Software Selection

Eight Steps to a Successful Selection Process:

Any successful venture begins with a good plan. Just like any large scale project, software selection should be carefully planned out.

While many of us have selected a software tool for the office or for personal use, the risks associated with making a suboptimal decision increase exponentially when the software being procured is a comprehensive business system, encompassing all or most of the functions carried on in the organization.

In these cases, a disciplined process and methodology is critically important.

1. Begin with the end in mind

“We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.”– Stephen Covey

The signing of the software license agreement is not the end; it is the beginning.
You must envision what the work-life will be like once the application is installed.
This image will establish the framework for the amount of effort you put into this and will influence the decisions you make.
So how can you better understand this when you don’t know what you don’t know?

Start by answering these questions:

  1. Strategic Goals: What are the key organizational strategic objectives that you want this software to enable, enhance and support?
  2. Culture: What are the desired behaviors supporting your key objectives strategies and desired goals (e.g., “learning organization”, “continuous process improvement”, improved donor service, improved donor prospecting and move management”, etc.?
  3. Team Selection: Think about the long term when selecting team members. Who will best represent the organization during the selection process? Who will be able to support it? Consider rotation of different team members during discrete phases of the project to maximize success (but keep at least a few core “champions” throughout).


2. Inventory “who” you need.

While you may have the skills within your staff to take the team through a selection process, you likely don’t have the time needed.
This results in short-cutting in the interest of organizationally prioritized activity.

Dedicated project management resources with the necessary skills are required and we recommend you choose a partner that will always keep your interests and vision ahead of the daily activities. Choose your team based on their business knowledge, analytical skills and respect for process.

Staff that have worked in multiple departments tend to have a broader perspective.

Don’t be tempted to select resources based on availability.  Similarly, don’t skip over the right resource just because they are already too busy; often this is the one you want but you’ll need to negotiate removing  her other work duties so she can dedicate her energies to your project.

Remember from Step 1, this work is in support of one or more strategic objectives; it is important.

3. Determine “What” you need

Unfortunately many organizations choose to talk to vendors first and see software demos before they sit down and determine what they really need and want.
This has advantages if you are unsure of what the industry offers, but the downside is that vendors are going focus only on what they do well.
You can be sure they won’t bring up their areas of deficiency.

Don’t back into your requirements; develop them first. You will educate yourself along the way and save time and money. Be disciplined and involve others (That is a key success factor).

Only go as deep into the process as necessary at this stage. You will develop more detail about specific requirements later.

Leverage the team to the key business processes and define the “must haves” to be supported by the new system. There are countless books on requirements elicitation and so a paragraph here can hardly do justice to the topic.

Just remember; requirements only describe what the software needs to do, but not how it should be done.


4. Thin the Herd

In some industries there can be an overwhelming number of vendors providing the software you’re looking for.
You have to narrow this list.

Each additional vendor you add will significantly increase your time and expense.
An RFI (request for information) is the tool you will need to gather information to make these choices.
When reviewing the information later a good rule of thumb is “when in doubt, leave ‘em out”.

5. The RFP and Vendor Management

The RFP (Request for Proposal) should be limited to your refined list of requirements and will only go out to those vendors identified in step 4.
It should be in a format that allows you to be able to analyze the vendor responses and also to be able to prioritize certain requirements over others.

No one vendor will have everything you want so this analysis process is important to think about in advance.
This is a strategic step where outside help makes sense.

During the RFP process vendors are going to call with questions (and use those opportunities to pitch their software), this can be time consuming and challenging.

The RFP process can be very complicated, but is critically important to put it together correctly.
Don’t short-change this step.


6. Software Demos

Vendor demos are not just an opportunity to clarify how the software will meet your requirements, but you will also learn about how the vendor responds to your requests.
The demos are an extension of the RFP so clarify up-front with each vendor exactly what your expectations are and what you want them to demonstrate.

This is your meeting – not theirs – so developing a demonstration script that each vendor must follow is a good way to coordinate this.
The script should correspond to a subset of your requirements to facilitate the overall evaluation process.

Evaluation of the demo should be structured.
Creating a checklist and score sheet for the participants will assist with more constructive conversation and later.

7. Pick Two and Get it in Writing

When considering negotiations and contracts there are two important things to remember:

1. Vendor contracts always favor the vendor
2. Once it’s signed, it is next to impossible to change.

The good news is you have leverage – they want your money.
Competition between vendors increases this leverage even more.

Because no software will meet all of your needs, the relationship you develop with the vendor can be the deciding factor of one product over the other and overall project success.

You will learn a great deal about the organization that will be supporting your purchase during this step, but keep in mind you are often still dealing with the sales office; ask to meet the rest of their team.

Contract negotiations typically are challenging and experience in this area counts; trust me when I say they have the upper hand.

We strongly recommend that you engage an experienced partner to help.


8. Execution is Everything

No matter what you paid for the software; the implementation will cost you more; a lot more.

Disciplined project management can keep these costs under control.

To ensure the schedule and deliverables are being met, team members are engaged, project risks and issues are being resolved, you need experience.

The vendor should supply a project manager; insist on it, but that person is not enough. Remember, they are working on behalf of the vendor, not you.

You need someone who has done this before and can keep the focus on the business objectives and overall project success.
For a major line-of-business application, this is a full-time job through the implementation.

This person needs the communication skills to help the team work through problems and can also keep your leadership engaged and informed.

Holding the vendor accountable to deliver what’s promised and the ability to lead the more technical work is also required.

Don’t short-change this – a good project manager can be the single most important factor of all.