When you need software, part 3

This is the third article in this series, with advice about how to pick the right software for your small business.

Your next step is to identify and survey the folks who will be “touched” by the software you want to buy. These are your “stakeholders,” because they have a “stake in the claim,” or an investment in the outcome of your software purchase.

It’s a serious mistake, dear small business owner or manager, to think you “pretty much know everything we’ll need” in a software package (unless you’re a one-man shop). Figure out who your stakeholders are, and go talk with them. It’s possible you’ll discover that you may not need new software; you might just need someone to train the staff on how to use, or configure, what you have now!

This is the beginning of your PR campaign. Right now is when you start to play “cheerleader;” it’s when you begin to fill your role as champion of the new solution. You don’t have to know which software you’re going to choose, you just have to be convinced that it will be a benefit.

Figure out your software needs in 3 simple steps

1. Identify the stakeholders

Who has an interest in how this all turns out? That’s a “stakeholder.” Be sure to think if anyone might be against the new software. They, too, are a stakeholder.

Think about:

  • Who will use the software?
  • Who will enter data into it, or use it to create files, or make drawings, or anything else, that someone else will wind up using?
  • Who will use what the software produces? Is it your accountant, quarterly or at the end of the year? Is it a customer, who will buy based at least in part on what they’re given? Is it a co-worker at the next desk, or maybe halfway across the country? Or maybe a vendor or sub-contractor?
  • Once the software is implemented, who will be cut out of the business process? Who will have less to do, or have their job shifted away from them?

2. Go talk with them

I like to meet individually with folks the first time, and then bring a group together later on. Even in a small company, you’ll hear more “inside” information privately than in public.

It doesn’t matter if the person you speak with is the CFO or the data entry clerk… they are a person, perhaps with some history on existing software, with something to contribute to this project, and this is the chance to make that first impression, on behalf of the new, improved, lifesaving, software.

Find out how important this new software is to them. How excited or anxious are they about the project?

Make a list of specific things they say are requirements, and get their priorities for each requirement.

Capture their priorities in a systematic way. List each one, for example, as:

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Nice to have
  • Couldn’t care less

You can make even finer distinctions if you want, but my goal is to keep it simple for you.

Near the end of your conversation, ask them who else they think you should talk to; they’re more of an expert in their area than you are, so they probably know the nooks and crannies better.

Ask them to please keep thinking about it, and tell them they’ll have other chances for input, but none quite so critical as now.

3. Go back

Gather all your information together, preferably on paper, and ask each person to review it.

That’s it, for now.

At this point you likely have an excellent perspective on what the company thinks it wants and needs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for business management software, or accounting software, or project management software – they all require the same kind of “discovery process,” and you’ve just made a good start.

As you begin identifying and evaluating potential solutions, your knowledge is going to increase dramatically, and you’ll almost certainly go back to at least some of your stakeholders with new information… sometimes good, sometimes not.

 Brett Jordan

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