Commentary & Analysis
Software Features are Trees - See the Forest
Step back and regroup. Stop looking at features and focus on the overall business objectives of your software solutions. All of us (vendors and printers) need to get out of the feature focus so we can make better software decisions AND make the software we have work better for us in spite of the lacking features.
By Jennifer Matt
Published: March 8, 2017
When you’re in the weeds, you can’t see the horizon. When your view of software is restricted to features, you lose sight of the big picture - what the software is supposed to accomplish for your business.
Here’s what I want you to avoid.
When replacing software, don’t assume you must have a 1:1 match in features (even if users insist)
The software that is being replaced today is typically legacy solutions that were built based on what the print industry was like 10-20 years ago. Do not look to modern print software solutions and expect them to support every feature from the past (feature bloat makes software more complicated). Your business has changed, the industry has changed, don’t force the software to stay the same when there is no rational business reason to do so. Instead look at what you want to accomplish and find ways to accomplish that within the modern software.
Your job in dealing with software is to find ways to succeed in spite of the lack of features, poor support, etc.
We have become so focused on finding what’s wrong with software instead of focusing on how we can succeed in spite of its weaknesses. I think this is a symptom of resistance to change. If you want to resist change, there is no better way to do it then to go hunting for what’s wrong with software (target rich environment). This will get you nowhere unless you’re hoping for a job in QA at the vendor, otherwise you’re wasting your company’s time.
The never-ending missing feature list demand is another great tactic for resisting change. How many features are really that critical that you can’t possibly live without them? Be honest – not many.
I hear it all the time, we can’t move to this system unless we have this exact feature set. For printers with a long history, at some time in your print business’ past, you ran your entire shop without much software at all. Yet, we look at software evaluations like your entire business is going to fail if you can’t support multi-level approvals in an ecommerce application. Really? I think you can.
You are seeing the trees, step back, think about what is really needed to run your business. Don’t limit yourself to only solving the solution one way – think more strategically. Too many expensive decisions on software are made in haste based on features that somehow kept growing in priority without a validated business reason behind them.
Be careful what you are making into a “must-have”.
When talking to customers, especially ones that are paying you a lot of money, the tendency is to get insecure. What do I mean about being insecure? I mean that whatever the customer asks for, we simply relay it to our vendor/technical team as a must-have. If your only role is to parrot exactly what the customer requested (which usually is a suggested solution), then you are redundant. If you are customer facing, your job is to listen to the customer, then find out what they are trying to solve. Your number one skill should be the brilliant open-ended question. Ask a question, shut up, listen. Ask another clarifying question, shut up, listen. Rinse and repeat.
The customer hardly ever tells you what problem they are trying to solve. The customer usually tells you about a solution based on their context (which is often very limited). If you don’t know what the problem is, how can you be sure this is the right solution? How qualified is the customer to design the solution in the first place? Do they know the software that well? Do they understand how their challenge might be solved in ten other ways that are more elegant? Find out the real challenge by asking questions. Then bring that well -defined challenge back to your team, the vendor, etc. and think of all the ways you might be able to solve it.
First and foremost, ask the most important question of all, is this feature a must-have? We tend to overprioritize everything into a must-have when it really isn’t that important to the overall business objective.
Stop buying software based on feature lists.
A feature list is a snapshot of a moving train. When you buy software you are buying a ticket on that train. Do you want to buy that ticket based on what the train looks like stopped at a station? OR do you want to buy your ticket based on where the train is going and how fast it is traveling? Sounds obvious when you think about it that way. You want to know destination and speed before you buy.
A software application has a development cadence. Some applications move very slowly (e.g. large complex, ERP solutions), other applications move very quickly (SaaS applications). Destination and speed are a lot more important than one snapshot in time. Is the software moving in the direction that will be in alignment with where your business is going? Does the vendor have resources behind the train to move at the pace of business?
The big picture is tough for many people. They say the right words like strategy, big picture, overall vision but just wait a few minutes and they dive back down into the weeds. There is nothing wrong with this, some people are more comfortable there and every business needs them. Someone in your organization has to be tending the forest, the big picture, the strategy, the overall business objectives. When the forest view is neglected you can waste a lot of time and money without getting to a clear destination (walking around and around the trees).