What does an agile software vendor look like? 

Written by Jack Cheesbrough
Director of Operations at I-Plan. 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.
23rd April 2019

Being a disruptive force within your industry means adapting to the changing technological landscape. Not only does your company need to be ready and adaptive to the process of organisational change, but you need a software vendor who understands your operational pains and supports your growth plans. In practice, you need a partner who can lead change, help you adapt to your evolving organisational and trading environments, deliver benefits quickly, and, critically, understand and engage the people within your organisation.

These vendors can be a rare breed. The traditional software implementation model can be slow to start, slow to end and a drain on your precious resources. When every vendor promises the earth while often being detached from commercial reality, how do you know if the partner you choose will transform your organisation positively?

Before you make a decision, here are 4 clues that will tell you to differentiate an Agile Partner:  

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.

The primary function of software and systems is to support the people that drive organisations. In practice, this means never losing sight of the problems the software was supposed to solve. If you’re being forced to change proven business processes to fit the software, or if you get lost in a maze integration and bolt on developments, it is highly likely that you’re being squeezed into a one size fits all solution. This can never be 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 products and services to solve operational problems, not create them.

What, then do you look for? First, look for software vendors with a track record in your industry. Second, evaluate how they present their case and ask them these three 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?
  • Are they flexible in their behaviour or do you suspect they’re structurally too large and rigid to accommodate your needs?

2. An agile partner prioritises functioning software over comprehensive documentation

Functioning software (i.e. software that delivers in practice what it claims to deliver in theory) should be the measure of success in any software implementation. The tangible benefits should be delivered at an early stage and follow consistently thereafter. These benefits are delivered, initially, through short term iterative instalments embedded within the business processes of your organisation.

Challenge any vendor who prioritises blueprints over benefits. It is not acceptable for the output of the first three months work to be a blueprint of your requirements. Three months is more than enough time to deliver early, measurable benefits.

3. An agile partner promotes customer collaboration over contract negotiation

An effective partner will be fearless in pushing you outside your comfort zone by challenging existing practices and assumptions.

You’re paying for more than software. You’re paying for an honest, open and collaborative consultancy service, which is an opportunity to learn, 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 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 to cover the vendor in the eventuality that the project fails?

Then ask yourself the most important question of all:

  • Why would I start a project with a vendor who needs to take such precautions?

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

You are investing in software to implement change.

As you begin this journey your requirements will change. Consider the variables in your organisation that will be central to the process: your vision, your budget, your marketing plans, your sales targets, your service levels and many more besides. Each of these variables will themselves change in the course of implementation.  

This means that managing according to detailed project plans at the expense of your changing business needs is not serving you, it’s serving your vendor. An agile partner will welcome changing requirements, even late in development, because this is what delivers value to you. Agile partners harness change to give you a competitive advantage.

Your customers are demanding more, and so should you. You have the right to demand an agile software vendor who is honest during the sales process and flexible in delivery. These values drive human, not just technological, change.

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