Five questions to answer before buying software for project management

software decisionsPeople dive into project management tools far too quickly, in my opinion.

We regularly deal with customers who have signed a 12 month contract for another service they wish they’d never agreed to – often it looked great in a demo but hasn’t performed half as well since. Although people are very willing to lay the blame at the door of the software vendor, it’s often a shared responsibility – buying a software product before taking the time to consider how it will fit into your own processes is almost certain to result in failure.

So before signing on the dotted line, take a few seconds to read through the points below, a simple list of questions. If you can’t answer all of them confidently, it’s perhaps too early for you to make your buying decision!

Who is sponsoring this project?

Successful project and resource management software rollouts tend to have high-level sponsorship – for good reason. There are a lot of people who have to work together to make these sorts of software implementations work and direction needs to flow from the top to the middle, where much of the work will actually need to be done. Who’ll be using the software the most, and have they been incentivized to implement it properly?

Are your PM practices institutionalized?

It’s incredible how many project managers, when questioned, are unable to spell out their processes. If PMs don’t have some sort of documented methodology, there’s no way they’ll be able to identify which solution best fits their needs (and consequently will have the greatest chance of success). So think hard about whether you know how your systems work, and whether project management software will help if you don’t. Unfortunately, ours isn’t a one-size-fits-all business!

How extensive a product do you actually need?

Project management and resource management projects fall into different categories – low-end, mid-range (ours at Precursive falls broadly into this category) and high-end, which are used to link organizations with huge PMO operations, often across multiple countries. Have a good think about which solution fits your needs, in terms of pricing, headcount, feature count and any other areas which can be affected by the tier of the product. Then, ask vendors where they’d place themselves and choose accordingly.

What platform will you use, and how will it plug in?

One of the best business decisions we ever made was partnering with Salesforce.com to offer our software on their platform – it means we don’t need to worry about databases, or security, or compatibility, and neither do our clients. Not everyone makes a conscious platform choice like this though – so you’ll want to investigate where the software will be running. Are there server costs, if it’s not cloud-based? Do you have access to your data, if it is? This is important and surprisingly rare — one of my favorite features of our offering, which I point out to potential clients all the time, is that they are in control of their database and can access it and manipulate it into reports or custom interfaces whenever they want. Ask vendors if they can offer that – because if they can’t, you’ll be hamstrung by the limitations of their software after implementation.

You’ll similarly want to consider which interfaces you’ll need to connect your project management tool to – so many buyers make a decision only to find that their new piece of software is a nightmare to connect to their accounting tool. So make a list of all of the information you’ll want to automatically pass into your new project management software, and where that data is currently held. Then press vendors on the ability of their products when it comes to this functionality.

How reliable is the software?

Look carefully at those uptime figures – every software application goes down once in a  while, but critical project management tools may need to be always on to fulfill critical business activities. Ask for the numbers and get vendors to explain the failover precautions – what happens when service is interrupted? And how quickly will you be offered support?

What support will you be offering?

There are two factors at play here – who’ll support your roll-out internally, and whether the vendor offers satisfactory support in their own right.

First, you’ll need internal champions who can act as your early adopters and also provide basic support to other members of staff where required.  These people will likely be the subject matter experts, responsible for acting as first-line support, offer coaching to new members of staff and ensure compliance and some sort of feedback process to the purchasers.

Second, what kind of support with the vendor themselves offer? Will there be training? Some large companies aren’t great at support, some are – try to find existing customers to comment where you can. If you have the option, write an SLA into the agreement so that the software provider will be contractually bound.

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About Nick Holmes

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Nicholas Holmes is Head of Marketing at resource management provider Precursive, a Salesforce.com ISV partner - find out more by visiting the company online at www.precursive.co.uk.