Software Selection 101

Here’s a recipe for disaster that we’ve seen all too often when it comes to selecting and implementing new planning systems:

Step 1: Survey people in the business to gather requirements

Step 2: Evaluate available software solutions against the requirements list and make a selection

Step 3: Design the future state processes

Step 4: Implement

On the face of it, it seems pretty logical and orderly, but there are some major flaws with this approach.

In Step 1, the business is being asked by a project team for their requirements, but what is the context? Most people in the day-to-day operations will see things through that lens. If you ask them what the requirements of the new planning system will be, they will likely ask for a mixture of:

– Functionality in the current system that they happen to like. In this case, you run the risk of selecting a system that is most similar to what they do today – how will that improve business results?

– A solution to a problem that is currently giving them pain. In this case, there’s a chance that important foundational requirements are not considered in favour of something that may be short term or temporary.

– Some cool things that they read about in a trade publication. In this case, you may put too much weight on “nice to haves” that aren’t really critical requirements.

Step 2 (selecting software to support the identified requirements list) makes perfect sense. However, the quality of the decision will only be as good as the identified requirements driving the decision (see above).

By the time you get to Step 3 (designing processes), the software has already been selected so you’re basically designing in a box. It’s at this point where you’ll start prototyping scenarios in the new system. You may soon realize that HOW the new system meets the original requirements may not be ideal. To avoid a backlash from the business, there will need to be some workarounds or even customization.

During the implementation (Step 4), you’ll continue to find things that don’t “fit”, requiring further workarounds and more time.

So how can these pitfalls be avoided?

By following the same steps, but in a different sequence.

Step 1: Design the future state processes

While people may be chomping at the bit to get moving, it’s our experience that taking sufficient time up front to align the organization saves a lot of time and aggravation during the build and implementation stages.

By taking the time to really think about what you want the future state to be (and before you do anything else), you can design freely and be guided by sound principles, rather than the constraints of the software you bought.

Step 2: Survey people in the business to gather requirements

A sound, unconstrained and principle-based process is one that’s also (by necessity) in plain English and easy to explain and understand.

With the basic process designed, discussions can be had with people in the business to make sure they understand what the new world will look like and the principles on which the design was based.

Only when people understand the future state vision can requirements to support that vision be flushed out.

Step 3: Evaluate available software solutions against the requirements list and make a selection

Because you’ve taken the time to get the desired future state designed on paper and had people develop requirements in that context, you can objectively evaluate software solutions based on their ability to enable that future state.

Because the design was unconstrained, you can be sure that you won’t get a perfect fit with any software package detected. But at least you know in advance what you’re looking for the software to do and can evaluate objectively. What’s more, you’ll have a good idea what kind of workarounds or compromises will be necessary before the final decision is even made.

Step 4: Implement

There will always be bumps in the road as you implement, but by taking time to think and educate the business up front, you can be confident that you didn’t miss anything critical and that the bumps will be small.

Performing the right steps is important. Following them in the correct sequence even more so.

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