Should I Buy an off-the-shelf Product?

At times in your career, you are faced with tasks that take X amount of time to complete or tasks that require an X in repetitive time drain.

Paper Cards

Sometimes, this can be in your personal life and your professional life. Let's say for arguments sake that you run a JIRA scrum board but you also have a physical SCRUM/Kanban board for stand-ups.

I'd wager this is a pretty common practise these days . You want the micro-management power of JIRA and it's ability to manage an audit history on tickets, progress and track velocity easily, but you also want the social power of simply standing around a SCRUM/Kanban board.

We found, however, that we were writing out ticket descriptions on cards and putting them on the board. This would take a fairly long time (writing out 20-30 tickets a sprint) and just wasn't sustainable in the long term. So, we looked for a JIRA plugin to print off the tickets so we'd only need to cut them out and stick them up.

The cost of the plugin Agile Cards for JIRA is charged on a per user basis.

Initially a pretty expensive outlay.

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

Bill Gates

Cost-Benefit Analysis

How do you know if it's worth purchasing something off-the-shelf for the cost?

If you think about it in simple terms, your time is money. That's what the business considers it. So, if you work out how much your time is worth per hour, then offset that against the cost of purchasing an off-the-shelf solution, you should be able to work out whether the purchase is worth it. If you calculate the cost and it's very similar over time, then it's probably not worth buying the app.

In our case though, we would be saving an absolute fortune in time. At least an hour or so every... single... sprint. 1 hour at least every 2 weeks. Over the course of a project that's going to cost us somewhere in the region of thousands. Buying the plugin, albeit a seemingly significant up front outlay for what it is, is a complete no-brainer.

Complexity Means Nothing

This point links in to how you should price your own off the shelf product. Think about your audience, how much they're prepared to pay, and what the benefit for them is. It's not always about how complex the problem or solution is that dictates the pricing point for your product.

It's actually a very similar argument when you ask yourself "should I automate this?" How much pain is it causing you? How often do you do it? And how difficult is it for you to automate it versus how long it takes to do it manually?

If it's easy and quick to automate, it's a total no-brainer to automate the solution.


Another question you want to ask yourself when buying an off-the-shelf product is, do you need to retain control of this product / solution? Think, is the product you're using absolutely crucial to maintaining your competitive edge? Will you want to make changes to it, faster than an external company might want to?

Also, is the problem space an area your company needs to specialise in? If not then I'd buy off-the-shelf.

I hope this has helped you understand when you should or shouldn't invest in off-the-shelf solutions.

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James Murphy

Java dev by day, entrepreneur by night. James has 10+ years experience working with some of the largest UK businesses ranging from the BBC, to The Hut Group finally finding a home at Rentalcars.

Manchester, UK
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