Software is medicine but it cures the symptoms, not the disease

When it comes to choosing business software, pick wisely. It’s important to make the right diagnosis, pick the right medicine and administer it properly.

Software is medicine – three medical professionals

For businesses, software is medicine. You identify a problem – falling sales, poor customer service, inefficient processes, whatever – and you try to find the technological remedy.

But here the analogy breaks down. With human health, you want to get the best possible outcome. You want to cure the disease, even if it means getting all Greg House on it.

With software, you hope to alleviate the symptoms, but obsessively trying to find a permanent cure may be counter-productive. Here’s why:

  • It’s too easy to over-diagnose. In business everything is connected to everything else. It’s very tempting to try and fix everything in one go but you can end up solving problems you don’t actually have and not knowing what actually helped.
  • The medicine can misdiagnose the disease. Sometimes, especially for geeks, a business problem expresses itself in terms of the software that is available to solve it. In other words, it’s easy to see a ‘CRM problem’ when in fact you have a ‘sales problem’.
  • The side-effects can be worse than the symptoms. Just ask anyone who commissioned a 12-month ERP or CRM project only to see it under-deliver six months late.
  • The time scales are different. Most software projects have a life span of 2-4 years. The stakes are smaller. If it doesn’t work, just change sooner.
  • It’s easier than ever to switch up. If you don’t like this medicine, you can try another one.
  • You have to administer it right. Put your hands up if you bought some software to try to solve a problem and then didn’t actually install it or learn to use it properly or explain it to your staff. Yup, me too!

So how do you approach the problem of buying software? Here are Turbine’s recommendations:

  • Solve the smallest problems. Try to break down big problems into lots of little ones and tackle them one at a time.
  • Test and see. Adopt an agile management approach with short sprints, lots of feedback and proper criteria for success.
  • Identify the problem first. Figure out what you want to achieve before you start deciding how to achieve it.
  • Don’t over-specify. Choose software that solves most of your problem. We call this the 90 percent solution. Don’t waste time and money trying to solve the last 10 percent. Work around that or, better yet, simplify your expectations or processes.
  • Iterate fast, fail early. Run pilots and trials and adopt a gradual roll-out. No more big bang deployments. That way if something goes wrong, you can roll back easily.
  • Don’t forget the people. Most software problems are really people problems in disguise. Put as much effort into consultation, training, feedback, process design and simplification as you do into software acquisition.

In business, the diseases are constant change, endless competitive pressure, fast-evolving technology, entropy and human frailty. You can’t cure them.

Management is about creatively overcoming their symptoms . Taking a leaner, more agile approach to business software means medicating the symptoms, for now. Choose wisely, get the dosage right and administer carefully and you’ll get lasting pain relief.

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