Have a Plan When Buying Software

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Inspector Clouseau: Does your dog bite?
Hotel Clerk: No.
Inspector Clouseau: [bowing down to pet the dog] Nice doggie.
[Dog barks and bites Clouseau in the hand]
Inspector Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.


We all tend to make assumptions based on first impressions.

Much of the “pain” companies go through during software selection centers around incorrect assumptions. You can expend substantial time and money, and still end up with something that falls short.

I recall a software demonstration for a new ERP package where the vendor amazed everyone in the room with the software’s ‘cool’ ability to dynamically chart, track and schedule work orders in real-time. Problem was, the company processed thousands of work orders yet the vendor demonstrated only a few hundred processing. After the company purchased the software and loaded their work orders, they realized the limitation and the incorrect assumption.

During the software selection process it’s important to identify assumptions, ask detailed questions, follow-up and clarify.  Once you document your set of assumptions; assign someone to manage those software assumptions for the rest of the project’s duration. Anticipate more software assumptions that will need to be resolved and be prepared for the breakthrough that some things you thought were true will, in fact, be false.

Here are some basic steps to consider during software selection:

Plan – Meet with the key stakeholders where expected outcome is discussed. For enterprise software, such as document management systems, involve an effective cross-sectional group with differing interests, such as sales, accounting, quality, manufacturing and legal. The aim is to get people in the same room to expose and analyze their assumptions together.

Prioritize – Prepare a detailed prioritized requirements document and determine which functionalities are critical, important or simply nice-to-have.  Some of your requirements are likely to be fairly complex and some vendors will not have the expertise to completely understand your requirements as they relate to your business. Software vendors also make assumptions about the interpretation of your requirements and operational environment. Their assumptions also need to be validated.

Review – Gather and review vendor collateral. Visit websites and talk to vendors. Vendors will emphasize the positives of their software so look for videos and screenshots examples of the actual product in use. Review whitepapers and case studies. Select potential software vendors, then narrow the list based on vendor information, expertise and responsiveness.

Perform – From the top two or three vendors, organize solution demonstrations that include your business process owners and decision makers; ask questions, challenge assumptions and follow-up.

Evaluate – Grade the vendor performance and software solutions.  Provide complete assessments of the vendor capabilities in terms of their software, support, expertise, and company viability.  Also validate and document what assumptions you are drawing about the software.

Select – Select vendor/solution.

Even the best software solution may still not meet all your needs. There may be gaps. To complete the decision process, knowledge of these gaps and the steps needed to address them is important.  Ask yourself “What problems are we really trying to solve?” and “What problems might a successful solution leave unresolved?” Look for software that has an open architecture and Software Developers Kit (SDK) that allows for customization.

If undocumented assumptions are often the cause of selecting the wrong software, then what software assumptions are you drawing about the software you’re evaluating?

Don’t let undocumented assumptions take a bite out of your software selection process.

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