Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Features Distorted Realities Opinion
The perfect lasagna: Making the case for outsourcing


January 17, 2007
By Dick Morley


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My brother-in-law makes a wonderful lasagna. Every time I visit Maine, the delicious dish awaits. These are no ordinary morsels of Italy. Each tray has the required pasta sheets, but the main taste comes from a perfect balance of meat, tomatoes, garlic and spices. And it can’t just be any meat. Making rabbit, chicken or bologna lasagna is criminal. Lean, flavourful beef or spicy sausage is key.

What does this have to do with you, the reader? How does this relate to your business? Keep reading and you’ll see.

In my search for the perfect lasagna, we elected to change the recipe and decided to try it with bear meat. We knew it was possible that the bear meat would overwhelm the other ingredients, but success comes from the exploration of unknown territories, so we decided to try the unknown.

As you know, bear meat is not available in your neighbourhood supermarket, so one of my buddies suggested that we go hunting. I am an old man, so my wife took Bubba on a week-long bear-hunting trip to Maine, where hunting is big business.

It’s quite an adventure. Each day, at first light, the hunters head for the bait sites with several dogs –
blueticks and bloodhounds. One dog is released to pick up the scent. If the dog takes off, that means that the bear is only 30 minutes away, and the rest of the dogs are released. Soon, sounds indicate that the bear is at bay and the hunters quickly head to the site; otherwise the guide may lose the bear and a dog.

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After a long run, the hunter arrives and theoretically kills and field dresses the bear. The long trek back finishes after dark. You can expect to trot 10 or more miles carrying a heavy pack.

The cost for this trip runs around $3,000 US for the actual hunt, and $1,000 US for the gear and guns. The average hunter can expect to succeed once every five years, so the cost averages about $100 US a pound. As it turns out, Bubba and my wife were unsuccessful in their hunt, but lucky for us, a local game warden had some bear meat in his freezer.

My brother-in-law made the lasagna with the bear meat we received from the game warden, and it was wonderful – the perfect lasagna.

Why do I tell this story in this magazine? I’m sharing this anecdote because there are several lessons to be learned. Projects, innovations and even job hunting can be compared to bear hunting. I’ll tell the lasagna parable as it relates to a software project. The recipe needs management, marketing and engineering. These three ingredients should be in proportion to the “dish” being served to the customer.

And how do we make the perfect software project? We need to differentiate ourselves from the competition by using unique ingredients or by implementing the same ingredients in an innovative way. We must also understand the risks and costs. What makes more financial sense – completing the project yourself or outsourcing areas that are not your core specialty? In the case of our bear meat lasagna, our egos got in the way. We used money and scarce resources such as people and time to get the basic ingredients for supper. In the end, we were unsuccessful because hunting isn’t our core competency; cooking is. Outsourcing to the game warden, the expert, from the beginning would have saved us both time and money. Thus, it makes perfect sense to outsource everything but your core skill set.

Having said that, you must not forget about the adventure. Is saving some coin worth missing out on the excitement of the unknown when attempting to complete a project? In business, the adventure, risks and costs must be weighed. What’s the bottom line? Usually cost and timesavings win.

The excitement in taking the project home is overwhelming, but in the end, we sometimes overlook the simple solution – outsourcing.


Dick Morley is the inventor of the PLC, an author, speaker, automation industry maverick and a self-proclaimed ubergeek. E-mail him at morley@barn.org.