Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine

Good Home Cooking

My maternal Grandmother was a wonderful cook. And when she and my mother were running the family business – a seaside guest house – when I was a wee lad, she used to cook all the meals for the guests (and the family and staff too). She really cared about her cooking, selecting quality ingredients from local fishermen, farmers and grocers, and lovingly crafting the best meals she could – within the budget allowed by the business.

Most of the guests loved the food, many paying compliments and returning year after year. Locals would also dine-in regularly. But there were always some, a very few, for whom the food did not meet their expectations, or more likely, suit their palates. In her consummate, inimitable style, when faced with a particularly unreasonable complaint, she would say “…pearls before swine”. Meaning, she knew her food was excellent, and if some folks didn’t like it, then they probably didn’t know how to appreciate it.

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

Matthew 7:6

Software Pearls

Do you believe that great knowledge-work will be recognised by the folks paying for it? Some teams may be lucky and find a good customer that appreciates what they’ve achieved, the quality they’re delivered, the efforts they have made – many times, above and beyond the call of duty (or the terms of the contract). But very often, customers receive excellently-crafted products with absolutely no clue as to the quality of the things they’ve just received. Unlike a great plate of food, they have no means to evaluate what they’ve just been served. The converse is also all-too-frequently true; oftentimes customers get delivered a real dog of a product, and have no clue that they’ve just been completely rooked.


Of course, some customers don’t feel that suppliers should be especially thanked, recognised or otherwise noted for simply delivering what was asked-for, regardless of any unforeseen difficulties or outstanding innovations that may have occurred along the way. I would not regard these as desirable customers.

In Japan, for example, in the Keiretsu – the supplier networks of the major manufacturers – suppliers are appreciated, helped and long-term relationships fostered, with the understanding the the supplier-customer relationship thrives with long-term commitment and mutual effort.

Keiretsu member companies own small portions of the shares in each other’s companies…; this system helps insulate each company from stock market fluctuations and takeover attempts, thus enabling long-term planning in innovative projects. It is a key element of the automotive industry in Japan.

Few indeed are the Western companies that see value in this kind of arrangement, and fewer still the companies that act to cement long-term relationships with software suppliers.

Market for Lemons

What this means in practice is that the market for software services (e.g. custom software development) is effectively a Market for Lemons.

And what that means, is that software suppliers will rarely receive a fair price for their labours. Lacking appreciation of quality, buyers will automatically assume that whatever they are buying is a Lemon, and discount the price accordingly.

This is as much true for software supplied in-house by e.g. the IT department to the rest of the organisation as it is for software supplied by external commercial software development services (e.g. software houses)

Finally, the Point

So why am I writing this post? For three main reasons, really:

  • To invite those organisations buying software services, either from external third parties or internal e.g. IT departments, to focus some effort on better understanding good service / quality software from the dross. A Market for Lemons affords benefits to no one.
  • To remind suppliers to choose their customers carefully, and where that is infeasible, to pay some attention to managing customers’ expectations and educating them as to the quality aspects of what they’re receiving.
  • [TBD – Can you guess?]

– Bob

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