Image by Goins via Flickr
So I Opened the Box today and found a pressure washer.
I began meditating on what this might represent, other than the forcible removal of gunk from my patio, driveway, sidewalk, etc. What has come up for me is the process I go through to figure out whether I should have something done by someone else or whether I should do it myself. This has broad implications for personal endeavors and business.
First some backstory…
I live in the Seattle, Washington area, and moss is a problem. Coming from the Midwest, I still have a hard time getting used to the fact that entire businesses exist in this part of the country for the sole purpose of pressure washing cement, houses, and roofs to get rid of moss and other organic gunk. This is not quite the same kind of problem back in Iowa, at least not that I ran into.
In the past few years I have tried to hack pressure washing my patio and driveway with my regular garden hose, a nozzle and dogged determination. These are not the most effective tools you can use for this kind of work. Then last week I noticed my neighbor using a small electric pressure washer to clean her driveway. It was a real, “Well, Duh!” moment for me. I could rent, or, if the price wasn’t too awful, purchase a like-sized pressure washer. So some research was in order.
I checked several sites for quality reviews (I always start with Consumer Reports for this kind of thing, then move onto Amazon, Lowe’s and Home Depot) and price comparisons. Then I’m ready to approach my accountant: my spouse, without whose money management skills I’d be living in a refrigerator box on the street. Her first question to me was, “Will you be willing to do this, or should we just hire it done?”
I realized then that this is a question most businesses ask about almost everything they do, even things that shouldn’t be hired out (read “outsourced”). So much of the work surrounding these decisions is in positively identifying your business’s key value or competency, then making sure that you DO NOT vend that out. Unfortunately, the supporting pillars to a company’s top value proposition sometimes get misidentified in the shuffle, outsourced, and much pain and suffering ensues. A couple of top examples might be off-loading the quality assurance of your product outside the company, or handing someone else the relationships with your customers. Maybe there are scenarios with some kinds of businesses where professionally standing behind and being primarily responsible for the quality of your product or service is not so important to your customers, but I’m not one of those customers.
But there are a number of other processes that might make sense for a business to vend out to another party for which that process is an expertise. Before I go handing any of these off to a third party, though, I have to be sure of a few things:
- Can I describe what I want done to the explicit degree that will guarantee that the work they do will be to the level I want and need? I take a lot for granted when trying to describe an involved process and it is awfully easy to miss some key points, not catching them until it’s too late. You may be able to adjust on the fly, but how long will it take, and what are the risks of not getting it right for an extended period of time?
- Could I do it? That is, like my hacking of the washing of my patio, could I pull it off with the right equipment, people and training? Is that investment smarter than relying on someone else? There’s a personal/professional satisfaction component here, too. I feel good when I do the work well.
- Will I do it? This was the question of greatest importance to my spouse, and worth considering in business. You may want to own this part of the process, and you might have a desire to be more hands-on here, but when it comes right down to it, will you do it, or will it become #7 on a list of 5 things that are important to your business? This is about the willingness to commit resources.
- What’s it worth to you? I see moss growing and I want to go out that and get rid of it, but I I decide to hire it done, I can allow myself to want away from it and tell my self that the professional pressure washer will catch it the next time out…..a kind of lazy cop-out, I feel. It’s worth it to me to be able to get at it on my schedule.
There are innumerable article, blogs, and books about identifying your key value, the wisdom of outsourcing, and the like. Here’s a few links from the Harvard Business Review that I found helpful, but be careful to look at both sides and take the time to make a good decision, revisiting it regularly. You change, your business changes, and you may have to alter the landscape of the decision.
- The U.S. Is Outsourcing Away Its Competitive Edge
- Outsourcing: Where Will You Draw the Line?
- Is Outsourcing Killing Authenticity?
Oh, and it looks like I’ll be getting my pressure washer…