You are hereWhen Should You Re-invent the Wheel?

When Should You Re-invent the Wheel?

By steve - Posted on 28 July 2011

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
--Ecclesiastes 1:9

The answer to the question, "when should you re-invent the wheel?", is simple.

When it makes sense to!

The phrase is often used, usually as a derision, when someone wants to dismiss some else's idea or solution, "we don't need a custom software solution, that would just be re-inventing the wheel." You'll also hear it when someone feels a problem has already been solved and can't be improved upon.

The more "horizontal" the problem (things that affect lots of people and industries), the more likely using existing "wheels" will solve your problem well enough. Clearly, it would be a total waste of time for an IT department to set up a project to write a word processor. There are plenty of old choices, like Microsoft Word, and plenty of new choices, like Google Apps, to solve that problem.

However, as you look at "vertical" problems (things that affect a limited number of people and industries) and you narrow things down to something more and more specific or start to document special processes or when searching for competitive advantage, the more likely you'll find that you DO need to reinvent the wheel.

That is why picking your tools is so important. You'll want to pick things that are open, documented, and can be customized.

And keep in mind that off the shelf is cheap and custom is expensive, so make sure you are allocating your expensive (time/people) resources on the things that will give you a competitive advantage.

Another situation when it makes sense to "re-invent the wheel" is when you are making a paradigm shift, like from horse carts to autos or autos to airplanes. The wheel really DID need to be re-invented in those cases.

Finally, keep in mind that limited resources usually means you'll only be able to re-invent one "wheel" at a time and you'll have to support that wheel for some time. Choose wisely.

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