NIH Syndrome – What It Is…And Why It Needs to Stop

Successful leaders know when to delegate.  They know they can’t do it all.  They know the value of creativity, diversity and innovation.  But delegation (a sort of ‘internal outsourcing’) is a learned skill that takes practice.  The same can be said for seeking technology options that lie beyond the boundaries of the company.  Unfortunately, while leaders are on board with ‘internal outsourcing’, many are reluctant to extend that quest beyond their company boundaries.  And this reluctance has a name: Not Invented Here (NIH) syndrome.

All companies want to improve their processes and get the results they want and often resort to building internal products that are uniquely customized to their own needs and processes.  But what if there’s something bigger, better, faster and stronger available in the marketplace?  Enter NIH syndrome.  Simply put, it’s a negative attitude towards knowledge (ideas, technologies) derived from an external source and it can become a major (psychological) hurdle to a company’s success.


How Does It Happen?

Leader attitudes and actions matter, so if NIH is a senior management mantra, know that it will permeate and become part of a company’s culture.

As such it leads to several traits, including:

  • The belief that internal products are superior
  • Fear of future supply issues by third-party vendors
  • Not valuing other people’s work
  • Lack of innovation within the company
  • Jealousy of existing solutions, research, knowledge, features or services


If the management can steer clear of the culture of “reinventing the wheel,” then it’s possible to cultivate positive attitudes and help transform the culture and attitudes throughout the company.


More time than money?

Yes, in a smaller company, time is indeed your most valuable resource. So team members should spend the time doing what they do best.  Trust us when we say that somebody out there has already done it better than you can.  Leverage that experience!


Is it the bottom line?

Of course, money matters.  And yes, you’ve got to consider total cost of ownership.  The initial cost of developing a piece of software is overshadowed by the cost of maintaining the software over time.  While maintenance efforts may fluctuate, such as in the initial high volume of requests from customers or intermittent changes to the environment, the problem is that they are often underestimated.  In fact, maintenance efforts range from 40-80% of the total engineering effort for a typical software product lifecycle. Even if you think you can “bang it out”, it’s a new piece of software that’s going to eat resources from now until you retire it.


Does it scale?

Maybe your developers can write five new software applications by next week.  That’s worthy of applause.   But conversely, you can download and install quadruple that number in new software applications.


Final Thoughts

NIH proponents claim that it helps to support innovative ideas within a company. But realistically, in today’s dynamic tech world, that’s not always the case in situations where there are already superior solutions readily available. Limiting your company to internally developed solutions might just limit your company’s ability to respond to industry changes.  Have open conversations about other potential technologies where the facts vs. hype, assumptions vs. needs, cost vs. benefit are clearly laid.  Be willing to embrace new tools/technologies and recognize how it can help support your company’s overall objectives.