The bird’s wings analogy for OSS RFPs

A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on it’s own wings.”

Last month, we posted a series entitled “How to kill the RFP.” The RFP is a common mechanism for reaching a purchasing agreement between OSS provider and network operator. Unfortunately, it’s deemed to be a non-ideal approach by many buyers and sellers alike. One of the key concepts discussed was trust. In the context of the quote above, the branch is the contract formed out of the RFP (Request for Proposal) and the bird’s wings represent the partnership being formed.

We (and our procurement teams) spend a lot of time in the formation of the contract. We want to fortify the branch to ensure it never breaks. We build massive scaffolding around it. But just like the bird analogy, the initial contract is just a starting point. The bird may wish to come back to the branch / contract from time to time. However, over the (hopefully) 10+ year lifespan of the OSS, the contract will never be able to accommodate all possible eventualities (flight paths).

Focus on building trust in the wings (the relationship) and have faith they will overcome any frailties that appear in the branch (the contract) in the long run.

There may be breaches of trust from either / both sides during the lifespan of the relationship. But the end-game should be really clear – an early OSS churn is a bad outcome for both supplier and customer.

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2 Responses

  1. Very valid points and in principle I agree; yet my observation around building strength in the wings is this. Despite not only good intentions but even good effort, the conflicting priorities (minimum cost and risk on the buyers side and maximum profit on the seller’s side) create a powerful barrier to trust. Individuals on either side have inspired both trust and respect and imaginative approaches do work from time to time; however organisational drivers very quickly close those aberrations.

  2. Hi Seshan,

    Your point is absolutely correct. It seems like we rarely see a long-lasting, trusting relationship in OSS.

    I see it a bit like a marriage. If we look at the vows, the wings, they signal an intent of trust that spouses aspire to at the start of the relationship. There are always disagreements along the way that both partners need to sort out. It may even need independent arbitration at times. And if the disagreements can’t be sorted out then the relationship fails. That’s true of OSS relationships and marriages.

    The alternative, the branch, is like creating a pre-nuptial agreement. There’s no way the pre-nup can pre-determine every situation over the life of a marriage or contractual reaction to those situations. The pre-nup is pragmatic and sensible but also indicates a lack of trust at the start of the relationship.

    From my experience, when a long-term OSS project is tightly managed by the contract, the results have never been good. Contracts are interpreted too black and white rather than the many OSS shades of grey. When managed through attention on the relationship, some have failed, but others have succeeded. Two stand out in particular – they were failing badly when being managed by contract, but brought back on track when managed by relationship.

    The bird’s wings model is definitely an idealistic and dangerous approach – a leap of faith by both parties. The vows could potentially include cost, risk, profit, etc as key indicators of intent BTW.

    The branch model is definitely more pragmatic. But is it working currently?

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