Selecting a new tool? Think about this first

Software tools are some of the most expensive products in the market. For example, to give your designers access to the Adobe suite, you are looking at $80/Month. Of course, the designed product needs to be coded, so again we are looking at $400/year for Intellij. And this are just the basics!

Yet this is not even the important metric. Each tool comes with its own learning curve, this means lost hours that could have been used productively.

In this entry, we shall be looking at the various questions that you need to ask yourself before adopting a tool.

Who is the vendor?

This is a very important question. We had previously explored it in Selecting the best vendor for your product.

Everything feels the devastating effects of entropy. This means that the shiny new tool that you just bought will one day require support from the vendor.

This can either be in the form of a scheduled regular update or a support call. Either way, you want to make sure there is someone to help you on the other side of the line.

What is the gain?

In the classical book Filters against folly, Garret makes the following statement:

    The numerate temperament is one that habitually looks for approximate dimensions, ratios, proportions, and rates of change in trying to grasp what is going on in the wold. Given effective education–a rare commodity, of course–a numerate orientation is probably within the reach of most people.

Aditya gives an example from the person we all know and love, Elon Musk. Simple Math Is The Reason Why Elon Musk Does Things That Seem Impossible To Others

Clearly, the ability to articulate the benefits numerically is important. Software vendors will typically promise you the world, unfortunately, the world is just not up for sale. You need to be able to at the very least do some back of the napkin calculations to assert if the tool will give you meaningful gains.

E.g if I currently use my personally hosted git on say AWS. I then come across a salesman for say Github, who promises that by hosting my application on their platform, I will gain 5X productivity. The fist thing to ask is how are they measuring productivity? Is it time to code? Time to checkout? Ease of finding the code? Then I would give a measure to how important this is to me. Comparing this metric and the expected gains, I can see if truly the gain is 5X and if it’s not, is it still enough to be worth adopting it?

How long has the tool been in the market?

Change is inevitable. In the world of software, this means that the tools you just bought are amenable to change. The question then is, in what direction is it likely to change?

The startup world has a term for it Pivot. This is where a startup shifts strategy in its effort to find its business model.

Obviously, the ability to pivot is of great value to the startup, to your business, however, this may not be so good. The initial strategy may have focused on speed which aligned with your own strategy, they now maybe focused on user experience and in the process trading of the speed.

How well does the tool fit within your existing systems?

Each organisation has with time built its own ecosystem of tools. More often that not, the business has figured out how to make its various components from accounting to planning tools work.

Any new tool then needs to somehow fit into this ecosystem. For example, if your entire business is made up of remote workers. Then acquiring a system that only works when all the devices are connected to the same network is going to be a disaster.

You may also want to consider how the new tool constrains future tool adoption. Tools typically provide multiple interfaces to interact with. If the new tool say exposes only JSON interface for integration, then you will have a problem adopting a SAML-based tool.

How much training is needed?

Some tools are necessarily complex and need training time. This by itself is not a bad thing. Unless of course there are no trainers or even worse, a community of practitioners for your staff to interact with.

Popular tools have a leg up in this cases, this is because there is usually a community to answer any esoteric questions that you may have. Unfortunately, the popularity also means that the tool gives you less of a leverage over your competitors.

Less popular tools may have a defining edge that takes you to the top, but then getting access to trainers maybe problematic and expensive. Not to mention, you may not be able to get help once you learn on edge cases that are just not documented in the manual.

What is your process for adopting new tools? Talk to me on the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex


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Software Project Manager