You’ve had enough of Excel spreadsheets and writing things on paper! It’s time to get serious and finally get a system that will make your life easier. Maybe it’s a new Human Resource Management System, Finance System, Marketing Software or CRM. Are you ready for it? Have you heard the horror stories of how your colleagues implemented a new system, only to find out it didn’t meet their needs… or worse, cost them more money than they expected?
Selecting a new system is a lot like shopping for a new cereal… but much more critical!
Never fear! All About Systems is here!
All jokes aside, these 5 (not necessarily easy, but very do-able!) steps will help guide you and ensure you make the best decision for your organization
STEP 1: Make sure you actually need a new system.
Yes, I know this sounds silly, but it is REALLY important! Do you know what the problem is that you are trying to solve? Or do you just think you need a system because you figure you should have one, or that it will miraculously increase your sales or improve efficiency? The last thing you want to do is implement a system that won’t solve your true problem.
Before you start, it’s important to have a Project Charter. That’s just a fancy word for a document that justifies your intent and sets clear goals and expectations so you don’t get side-tracked.
Basically, the Project Charter will give you these key things that will ensure help towards making a new system a success:
- A solid reason for implementing a new system.
- A budget and timelines to work towards.
- A list of stakeholders (these may be funding partners, employees, senior managers, specific departments, governement agencies etc.)
STEP 2: Identify your MUST HAVES.
In my world, these are called requirements. You can call them whatever you want… but make sure you write them down clearly. It does take a bit of practice to get this right, and there are different ways of doing them. Keep in mind that once you get to Step 4, you’ll need to determine which of your potential solutions meets these needs. They should make sense to you and the project. ‘Business Analysts use ‘user stories’, but for small businesses, I’d say it’s sufficient to just state what your needs are keeping in mind that each ‘must have’ should be:
- Testable (verifiable)
- Clear (concise, terse, simple, precise)
- Feasible (realistic, possible)
- Not specific to any vendor
There is no limit to the number of requirements you can probably come up with. In fact, I’ve worked on projects with thousands of requirements. But keep it simple and manageable. Come up with as many as you can and as many as are relevant to the size of your overall project. I’d say 20 to 30 is a good starting point for most small businesses.
Some examples of good requirements:
- Must cost under $10,000 to implement.
- Must be available on mobile devices (Apple and Android).
- Should cost under $5,000 a year to maintain.
- Must be able to track historical data for up to 10 years.
- Ability to have an audit trail of all transactions.
- Store up to 1T of data in the cloud.
STEP 3: Narrow Your Criteria.
Once you have your list of requirements, go back and look at the list above and re-evaluate them. Identify which are truly must-haves, and which are nice-to-haves. Keep the list for reference in Step 5 and for future implementation. Pick your top 10 critical ones (give or take a few, no one is going to check up on you.).
Create a chart with all the criteria listed in the first column, and then all the systems you’re planning to evaluate in the top cell of the table like this:
|Under $10,000to implement||YES||YES||YES||NO||YES|
|Has 1T storage||YES||NO||NO||YES||YES|
STEP 4: Evaluate systems that meet your criteria.
Using the requirements you listed in step 3, start evaluating various systems and fill out the chart. Hmm.. I bet you’re wondering, “But where do I find the systems in the first place?!” How can you know which ones to consider in the first place? Depending on what kind of system you are looking for, there are two sites that could be useful (in addition to a Google Search of course):
These sites both let you search for and compare different options and even let you refine your search by your criteria. Also, be sure to look at the reviews. You may want to add a row for that in your chart. It’s not just about evaluating the software solution, but also the vendor and support you will get post-implementation.
You can also use social sites like LinkedIn or specific Facebook Groups related to your industry or need to ask for recommendations. Networking is a great way to get some ideas of what is already working for others.
Fill out the chart above with the information you find from these sites, as well as the company websites. More detailed requirements may not be easily identifiable. Don’t be afraid to ask for a demo, sign up for a free trial or speak to a sales representative to get more information… just don’t sign anything yet!
STEP 5: Make a decision.
By this point, that is all that is left to do. You have taken the time to give each step it’s due diligence, and now you can rest assured that you have all the necessary information to make an educated, well-informed decision. That said… don’t get stuck in the process. Sometimes, we can keep refining and refining our requirements or adding more alternatives to our list and it gets harder to move past that. Sometimes, good enough, can be enough.
Gather your stakeholders to help you make a final decision. Not only can they provide valuable insight, but if any of them need to be users of the new system, it will help to have their buy-in early on. No one likes change… unless they are at an arcade…. in the 80’s!
No system will match all your needs perfectly, but the right system should be a perfect match for your organization… kind of like finding your life partner. A new system can be a big commitment too. Hopefully, these steps will help you decide which is best for you.
Now get ready for Implementation!