The Outsourcing Decision Matrix

Improving "Buy-or-Make" Decision Making

The Outsourcing Decision Matrix - Improving

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Use the Outsourcing Decision Matrix to decide whether to make it yourself or buy it in.

How do you decide which activities to outsource, and which tasks to keep in-house?

Let's say you're a manager in the healthcare industry. You'll likely hire your own internal specialists, like marketing or customer service. But what about the cleaning staff? Or buildings managers?

Outsourcing can have a significant impact on your bottom line. It can reduce overheads, bring fresh expertise to your business, and free up your time for innovation and other vital tasks. But there are risks, too. You could lose control of proprietary information, or end up with products or services that don't meet your company's quality standards.

So, how can you be sure that you're making the right choice?

In this article, we look at how you can use the Outsourcing Decision Matrix to identify which tasks or processes you should keep in-house, and which you can safely outsource.

What Is the Outsourcing Decision Matrix?

The Outsourcing Decision Matrix (shown in figure 1, below) identifies the two most important factors that you should consider when you're thinking about outsourcing a task:

  1. The strategic importance of the task. Does the task in question give your business a competitive advantage?
  2. The task's impact on your operational performance. How much does the task contribute to the smooth running of your organization? And how much disruption will it cause if it's done badly?

Figure 1 – The Outsourcing Decision Matrix


Outsourcing Decision Matrix Diagram


The Matrix is divided into quadrants, as follows:

  • Form a strategic alliance. Some tasks are strategically important, but contribute little to operational performance, so could be outsourced safely to a trusted partner. A strategic alliance is a good option for these types of tasks. In an alliance, the partners share control of the task and work together, but remain independent.

    For example, a car manufacturer could align with an advertising agency. The manufacturer is closely involved in the message and tone of the advertisements, but the content and production are handled by the agency.

  • Retain. Tasks in this quadrant are high in strategic importance and have a big impact on operational performance. Keep these tasks in-house, so that you can retain the maximum level of control.

    For our car maker, the assembly process is strategically critical, and would usually be retained. It is one of the organization's core competencies, and it makes a massive contribution to the smooth running of the organization.
  • Outsource. Activities in this quadrant are important for successful operational performance, but are not strategically important. These can be outsourced with little risk.

    For example, the car maker could outsource delivery to dealerships. Delivering cars to dealers is generally not a source of competitive advantage, as it doesn't affect the customer's experience. But it does impact operational performance. For example, if the transporters are late, stock builds up at the manufacturing plant, and dealers don't have the vehicles that they need in their showrooms.
  • Eliminate. Some tasks are not important to your organization's overall strategy, and don't make a significant contribution to its day-to-day operational performance. You could think about eliminating these activities completely.

    But consider the potential impact of ditching an activity, as it may still be important to your team or organization. For example, let's say your company runs a subsidized crèche. It might be expensive to run, and it isn't part of your core operation, but it may help you to attract staff (strategic importance), and to reduce absences related to childcare (operational performance).

How to Use the Outsourcing Decision Matrix

So, now that we know what each quadrant in the Matrix means, let's see how you can use it to determine whether you should outsource a task.

Step 1: Identify the Task's Strategic Importance

Analyze the task's strategic importance to your business. Is it vital to your company's competitive advantage? Is it part of what makes your business unique? Does it play a major part in enticing customers to choose your product or service over those of a competitor?

Step 2: Identify the Task's Contribution to Operational Performance

Decide how important this task is to your company's day-to-day running. Will your operations "grind to a halt" if it's done badly, or not done at all?

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Step 3: Plot the Task on the Matrix

When you've worked out where your task or process lies on the vertical axis of strategic importance, and on the horizontal axis of operational performance, you can plot it onto the matrix.

The quadrant in which the task falls will give you a strong indication as to whether you should outsource it, retain it, eliminate it, or form a strategic alliance.

Of course, this is only a starting point for your outsourcing decision. You need to consider each situation carefully, and use your specialized knowledge of your organization, your suppliers, and your industry as a whole to judge each situation in context.


You can learn more about outsourcing in our articles, Working with Outsourced Suppliers and Words Used in Outsourcing.

The Supplier Segmentation Model can help you to determine the value that each of your suppliers brings to your organization, while the 10 Cs of Supplier Evaluation is a useful approach to preventing problems with outsourced tasks.

Key Points

The Outsourcing Decision Matrix is a good starting point for making decisions about whether or not to outsource tasks in your business.

Tasks that are strategically important to your organization should usually be kept in-house. This enables leaders to retain control over the organization's most vital processes.

Tasks that must be done for an organization to be operationally effective, but which aren't important to overall strategy, can often be outsourced safely.

For strategically important, but operationally insignificant tasks, you may benefit from forming a strategic alliance with an external supplier.

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Comments (17)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi scottgatlin,
    Great to read that the article helped you to better understanding outsourcing. Indeed, you can ensure there is 24/7 coverage for your business or services when you outsource for customer support. What else could you outsource to help you focus on greater earning activities?

    Mind Tools Teams
  • Over a month ago scottgatlin wrote
    Thanks for sharing this great effort, this gives me a better understanding of how outsourcing really works, I currently working in the industry, and there something I wasn't sure about or having a doubt on some of my works. However, reading this content was truly clears my mind. Anyway, if you need an expert in administrative you can contact my outsourcing team 24/7.
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi hichamAG,

    Thanks for your interest in citing our article for your research.

    Please go to the Permissions Help Desk page, found here http://www.mindtools.com/php/Permissions.php?e=rdqpermissionshelpdesk, and complete the requested information.

    Mind Tools Team
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