I was brought onto a six-month project at an organization that needed to meet EU and USA requirements around listing all manufacturing material elements that went into handheld scanners. It was a short term project with a hard deadline. It wasn’t a large complex project, but it was a very important one for the company.
The company used an external vendor (we’ll call them “ExVen”) to get the Bill of Materials (BOM), the raw chemical elements that make up components for their handheld scanners (resistors, chipsets…etc). “ExVen” would charge $10,000 for the investigation needed to get the materials for a component that had never been researched. If the component had already been researched they charged $2,000 for the complete materials list. After hearing about “ExVen” multiple times I snidely remarked, “this company should provide a service that does this.” To which folks answered “They do have one but it costs $20,000/year!”
I did some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations on project costs (which equated to 6 people for 6 months) that told me the project would cost about a million dollars. That million dollars could pay for 50 years of “ExVen’s” service!
I take my job very seriously, and I believe that it’s my duty to save the client money, time, and effort, if at all possible. In that very same meeting where I heard about this other company’s service, I asked, “Why aren’t we just using them? It would save you a lot of money.” I was immediately shot down by the Project Manager and the Product Owner in the group with reasons like, “They don’t have all the materials listed that we need.”, “We want to be able to control our own BOM data.” and “We’ve already spent a million dollars on this already.” My initial response was, “Yes, I get that, except you could save yourself a million dollars and still offload all that responsibility. ExVen will do the research on missing components for you!” Surprisingly I was shot down. The project, once started, will continue!
After that meeting, one of the internal developers came up to me and shook my hand and said “Thank you for saying what’s been on all our minds. Sorry you got shot down.” Using that service was the right thing to do. I decided to go up the ladder and talk to the PM’s boss. I tactfully brought this up, but they too were unresponsive to this request. I went to my sponsor at the company, who’s above the others, and mentioned it to him. He understood my frustration, but said the decision had already been made. He talked about what equates to the Sunk Cost Fallacy. That they’d already spent money and time to get to where they are and that they needed to just finish it. Also, they’d signed a contract for my work and that using another company would be complicated. I assured him that I had checked with my consulting company and canceling the contract would be easy and no cost for them. They’d save a million dollars using ExVen. However, again I was denied the ability to save them money!
I still really couldn’t let this go though. About a week later while in a whiteboard session with the team, I ended up putting a 1-inch green dot in the upper right of “The Big Board” whiteboard, because oddly enough it was a sort of close proximity to the 3rd party company’s name. From then on, for the next 4 months, when appropriate, I’d respectfully point to that green dot and say, “Fire me and use them!” I’d get some chuckles and eye rolls, and then they’d continue to trudge along the development path. It stayed up there throughout the whole rest of the project including the below picture of the final deployment steps.
We completed the application for the company on time and deployed it without issues. I got to teach their developers how to do TDD, the power of pair programming, benefits of Continuous Integration, and delivered a product that exceeded expectations on project on time. Six months later one of those developers reached out to me and said that the company had shut down the application/service we’d worked on and was using ExVen. We had a good laugh and I’m in contact with that developer to this day.