On do-everything vs. ‘best of breed’

Best of Breed

I went to this conference for work last week, and ’twas hosted by a CMS (content management system). I was walking around like a total mess at this thing, mostly because it was developer-focused and I’m a content/marketing guy (I can’t believe I just typed that sentence about myself), but several of the sessions were pretty interesting. At the end of Day 1, I went to a “product management brainstorm.” By the end of a day at a conference, you’re pretty much dragging — this is why — and I assumed it was going to be one of those boring “Someone puts up a slide deck and essentially narrates it for you” things. I was getting ready to tune out. Instead, it became kind of cool — we sat in a big circle and one of the product owners of the CMS said “Tell me everything that’s good, then tell me everything that sucks.” It ended up being quite a lively little dialogue.

One thing that came up was this idea of “do-everything” (or “all-in-one”) vs. “best of breed.” I had never thought about this before, because I’m a limited person and a total train wreck, but now it’s coming up a lot. 

Consider this. Facebook is probably going to release an “office messaging” app. This is a horrible idea for so many reasons I couldn’t even list them all here, but check this paragraph:

And Facebook’s more derivative products like Facebook email, as well as its multiple copycats of Snapchat, have not performed particularly well, largely because users have no qualms about spreading the different facets of their online identities across different platforms. They’ll use Facebook to post status updates for family, Snapchat to waste time with a few close friends, Instagram to post vacation photos, and Twitter to talk to strangers. At the office they’ll use Slack to send messages, Google Docs to house all their documents, and email to pretend they’re busy when they’re not actually doing anything.

See, it would be helpful to have “one thing” (the do-everything or all-in-one solution) where you could stay on that screen and move between different tasks — post a picture here, save a document here, etc. But at the same time, hasn’t the rapid rise of technology and the gradual decline of the attention span gotten us to a point where we’re fine managing across different platforms, so long as those platforms are the best for their respective service?

Here’s what came up at the CMS product owner discussion: a lot of the clients (the people in the room) were concerned because, for example, the e-mail capability of the CMS wasn’t great. So they were using MailChimp or another e-mail provider on top of the CMS.

People were arguing that what would happen is clients would start navigating away from the CMS because each aspect of it could be done better somewhere else, even if it required tying together different things. The managers at the main company were saying stuff like “But we want to be all-in-one, not best of breed!” It got pretty heated.

I think this type of discussion could be the future in terms of companies that make things looking to amp up revenue. I feel like the all-for-one approach harkens back to a previous generation that wanted things streamlined and effective; the millennial generation (** audible groan **) is used to things being different and faster — they’re digital natives, after all! — so I think they can handle using 12 different things, if each of the 12 is the best in their respective area.

Bottom line: I feel like with the generational shift coming, it’s probably best for product-driven companies to get out of the all-for-one game, and get into the make our product the best possible thing game. That’s where the revenue would seem to lie.

(I could probably end this with some quote from Steve Jobs about shipping product, but I can’t bring myself to do that.)


Ted Bauer