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Resources and approaches to support decision-making on projects

Off-The-Shelf IT Solutions: A practitioner's guide to selection and procurement

A project to select company-wide, off-the-shelf software faces two sets of complexity - internal complexity from the business, stakeholders and requirements, combined with external complexity from the set of candidate solutions. A successful selection involves a mix of specialisms including technical, change management, commercial, contractual and due diligence skills. Most organisations execute such projects infrequently, so don't carry this knowledge and expertise. And if the organisation is not experienced in enterprise software selection, it is best not to make up the project approach as you go along. Hence our book (ISBN 9781780172590) about the Decision Evaluation selection method, a systematic approach to evaluate, select and procure off-the-shelf solutions.

The book, the talk, the workshop

This 'gateway' document contains resources to support the method, with information about the author, the book, the next free talk and the public workshop. It compiles onward links that mean you can quickly access an extensive sample of the book and the bookshop at our publishers BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT. This is a good one-page introduction to draw to the attention of other people who might be interested in the method.

Download (.pdf)

Substantial free sample of the book

Read a sample with Contents, the Foreword (written by a client, who managed both the selection and implementation), Glossary, the first two chapters in full and the Index.

Download sample from book's Extras page (.pdf) 



How to select your new off-the-shelf software

Our eight-page introduction, from the published version, to our proven method to avoid the common pitfalls when evaluating, selecting and procuring off-the-shelf solutions (on-premise software or cloud services) and its suppliers. Note the scoring illustration is a sample or fragment in both dimensions. There would be more columns for (typically) four candidates. There would be many more rows - generally between 100 and 300 scored requirements, depending on project scope, scale and risk.

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Specifics of engineering requirements when procuring off-the-shelf rather than coding

Article on Procurement Orientated Requirements Engineering (PORE), published by the International Requirements Engineering Board (IREB) in RE Magazine. IT Requirements when Buying, not Making: Effective specifications to select off-the-shelf software

View on IREB site

Articles to support BCS book

This link takes you to our page for the latest set of method articles. Co-authored with other specialists, these support the method published in Off-The-Shelf IT Solutions: A practitioner's guide to selection and procurement.

Download articles from book's Extras page (.pdf)


Techniques, tools and methods we find helpful

Weighted attribute matrix

A generic template for complex decisions that is especially useful where:

  1. There are multiple decision-makers, multiple criteria and multiple options to assess
  2. Decisions are complex, messy, high-risk, expensive or cut across boundaries
  3. The project involves organisational change, with few opportunities for trial-and-improvement
  4. There is no perfect 100% solution, but degrees of fit with a need to manage expectations
  5. The decision-makers need to understand the trade-offs between options.

The principle of the Weighted Attribute Matrix (WAM) is to extend (ie multiply) weight for importance by candidate fit for suitability. We use 0-5 for the weights and 0-3 for the fit, with definitions behind both. So the top mark is 15. Since zero is a valid finished entry, this format uses 0.1 to flag weights or scores not yet determined. Candidates that are strong in areas that are important to the project pick up loads of points compared to their rivals that are weak in important areas. Once you have the completed matrix, you can do simple but powerful analyses, such as comparing the top two candidates directly.

Download (.xltx)

Weighting process

Note in the weighted attribute matrix technique (WAM) above the key terms 'weights' (for importance of each criterion) and 'scores' (for fit of each candidate to each criterion). For instance, with 25 criteria and 4 candidates/options you would have 25 weight values and 100 scores. The weights stipulate - mathematically - the differences between the 'must have' and 'nice to have' criteria or requirements. This standard document - usually a handout before a workshop - introduces the definitions of the weights (normally in the range of 0-5), and the suggested process to determine them.

Download (.pdf)

Role/responsibility matrix from GDPM

Goal Directed Project Management (GDPM) was developed and published by three Norwegian academics. One approach we have found hugely useful on projects is the GDPM technique nicknamed the Role/Responsibility Matrix - more correctly known as the Responsibility Chart. It is excellent for clarifying and controlling matrix management. This is our Excel implementation of RRM - on most projects, we use the middle one of the three tables, with people's names listed down the left and the project roles across (such as 'Project Board' or 'Capital Approval'). Note the coded roles at top left, including the 'little d' to show joint decision-making, often highly relevant to collaborations. Also note you can combine the coding on the matrix with Excel's powerful AutoFilter facility (see Excel's help if new to you). Filtering, say, the Evaluation Team column to 'NonBlanks' gives a shortlist of team members, for printing or perhaps pasting invitation lists. Alternatively, you might filter the matrix to immediately find who must be consulted for capital expenditure decisions.

Download (.xlsx)

Issues sessions

This variant of Adair's Action Learning is excellent for circumstances when the subject experts are probably around the table. The process draws on the peer experience and is self-directing to solve the problems of most interest to the group. It usually works well even if people have not had time to prepare, so you can use this document to give a short briefing on the process at the start of the session.

Download (.pdf)

Format for a networking 1-2-1, to improve your base of experts

A facility, not a constraint! We have put some thought into making the 1-2-1 more effective as a business development technique, and adapted elements from BNI and other networking groups. These headings work well for an effective 1-2-1 to support referrals by establishing mutual advantage and understanding. When we use this format, we replace the explanatory notes in the right-hand column of the table with the answers we get during the meeting or call.

Download (.dotx)

Resources for Start-Ups and Independents

Many start-ups, smaller companies and independent service professionals face a similar problem. They need a wide range of skills and resources to be credible and effective in the contemporary competitive environment, which is arguably the most demanding competitive environment mankind has ever known. Yet they lack the resources of time and money to learn, evaluate or buy those skills or resources. This document contains my personal selection of useful (but often little-known) resources. We often refer to some of these resources during formal and informal networking and mentoring sessions.

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Our project contributions and experience

Independence statement

Formal statement of the ethical guidelines in place throughout Decision Evaluation's projects for clients.

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Project metrics

Illustrates how the selection method can be scaled to projects with different risks and budgets.

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CV - Martin Tate - IT consultant, technology/supplier selections, certified EA

Shows career and consultancy experience for Martin Tate, founder of Decision Evaluation. Illustrates achievements when applying formal decision-making methods and architectural disciplines to complex, high-risk capital projects including feasibility studies, organisational capability assessments, technology reviews, investment assessments, evaluating suppliers, procuring off-the-shelf solutions (COTS) and designing target architectures.

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