I am a strong believer that if you are starting a new business and can do it, molding your business to fit an existing and well established piece of software is the right way to go. Like children and dogs, new businesses CRAVE structure and there are a lot of software solutions for any type of work that can act as that structure. Unfortunately, most established businesses don’t have this luxury because the operations of the organization were established on pen and paper. These companies are faced with a critical and potentially company-ending decision… To buy and mold the business to the limitations of the software or to build a solution that fits what the business already does. Both are viable and both have risks and I have argued for each numerous times over the years.
Lately, I have been engaging with considerably more new prospects that I have in a few years and I find that in our initial meetings we spend a lot of time talking about how we differentiate our business from other organizations (Honor, Humility, Honesty, and Humor – stop in and see!) However, at some point in the conversation, we always get to a metaphor for software development and why it is important that our clients really understand what they are getting themselves into when begin considering custom software… Usually because clients want to gloss over the details with a “you know what I want.” Typically we use the metaphor of home construction, but I have started to wonder if this is lacking since most of the clients we now get have probably never build a house (and thanks to the Real Estate crisis in the U.S. Probably never will.)
The other night, I was thinking about how passionate people can be about pizza and it occurred to me that maybe this would be a better metaphor. If you’ve never had pizza, the first pizza you get is going to be the pizza by which you judge all others. If you grew up with a certain kind (or as a transplant have come to love another style) and say “I want a pizza,” your perfect mental picture of pizza is what you expect. But we all know that if you grew up on New York style pizza and say “make me a pizza, you know what I want” you are just as likely to end up with a Chef Boyardee Pizza from a box as you are to end up with Famous Ray’s. Round, square, California-style, Chicago-style, new world big flat pepperoni instead of old world crispy cups filled with oil. Parmesan or Asiago, wood-fired or deep dish fried… So many choices and none of them (necessarily) wrong for any given client but only one that is right for a given client.
It is very important for us to make sure our customers know that we make a certain type of software in a certain way and while we want to make the software the client wants, we also know a lot about what makes good software. We’re always going to recommend a combination that we think is most appropriate. To do this takes input from the client not just before it’s baked, or even before the toppings are laid out, but before the dough is made… right from the selection of the ingredients. If that isn’t what a client wants, we pride ourselves on being able to tell them where to get the pizza they want.