Developing requirements for a business purchase?  Don’t become the main course.

When is the last time you bought a car?  Do you remember walking into the various dealerships?  What were you looking for?  Let’s forget about what you looked like to the salespeople working the floor, because if you are anything like me, you likely resembled a mouth-watering, medium rare ribeye steak on two legs.  (If you are having trouble with the visual, watch the last 20 minutes of the movie “Madagascar” for a good chuckle.)


Now why would I look like that to a salesperson?  Because I don’t buy a car very often, like once a decade.  That’s in a good decade, since the person with the brains in my family runs the finances (i.e., my wife).  So when we get to the point of being ready to make the leap, I am READY.  I have sat enviously in other people’s  new cars for at least the past five years watching the latest technology pass my old wheels by.  Everyone else is driving something even cooler than Starsky & Hutch’s Gran Torino.  Mentally I feel like I’m driving the “Blues Mobile” just before Jake & Elwood pull up to city hall and it disintegrates into 728 parts.

So I walk into that dealership, and I am some meat.  I want to hear the latest Bose speakers with windows down at 75mph.  I want the onboard computer to brush my teeth and make me a cappuccino on the way to work.  I’m asking how I can get the “Himalayan Offroad Sherpa” and “Daytona 500 With Afterburners” Editions packed into one vehicle.  Every salesperson is drooling, because no matter what brand I am checking out, they have 45-50 bells and whistles to show me.

Back to basics

Do you want to know how to switch from that ribeye to a hammerhead shark in under 5 seconds?  As you are sitting in that car on the showroom floor sliding one hand across the leather steering wheel and dialing up the stereo with the other, nonchalantly ask the salesperson, “Can you tell me very quickly why this particular car is the most cost-effective option to get me from here to there every day.”  Watch closely, because you’re gonna see some folks swallow their tongues.   Oh, and have your checkbook ready for the one salesperson in twenty that can answer you concisely without thinking very long or hard, because she and her product line are focused on what you need.

GETTING FROM HERE TO THERE.  Sounds so darn simple, doesn’t it?  Why do I always forget that one?

We are answering a multitude of inquiries every single day regarding whether our software can do this or that for online scheduling or workforce management or management reporting or web services.  There isn’t an account manager at Shiftboard that doesn’t have this response drilled into their skull.  “Whatever you are looking for, if it doesn’t start with EASE-OF-USE, nothing else matters.”

Be sure to ask for what you really need

When you are developing your requirements checklist for your web-based scheduling system or any other software, slip in “How easy is it to use?”  Put it right at the top.  Because if your user community is baffled or frustrated using the system, I unfortunately can make a very confident prediction that your project will not be successful.  Look for screen shots on the websites, because any company that isn’t showing them usually has a really busy, confusing user interface to hide.  Ask the question in the online demos you watch.  See who chokes on the answer.

I had an epiphany fairly recently.  If I can’t hear the music at 75mph, I should probably roll up the windows.  And Starbucks makes a pretty decent cappuccino.  I’ll spend my time thinking about what is going to get me where I’m going, day-in and day-out, at a price point that makes my decision pretty easy.  Someone else can be the protein.

– Rob Eleveld