Selecting New Business Software #2: Start With Needs Analysis

Hopefully, if you’re looking for new software, you started with a thorough needs analysis. Not just what was wrong with your existing software, but what your total needs were.
I used to teach consultants how to do consulting. One of my points was, “Have a checklist.” I had an illustration of this point. I had one of the class members choose a card from a deck of 30 index cards. On the card was an animal, vegetable, or mineral (you remember the old game of 20 questions, right?). The idea was for the class to ask one yes or no question at a time (with the question, “Is it an animal, vegetable, or mineral?” specifically allowed), and to figure out the answer.
After about 3 questions, the game degenerates to trying to guess the thing. “Is it a zebra?” “A willow tree?” “A rock?”
The 20 questions are soon up, and the game ends.
Then we played the game again. This time I gave the class a decision tree. It had about 8 or 10 questions on it. Each question said, “If the answer to this question is Yes, go to question x. If the answer is No, go to question Y.”
It never failed that they would get the right answer, usually with about 4 or 5 questions.
“But that’s not fair,” they would complain. “You knew the answers when you made up the question.”
Right. And what kind of consultant would I be if I didn’t have a pretty good idea of what the range of answers was for solving a given business problem? Sure, I’ll run up against problems that can’t be solved with my questions (just like you could find a card that wasn’t included in my 8 or 10 questions), but at least I’ll know when the answer is outside what I’m used to…and I can respond accordingly.
So…the point is…you need a checklist, a list of questions, something to start with in order to do a needs analysis. My list of questions is about 30 pages long. I don’t ask all of them for every needs analysis…some companies don’t need inventory or job cost or service. But my questions cover the field on which I play, and I add to them on a regular basis to account for new management techniques, or new players in the game.
Rule #2: Start with a needs analysis based on a plan of attack, which most of the time will be an outline or a list of questions.
Document the answers. The result will guide the rest of the process of implementation.