How Buying Software is Like Buying a Home
Published: August 14, 2014
One of the toughest challenges organizations face in keeping pace with technology is selecting software that becomes a “home” for critical processes. So let's see how buying software is a lot like buying a home and how that paradigm can help in the selection process.
Key Similarities Between Buying a Home and Buying Software
Both are major purchases that require comparison of many options. There is likely to be no perfect choice. Building a custom home will better meet an occupant’s wants and needs, but will likely be more expensive and time consuming than buying a model home. The same holds true for custom software. Both don't become “home” until they are customized or personalized to individual users preferences often leading to great emotional attachment. Just as it can be painful to leave your home and establish a new home somewhere else, changing software can be equally painful. But the decision to begin the buying process usually means there is no other choice but to move forward with change, even if it is painful.
A key difference between buying software and buying a home - it is often easier to update a home to incorporate changes in lifestyle and then deal with those changes since the geographic location of the house doesn't change. You can update and remodel which doesn't demand a change to other supporting processes like shopping, working and playing. You can still shop at the same grocery store, use the same roads to get to work and the gym, and keep your same address.
Assuming you are with me so far, let's leverage this paradigm to change the way we look at buying software.
Home builders realized long ago that it is more effective to sell homes using the “model home” concept. With a model home it is much easier to visualize what it would be like to live in the home that is for sale. We can see where we would watch TV, where we would eat, where we would sleep and the model home furniture represents our furniture which helps us see how our furniture would fit. Of course the professional decorators and stagers will probably do a better job of putting it all together than we will but it helps in the decision process. After we move in, most homes do not look like model homes. Let's explore why that is.
- Our furniture might not fit
With software, the “furniture” is our data or process. New technology assumes good data and processes that follow use cases. Most of the time, data is not as clean as imagined and processes that were assumed to be standardized may not be standard or even followed by many users. Both of these situations provide opportunity for organizations to clean up their data and their processes, but all of the furniture may not fit on day one of deployment.
- We didn't buy what we really needed
Not only can we buy a home that has too few features or is too small to meet our needs, we can also buy way more than we need. Either can be a problem. There are obvious problems with undersizing a system or dealing with limited features - think sheds and cluttered garages that are needed to store data and processes outside of the system. On the flip side, having excess space makes the home harder to live in - like rooms that won't be used that need furniture or space that needs to be heated or cooled even though it is not used. Extra features with software make the system harder to maintain and use if they are not really needed.
- Some or most of the individuals Living in the house didn't get their needs met by the buyer's decision
Maybe one individual had too much influence on the buyer or maybe the buyer ignored others because the home met the buyer's needs and the other inhabitants would just need to adapt. This could lead to family members wishing they had never moved at a minimum and in extreme cases the family member never accepts the new house as a home. We see this with system change and poor or limited user adoption.
So how do we make it work.
- Burn the ships
Legend has it that Cortes ordered his men to burn the ships that carried him and his men to the new world. If it is time to change don't look back. Commit to the change and work through it. Holding on to the past delays the process of making a new home. In the end, you don't live there anymore.
- Lead the change
Someone has to lead. If team members don't feel like their needs have been considered or that they have to adapt as an individual with little or no support from the organization, they may never adopt the new system as home.
- Use the model home concept
In some cases, vendors will provide a trial period where you can put your furniture (your data) in the system to see how it fits. But commit to actually dedicating time to work with the system in an organized test, don't just leave it to users to try it in their spare time. They have no spare time, they have day jobs. If you can't commit to a dedicated pilot, you won't have time for requirements gathering, design meetings or user acceptance testing- all critical to successful deployment.
- For a major system, invest in paid pilots
Budget 10% of the total project cost to have the finalists come in and stage a limited pilot. A demo is controlled and rarely engages users directly so it is difficult to get a sense for how they system will work with your data and processes. You can't expect the vendor to do a pilot or proof-of-concept for free (professional decorators charge for staging a model home) because it is costly, but a paid pilot will give the project team an opportunity to stage a “dry run” and the leadership will gain valuable insight on the potential success of the project. If the vendor can't pull off a limited pilot or proof of concept, how will they do the project? If the project team can't take two weeks from normal responsibilities to work on the pilot, how will they commit months or years to making the project successful. Better to spend 10% to see if there are potential issues rather than being 50% into the project and realizing that the project is going to fail.
The good news is, even the most painful moves lead to new opportunities, experiences and meeting new friends, all things that would not have happened if we had never moved at all.