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60-Second HR MBA: When Custom Work Makes Sense

There's an old saying/reality in the software business:

"Customization is the bane of software companies".  

That's because every customization you make to an existing software platform causes one of two things:

1. It causes you to write custom code that may cause you to run different versions of the software to accommodate the changes a customer is requesting. You have to keep up with different versions. OR:

2. Customization in your core single product that everyone isn't going to use just creates complexity and layers to the code bases that makes future releases/upgrades/bug fixes more problematic.  The more custom code you write in a single product, the more things will break or need band-aided in the future.

The bottom line is that customization causes complexity. The same logic holds true for your HR shop.  If you're good, you've got a set way of doing things, and if you do it the same way often enough, it's going to work pretty well.  But you'll have requests from your client group often to do it different ways.  It's hard to say no, but you should say no when you can.  Complexity eats away at your ability to deliver in an efficient way.

You know when customization for your HR client group really makes sense?  The same time that it makes sense for a software company.  When the work that you'll do to customize creates features that can be rolled out to more than one person/client.

Say yes to custom work that results in your HR practice being deeper and capable of delivering more.  Make sure you approach it like a product manager, to make it replicable.  

Run away from other custom work if you can.  But the take above means that if you run away every time custom work is requested, you're probably transactional - not strategic.

Comments

MattL

A great description of how to determine when you should do custom/non-custom work can be found in the easily readable "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore. Actually, if you just read Chapter 2 of "Inside the Tornado" (by the same author) you can get a synopsis of that book.

Maybe early on in your business you can do some custom work for a big client, but as you start to hit the big time, you better be careful.

MattL

and looking at customization from the other side, you are a lot better off as a customer staying with a software package as close to it's vanilla offering as possible.

All your customizations that you just had to have to make it perfect may break with a major release. Further, you'll have a tough time getting folks to help you. Nobody wants to work on that old stuff unless you're going to pay them a lot.

To reiterate -
The more "vanilla" you can stay with any big SW package you use, the more you can ride the wave of advancing technology. Sure, if you just want to get something that works and stick with it for a long time, that's fine, but remember you may have to stay behind in more places than that 1 package (Windows or IOS versions for example).

Signed,
--Screwed this one up a few times

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