When evaluating project portfolio management software, you’ll likely consider whether to build custom software (in-house or with a third-party partner) or purchase an off-the-shelf solution.
With organizations set to invest more in projects in the coming years, picking the right approach to your software is critical.
This article explains the pros and cons of building or buying project management software. We’ll start with a brief comparison table before reviewing a three-point framework to help your decision. The framework focuses on problem, budget, and time-to-solution.
Build v Buy Comparison Table
|Clear upfront costs||❌||✔|
|Ongoing support||Internal resources||Vendor-specific|
|End-user training||Internal resources||Vendor-specific|
|Add-ons + integrations||Solution-dependent||✔|
|Project management expertise||Team-dependent||✔|
Build v Buy Decision Framework
The decision to build or buy comes down to three key areas: problem, budget, and timeline.
Picking a route for project management software starts with the problem you are trying to solve.
Is the problem common to your industry or unique to your organization? Does your organization have complex or unique ways of managing projects or reporting on portfolios?
An in-house solution is designed to fit your business processes, requirements, and infrastructure from the outset.
A solution tailored to your company can provide a competitive advantage over other organizations that may not be using any project management software or working with similar, off-the shelf solutions.
Trying to solve a particular problem should be counterbalanced against the existing expertise within your organization.
Has anyone on your IT team developed this type of software previously? Do the team possess project management experience or have access to a subject matter expert?
You’ll also need to consider future uses. As teams become more confident with project management, they’ll expect their tools to support projects with bigger goals and additional processes.
Not only do you need a product roadmap for the custom software – you’ll have to secure budgets and resources to complete the work for each development phase.
Off-the-shelf software adds value to your organization very quickly. The service provider is responsible for the product, including maintenance and support.
Off-the-shelf software also provides access to the expertise of project managers and customers involved in development. When an organization purchases a solution such as BrightWork, they benefit from over 25 years of project management, SharePoint, and software development experience, as well as customer input.
Finally, software vendors have competitive roadmaps, with regular releases and feature updates. Organizations can avail of new features on a regular basis, without the associated development costs or risks.
Next, consider budgets and resources for development, deployment, and post-launch support.
Deployment quotes and license fees from relevant software providers are a good starting point.
To get indicative costs for internal development, multiply the cost of off-the-shelf software by 10.
Don’t forget to add additional costs such as up-front investments in hardware or software.
You’ll also need to factor in the time required for meetings, testing, and feedback. Typically, more than one person is involved in these steps. Figure out how much time these tasks take for one person and multiple by the number of people on the development team.
In many instances, these resources will be solely dedicated to this project, pulling skills and expertise away from other areas of the business.
Just like any software used by your teams, custom software requires constant maintenance, updates, and end-user training.
If common features like online help, role-based security, documentation, and multi-language support are not available in your custom build, user adoption will be slow. It’s a good idea to set indicative annual costs for these elements.
You’re now much closer to the real cost of custom project management software.
Off-the-shelf software is usually cheaper to buy and implement than financing an internal project.
In most cases, the software is not a complete end-to-end solution. However, the time required for installation, deployment, and configuration is typically much shorter than custom development.
Clear pricing structures and license management tools make it easier to factor software costs into annual budgets and business plans.
Software vendors typically include dedicated support and online training resources with their offerings.
Risk and Security
Depending on your industry, you may also need to consider another cost when building software – regulatory compliance.
If you opt to build a custom solution, your IT team must develop a compliant solution, test regularly against updates to regulations, and implement updates as needed.
Numerous vendors build solutions to meet certain standards such as FedRAMP (U.S Government), and HIPAA/ HITRUST (U.S. healthcare organizations).
By deploying these solutions, organizations can stay compliant at a fraction of the cost of building and maintaining an internal solution.
BrightWork offers FedRAMP SaaS Compliant and HIPAA/HITRUST Compliant Cloud Options for project and portfolio management on SharePoint.
3. Time to Solution
Finally, you’ll need to consider implementation timelines. If the software is urgently required and a suitable option exists, buy the off-the-shelf solution.
If you can afford to wait for custom software, do so. However, as most IT projects fail to deliver on time, you could be waiting longer than expected.
Managing timelines for internal software projects is extremely difficult.
Firstly, the start date of the project depends on business priorities, the project pipeline, and available resources.
Secondly, IT projects can take anywhere from 6 months to two years to complete.
Delivering a high-quality product depends on having the right resources in place from the start of the project until completion. Anything can happen during project execution, putting the final deliverable at risk.
Finally, return-on-investment can take up to a year to materialize once the product is launched – if not longer.
Off-the-shelf project management software is typically available for immediate installation and deployment. Even with configuration time, your teams can get up and running with the new solution within days or weeks.
As project teams will start to deliver more successful projects quickly, organizations gain the ROI from the software and more business value from projects in a short period.
Conclusion – Buy Project Management Software
As a project management software vendor, we recommend buying a solution to support your processes and teams.
Off-the-shelf software allows organizations to access specialist software and domain expertise at a fraction of the cost of custom software. Time to deployment and ROI is vastly accelerated, without diverting resources from other critical areas of your business.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.