carry a cost? Most of us start by looking at the raw materials – and from that alone determine that making it ourselves is the less expensive option. But you might also need tools or to take a class or something else that may need to be purchased.

There are also the costs that come from the unplanned. That might include unplanned needs that were revealed along the process, unexpected issues needing resolution (rework), unanticipated delays that could increase costs during the project. Each of these also add to the cost of delayed returns on your overall investment.

Another factor to consider is the ongoing cost of ownership. If something goes wrong (or you need to change anything in the future), do you need to hire outside help? Will you have your expertise in-house (and do they need training)?

It’s also important to consider the opportunity cost. What are you not getting done because you are doing this project?

All of these things factor into the investment.



What is your definition of a quality result? While you’re mom may fawn over anything you make for her, your boss will not likely have the same flexibility. This may be especially true when the end result of your project is critical to your business.

What is the likely outcome of doing it yourself or purchasing the product? There’s always a difference in quality in the end product the first time you produce something vs. the 20th time. Depending on the skills and experience that you already have going into the project, you may be sacrificing quality – or ensuring it.

Define your quality requirements and factors up front. Because “done is good” frequently doesn’t cut it.


Weigh the Options

So what is the best way to go? Do it yourself? Purchase a product or solution? Naturally there are pros & cons however you go. There’s also a third option – a hybrid. A hybrid may offer you the best way to blend the best of DIY and outright purchase. Hybrids may take the form of toolkits or highly configurable products or even outside expert assistance:

Again, this time of year – I’m personally thinking about these things a lot (and am probably overly optimistic as I weigh some of the influencers). But more and more I’m a fan of the Hybrid approach.

On a professional side, I’m obviously more partial to Hybrid – especially since our flagship product, mobilePLUS, falls into this category. We developed this product after years of delivering mobile inventory and asset solutions to our clients.

So what is the right approach? Like most questions in life, the answer “it depends” is the best response. But take comfort in knowing that there are always options.



Anne Hale is the Director of Client Services at HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile inventory management, RFID and supply chain solutions. She manages our client engagements, helps with sales and marketing and is actively weighing her influencers for her holiday projects.