Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Taking Measures for True Success: How to Choose Software That Meets Your Needs

You’ve probably already read about recent large-scale software implementation failures and their costs to companies: More than $33 million lost, as a project goes over budget and time. In excess of $54 million spent, and the project canceled before completion. Revenue loss of $100 million, as the new software fails to successfully integrate with the old. These are just some examples—global averages are often difficult to accurately determine due to companies’ reluctance to publicize failed projects.

Is the success of a software selection and implementation project really nothing more than a happy accident, and almost completely beyond your ability to control it? Why is the rate of failure so high?

One main factor Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) has observed is that the less-than-inspiring rates of success noted above often boil down to the organization’s current experience and historical success with larger-scale implementations involving complex functionality. In other words, the success of a software selection and implementation project depends on whether your current internal resources are sufficiently skilled and experienced to define your organizational needs.

Software Selection (and Implementation) Failure

But in addition to considering your internal resources, it’s important to realize that the probability of success also depends on how you define success.
Organizations often employ “fuzzy thinking” to determine the metrics that define a successful software implementation project. Companies have a tendency to use three common metrics: if the project was completed within a scheduled time frame and within budget, and brings the full-spectrum of new functionality to help automate processes and improve efficiency, then the project is deemed a success.

However, upwards of 60 percent of companies fail to consider that completing a project on time and within budget means nothing if the software itself doesn’t meet the needs of the organization.

Let’s look at why time, budget, and functionality aren’t the only metrics you need to consider, and why choosing and implementing a software solution might be more complicated than it seems at first glance.
  • Time: “Short-cuts” can be very expensive in the long (or even short) run. For instance, many organizations elect to shave time from the painstaking requirements-gathering process. But if you discover after implementation that crucial functionality is lacking, you’ll need to spend additional time and effort to work around the deficiencies.
  • Budget: You may be tempted to cut back on certain expenses to bring your project in under budget—but, as an example, shrinking your budget for training staff means the software may not be used efficiently, as staff struggle to learn how to use it themselves, on your dollar.
  • Functionality: Even if a software package offers comprehensive functionality, there’s no guarantee it’s exactly what your organization needs (full-featured doesn’t necessarily mean “best”). The only way to properly rank your functional requirements is to define them—before you even start choosing a solution.
Time, budget, and functionality are important considerations, but they shouldn’t be used as the only measures of a successful project. And even if you meet all of them, your project isn’t a guaranteed success.

The real measure of success is whether or not the software you implement meets your business requirements.

The Big Question: How Do You Succeed?

So if it isn’t just a matter of time, budget, and a spread of features and functionality, how do you succeed? The most important part of the software selection and implementation process is to define your requirements. But, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.
Know what you do and the steps you have to take to do it, so the software you choose does what you need it to do.

Don’t let the software features dictate your business processes and core activities—make sure your business activities determine the software functionality you require. To do this, you’ll need to get consensus from all stakeholders about what your core business activities are, and then create one shared definition of those activities, also known as business process modeling (BPM). Not doing so may result in disagreement about what activities are most important—and worse, disagreement about whether your chosen software is meeting the needs of your business.
To understand your software requirements—the starting point for a successful software selection and implementation—you must define your desired-state business processes.

Elements of Business Process Modeling

To define your processes, you’ll have to ensure you address all aspects of business process modeling (BPM). Note that these are not necessarily discrete, sequential steps. Best-practice software selection projects often address these elements concurrently or iteratively.
  • • Defining current processes
  • • Describing changes or additions to existing processes that improve business results
  • • Conducting review, analysis, and validation to ensure that requirements are clearly and completely described and aligned to your business objectives.
  • • Prioritizing your needs in terms of what you would like a new software system or Custom Application development to address: What are your “must-have” versus “nice-to-have” application features and functionalities?


Your internal business analysts (BAs) may have the necessary ability and experience to fully define your requirements, but if they don’t, it sets your organization up for a less-than-successful selection and implementation. “the vast majority of projects surveyed did not use sufficient business analysis skill….” According to the study, 70 percent of organizations lost control of time and budget while at the same time attaining far less functionality. Why? Because their organizations didn’t have sufficiently experienced analysts for this type of strategic project.

In other words, most companies’ internal business analysts do not have the needed background, experience, or expertise to perform adequate or effective business process modeling. You may be imperiling your odds of success by going through the selection and implementation process alone.

If your business lacks the necessary BA expertise, what can you do about it? There are three solutions that can help you deal with the problem of inadequate analyst expertise.
  1. Hire someone to coach and mentor your current business analysts through effective business process modeling and analysis, including driving consensus and requirements-gathering, and steering you away from common BPM pitfalls.
  2. Hire outside consultants to do your business process modeling and requirements analysis for you.
  3. Let the software vendor take care of defining your processes. Attention: this “vanilla implementation”—one flavor for everyone—may sound all right, until you realize that vendors will naturally fit your requirements to the functionality of their software offerings. But the fit may not be right, and the last thing you need is the headache of relearning your business processes to accommodate an unwieldy software package.

You may have noticed that we haven’t talked about training your internal analysts in how to do BPM. The simple reason is that in-depth BPM training is a very long-term, possibly multi-year commitment—which the typical software selection project cannot accommodate.

The Last Word

Are you ready to start your software selection and implementation project? To see if you’ve now got the know-how for a successful outcome, consider these questions.

1. Your first objective for your software selection and implementation project is to
  • a) get a good price, or a price that meets your predetermined budget
  • b) meet industry best practices and regulatory compliance issues
  • c) meet your business process needs
  • d) find a solution that is “user-friendly” and easy to implement
2. The most important measurement of success for any software selection and implementation project is
  • a) finishing the project on budget
  • b) getting the maximum range of software functionality
  • c) ensuring the project is not delayed
  • d) defining your requirements accurately
  • 3. The best way to define your business processes and requirements is to
  • a) use only your internal resources, including business analysts
  • b) hire outside analysts to perform BPM
  • c) get experts to guide your internal analysts through the BPM process
  • d) hand the task over to the vendor
There are no right answers, but there are better answers. Any approach can lead to success. But the question is this: how do you improve your odds, faced with a risky and costly software selection project?
By having your requirements thoroughly and accurately defined, you have a solid basis for the other requirements for success (time, budget, functionality). And, if you decide to engage the services of dedicated experts, you can benefit from best-practice services for successful requirements definition, including courses to coach and train your business analysts, project requirements elicitation, request for proposal (RFP) preparation, and project scoping and requirements planning.

Whatever you do, make sure you don’t end up a sorry statistic. Define your requirements with the help of specialized and experienced professionals. Contact Symbyo Technologies Experts today for a free consultation.

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