I’m often asked about Buy, Build or Partner (BBP), and specifically, how to best fit it into the ever-growing list of product management duties. I call it a necessary evil, as almost each and every single product manager has to contend with it for better or worse.Buy, Build, Partner

At some point you realize there is a gap in your solution or perhaps a time-constraint in how you’re going to solve a particular problem—are you going to buy, build or partner?

Sometimes, there’s a negative connotation to BBP. When you get into 2 of the 3 (buy and partner), they more than likely involve others—internal constituents, other companies, other players or other cultures—especially if you’re buying. It’s not a very easy thing to do.

The answer to the BBP question is simple; there is no secret sauce. BBP, like most things in product management, depend greatly on many factors—mainly your market, the scale and scope of your products and solutions, and of course, personal and company cultural appetites for even thinking about not building something themselves.

Build is the most complicated of the three and may take the longest, but the benefit is it’s yours. You’re building the solution the way you think is best. You own the development and the testing.

The challenge is it may not work the way you expect or may take longer in terms of costs and capabilities. A lot of people default to build because they have a development team and they have to keep them busy, something in the pipe for them to work on.

Buying is the easiest decision to make, especially if you have an experienced team that does their due diligence. The best way to know if and what you need to buy is to ask “what problem are we trying to solve?” and “what is preventing us from solving it ourselves?” Your answers of whether you look at the landscape, buy the top competitor or the up-and-coming technology supplier, will steer you in the right direction.

As a product manager, you likely won’t be involved in the financial details but hopefully you will help the leadership team recognize the gap and the solution.

Out of the three, the quickest way to market is partner. You can literally sign a piece of paper one day and be training your sales force and talking to customers the next. The problem with partnerships is they don’t often work the way we envision.

Many partnerships don’t work for a variety of reasons. It’s not any particular person’s fault; it’s just the way of the world. Everyone has priorities and typically partnerships are not on the top of that list.

There are countless examples in my career alone where we had grand plans, identified and connected with partners, celebrated and signed the paperwork only to have nothing happen. There was no great collaboration, no new solutions. Instead there was just more of the same.

Product managers, however, will continue to partner because it’s the simplest approach and an obvious choice if you’re in any form of an ecosystem style market. It’s easy and cost effective. It also tends to be a good testing of the water, to see if it actually produces the desired results. And in some cases successful partnership can lead to an acquisition.

What’s Best?
To know what’s best for you and your team, you have to know why you’re embarking on the BBP. You need to know your market and portfolio, business and customers. Take a moment to step back and assess.

Once you’ve identified the problem, the questions then become “do we want to buy a competitor? Do we want to build it ourselves? Or do we want to partner with another company to actually solve that problem?” That’s where the Buy, Build or Partner discussion begins.

And maybe the answer is to do nothing. Maybe you don’t need to buy anything because no one would have an alternative. Maybe you don’t need to partner and just continue doing what you’re doing. Maybe customers love you so much they don’t want you to buy anybody else because they’ve had horrible experiences with other providers or other companies.

If you understand your market, your business, your portfolio, your customer, and your competition—you will naturally lean to the decision that’s right for you at that time.

What have you chosen to do? Let us know in the comments.