When evaluating vended software products, there are two explorations that must be done: MetaphorExploration and Capability Exploration. While metaphor exploration helps understand how well the softwares underlying model aligns with the model driving your business practice, the capability exploration helps understand whether the software has capabilities that will enable your business to continue, grow, develop, compete.
Essential to a capability exploration are BusinessCapabilityRequirements. A prioritized set of business capability requirements, can be turned easily into a set of “How will” questions in a vendor RFI. “How will” questions ask the vendor to describe how their software will enable your business capabilities.
- Comprehensive: Business capability requirements for a new system must be comprehensive. There is a tendency to focus on current gap or need, rather than total need. This is especially true when replacing an aged system, or when the business model has changed leaving significant capability gaps in the current software product. It is easy to assume that any new system does everything that the current system does. This assumption is rarely valid, even when the new system comes from the same vendor. Make sure that in addition to any gaps or pain points in the current state, you also document the satisfactory and exceeds portions of your current state.
- Open: Business capability requirements for a new system must be open to change or adaptation. Every vendor software will have some specific practices or activities that it does not “do” in the way that your business currently “does”. If your business capability requirements are written in a “closed” fashion (requiring the business activity to be performed exactly as in the current state) may preclude your taking advantages in the software to improve practices or efficiencies. How will questions allow the vendor to show how a practice or activity can be done via their product, and you can evaluate whether that is superior or inferior to your current state.
- Prioritized: Business capability requirements need to be prioritized in terms of some real value derived from the satisfaction of the requirement. You can then also rank the vended product in terms of how much of that real value can be realized via the “how will” pattern demonstrated by the vendor. How you prioritize requirements is also important. PrioritizingRequirements describes different ways of organizing and capturing the relative value of software products or projects. The purpose of prioritization is more to allow you to grade potential solutions according to value delivery, weighting the more important requirements more heavily. This also has the benefit of taking emotion out of decisions. Every decision requires compromise – without a method of valuation that is free from emotion, the decision can be hijacked by political, emotional, or other personal agendas.
Once you have a set of business capability requirements, you can begin to explore the capabilities of different software products that are available. During this exploration, you can learn that you are missing some business capabilities from your list, or some of the business capabilities that you require can be eliminated because they are necessary to your current work process, but not to all reasonable work processes.
You can also map software capabilities to business capabilities, for each vendor or solution. You can rank how well each software capability meets the business capability requirements you have prioritized.
Recognizing that each vendor may have different types of software capabilities that satsify any of your business capability requirements, one of the choices you will have to make is which types of software capabilities you prefer, and whether you prefer a solution with generalized capabilties where a single software capability satisfies many business capability requirements, or one where each business capability is satisfied by a very specific software capability.
After you have explored the various available software capabilities, you can narrow down your search, by refocusing on your software capability preferences, issueing an RFP to the software vendors that you believe to have the solutions that are most closely aligned with your requirements.