Why your software doesn't do what you wanted


Date: 14 December 2011

Putting a square peg into a round hole

Don’t end up with software that’s like a square peg in a round hole

When you buy software you assume it will do everything you need it to do for your business.  After all, the marketing literature said so! But after they have committed to purchase and installed the software, many businesses discover that:

  • There are limits to the expected functionality
  • They need to buy new equipment to get any benefit
  • Some functions are not part of the basic package so they need to purchase add-ons
  • Their PCs and network need to be upgraded
  • They need to bring in technical support to set up or make changes

If this happens to you, you’ll find you have not bought what you thought. Worse, you’ll have incurred unplanned and unbudgeted additional costs.

Why your software requirements matter

The most important thing to do before buying software is to clearly define, communicate and agree your requirements up front.  Then agree objective acceptance criteria so both you and your supplier know exactly what is expected: you won’t sign off the software until it meets these criteria.

Often, achieving this seems as likely as me winning the pole vault in the 2012 Olympics (I’m not keen on heights!).

Indeed, the analysis and thought process involved in establishing your acceptance criteria can, in itself, ensure you are objectively considering what your business needs. Establishing success criteria forces you to ask the right questions when considering an investment in software.

How to define your requirements

These are the kind of questions you should ask when it comes to defining requirements:

  • What are my business objectives? For instance: quality, automation, clear business processes, return on investment, reduced timeframes.
  • What features and capabilities need to be delivered?  Be explicit.
  • What constraints must be applied? For instance: cost, timescales, business process change, risk, infrastructure, maintainability, upgrade.
  • What are the longer term requirements and does the software need to support a longer term strategy? Essentially, does the software need to grow with your company?
  • What are my acceptance criteria?

The last one is key, because acceptance criteria enable you to establish clear, objective measures that will ensure both parties (you and the software supplier) know what is expected, what is being delivered and can be happy when requirements are met. They will cover areas such as:

  • Specific capabilities and functionality - what do you need the software to do?
  • Technical requirements - what kind of computers or network will the software need to run on?
  • Performance requirements - how fast should the software run, how many users should it be able to handle, how much data should it be capable of processing?
  • Training needs - how much training will be required and how will it be delivered?
  • Business process changes - what changes will your business have to make to accommodate the software?
  • Maintainance and support - how and when will these be provided and carried out?

The criteria have to be objective and defined to the right level of detail. Why objective? Tell two people you are thinking of buying a great new car and one will tell you to buy a Porsche and the other a Nissan. Perhaps that’s a bad example … I would go for the Porsche every time, but that just goes to show that we do not intuitively consider other people’s perspectives!

Avoid ‘satisfactory’ performance

Specifically, I have seen many companies make the mistake of defining criteria to say ‘performance must be satisfactory’.  This is a totally subjective statement and could mean anything. It often results in endless unsatisfactory debates - once it is too late - about everyone’s interpretation of the word ‘satisfactory’.

The right business critical software can transform your business, but you need to know exactly what sort of transformation you are looking for – and you must be clear on why and how you will assure success.

Read more about buying software for your business:

Susan Chadwick is co-founder of Edge Testing Solutions.

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