Looking for Signs of Life: How to tell if you’ve found an AGILE software vendor

Jack Cheesbrough

Supply Chain Consultant * Head of I-Plan Discovery

Jack specialises in driving organisational change through the alignment of business goals, his functional knowledge of I-Plan translates into an advanced analytical approach to supply chain management. Jack’s people orientated approach to software implementation gives him a unique edge when working on business process change, leadership engagement and user training.


You can’t be a disruptive force within your industry without adapting to the changing technology landscape, you must change. Not only does your company need to be ready and adaptive to their organisational change, but you need a software vendor who supports your growth plans. In fact, what you need is not a software vendor but a partner. Someone who can lead change, help you adapt to your changing environment, deliver benefits quickly, and most importantly understand and engage the people within your organisation.

But these vendors can be a rare breed, the traditional software implementation model can be slow to get going, slow to get finished, restrictive in features and can sap your resources and cash in ways that can be detrimental to your business objectives. When every vendor promises the earth using a menu of carefully selected of buzzwords, how do you figure out if you’re choosing a disruptive partner who will transform your organisation, or a disruptive partner who will just slow you down? The clues are in how they approach problem solving and in the products and services they offer.

Here are some key ones to look out for:

  1. An agile partner talks about Individuals and interactions over processes and tools…

The first rule of good software implementation is that it’s not about software.

Software and systems support people, people drive organisations. If your changing your businesses processes to fit a program, or your project is so occupied with integration and bolt on development that you’re beginning to lose sight of the problem; you’re most likely being squeezed into a one size fits all solution. This is not the solution

Agile vendors follow agile principles when they develop software. They find the industries, processes, and customers that they can serve best. They create dynamic, configurable solutions, and they always create their products and services with the end user in mind. Look for solutions with a track record in your industry. Evaluate how they present their compelling case and ask them testing questions: Can they demonstrate they’ve solved similar problems before? can they reference teams in other organisations who use the system to solve their problems? If so it may be a GO… If it’s just yes to every question its more than likely a NO.

2. An agile partner provides working software over comprehensive documentation…

Working software should be the measure of success in any software implementation. These are provided through short term iterative instalments which are embedded within business processes of the organisation to provide tangible benefits early. Challenge the timeline of your vendor’s proposal, if the result of three month’s work is a comprehensive blue print of your desired requirements ask yourself the question: where are my promised benefits?

3. An agile partner promotes customer collaboration over contract negotiation…

Like any relationship, Your partner should push you out of your comfort zone… not bend you into blind conformance.

You’re paying for their service offering but you are also paying for their consultation. It should be an opportunity to learn from the experts in the field, refine your business processes, shake up your organisation, your vision and your goals. To reiterate: the first rule of good software implementation is that it’s not about software.

Your partner should be facilitating your growth, collaborating with your team and pushing you to deliver your objectives. Be wary of rigid contract clauses, long diagnostic periods and restricted escalation channels. Ask yourself who’s needs these are meeting? Are they sandbagging techniques for the eventuality that the project fails? Then ask yourself why you would start a project with a vendor who needs to take such precautions.

4. An agile partner responds to change over managing to a plan…

It’s important to remember that you are trying to implement change.

As you begin this journey your requirements will change. Consider the variables in your organisation that you want to make firm commitments to… your vision, your budget, your plans; and what you accept as changeable… the path you take to deliver these goals. Managing according to detailed project plans at the expense of your changing business needs is not serving you, its serving your vendor. An agile partner will welcome changing requirements, even late in development because this is what differentiates them from their competition. Agile partners harness change for their customer’s competitive advantage.

Your customers are demanding more, and so too should you. You are only as fast as your slowest function so don’t let that be your software vendor. If your goal is to disrupt your market you need an agile partner. Someone who not only keeps pace with your organisation, but can drive you to reach your goals.

Alan Cheesbrough is an expert in S&OP with particular expertise in the paper industry. He is the founder and CEO of Trading Science, the people behind I-Plan S&OP software.

References

BECK, K., BEEDLE, M., BENNEKUM, A. V., COCKBURN, A., CUNNINGHAM, W., FOWLER, M., GRENNING, J., HIGHSMITH, J., HUNT, A., JEFFRIES, R., KERN, J., MARICK, B., MARTIN, R. C., MELLOR, S., SCHWABER, K., SUTHERLAND, J. AND THOMAS, D.
Manifesto for Agile Software Development
2001

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