In our first article of this series, we covered buying versus building project management systems. In our case, after an extensive evaluation process, we elected to buy. We learned a lot along the way. To make selecting a project management system easier for you, this post suggests points for you to consider before making a purchase.
Be very clear about your goals. How do you define success and what would be considered failure? Determine which business processes will be impacted by this system and which ones should not (set scope boundaries).
Define your essential criteria as well as what isn’t important. Include both current and future “must haves.” Use these gauges to narrow down your choices from the many available offerings. Once your criteria are established, put them in writing to keep your goals on track.
Establish an Evaluation Committee
Who are the key people for this committee, and do they represent all significant stakeholders including champions and those who might resist or struggle? Set regular meetings. Have them participate in demonstrations.
Know the System Features
Research known alternative systems. Based on your preliminary comparison, what does your committee like and dislike about each? Allow this exercise to educate you on both what is important as well as what is practical or available.
Some people will write up a formal request for proposal that includes all items that are essential. Be aware that this can help or hurt the responses you get depending on how it’s written. Develop a spreadsheet to track features and attributes of each system including benefits and weaknesses. Also, decide if all features should be treated equally. Be careful with any scoring.
Is it a Good Fit?
One of the first ways to weed out a product is by price. If it’s way over budget, it’s probably a no-go. When determining the price, don’t forget to include initial purchase, set up, costs of customization, necessary hardware or operating system upgrades, and other supporting requirements, and ongoing subscription and maintenance costs. Some systems may be cheaper initially but more expensive over the long haul.
How about your staff requirements? Figure out how much effort will be necessary from your team to select, set up and keep the system going. Do you have the people to do so, or will you need to hire or subcontract?
Then, get down to the details. How off-the-shelf is the proposed solution? What’s involved in customizing to satisfy your needs? What elements of the system’s toolbox seem redundant and less capable than best-of-breed tools? Is the system trying to build a new scheduling component despite so many other reliable tools, such as MS Project, already on the market? And, therefore, would it be better if the system could simply connect or integrate with an existing tool? Be wary of reinventing the wheel.
Take a Test Drive
Get access for you and the committee to test drive the system or tool in real time. Nothing is more telling than actually using the system. Many vendors insist on giving presentations that they control or access to a limited demonstration tool. But these just aren’t enough to allow you to make the best decision. Our hands-on driving of systems was ultimately a deciding factor: One product we tested was less intuitive than the other.
Protect Your Data
Your data is a valuable asset. How will the system you purchase protect and preserve it? Will it be easy for you to take your data with you and have it removed from the system when you no longer do business together? Make sure you understand the backup and exit process and fees upfront. Even ask for a sample export of the data to see how useful it will be.
After considering the previous points, you can break down the selection process into three stages: prequalification, proposals and interview, and final diligence. Here they are in a nutshell:
- Cast a wide net out to any vendor you think may have a product or system with potential to address your goals and needs.
- Review their websites and arrange for a basic phone or web conversation. Listen to who and how they talk not just what they talk about. Working relationships are as important as product features.
- Based on this sniff test, narrow your short list of candidate vendors / products down to three minimum and seven maximum to be practical.
Proposals and interview
- Send out your request for proposal to those short-listed vendors. The RFP can be a simple email or a more thorough document depending on your company’s level of sophistication.
- Obtain written proposals from the vendors.
- Compare and evaluate proposals based on your scoring sheet.
- Interview the offerors and make sure to ask for demonstrations and clarifications.
- If you’ve reached out to more than three vendors for proposals, time to narrow them down to top two for diligence.
- Envision each of the top two vendors as a future partner for your business. Will one or the other better satisfy what you previously defined as goals and needs?
- Ask very detailed questions and collect written responses from each.
- Don’t forget to investigate beyond the product to confirm:
- Alignment of the vendor’s 1-3-5-year plans with your desired future.
- Communication styles. Will the company be pleasant and easy to work with?
- How will the implementation and support team be structured compared to the sales team?
- Financial strength now and for the foreseeable future. Do a credit check if the vendor is not a public company.
- The team’s plan to both set up the system and support you into the future.
By following this evaluation process, Real Projectives® was able to select the right project management tools for us to be better organized, strengthen our services, and improve communications with our clients. If you’d like to find out more, call us at 888.357.7342. And, look for our next article in May on how we rolled out our new project management system.