How to Succeed with Software Tools – Part 6

In this series of blog articles we examine some of the essential factors required for the successful implementation and use of software tools. In today's article we look at the danger of actually using too many tools or using such tools inappropriately.

Do not Overuse Software Tools

As with a hardware tool, a software tool is designed for a specific purpose. Just as you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail, you wouldn’t use a word processor as a database, would you? Strangely, people do. This tool misuse is a form of overuse, but when it comes to Agile projects there is another type of excessive use that is perhaps more important, and that is how frequently tools are used. Relying excessively on software tools goes against the Agile principle that people and interactions are more important than tools.
Let’s look at some of the ways tools are used excessively. While these behaviors are particularly negative in an Agile context, they can also be detrimental on traditional, phased projects.

  • Entering too much data.

The temptation to record everything, ‘just in case’ or just because the tool can, should be resisted. The ROI for rarely used data is too small to justify the effort involved.

  • Jumping in and out of the tool.

This can occur when an organization tries to save money by purchasing fewer licenses than are required, leaving users to drop out of the product just so that others may use it. This is a false saving. Look for per user licensing to help overcome this. Further, some processes require individuals to stop and start a tool too frequently. If the tool can be kept in the background, constantly available, all well and good, but try to avoid the need to start and stop the tool too often.

  • Producing too many reports.

Managers have a tendency to want to have more information than they really need. Just because a report can be generated, doesn’t mean you should do it; it may not even get read, making it a total waste of time.

  • Putting too much effort into customization.

Few tools work ‘out of the box’ exactly as you would like. But hopefully, if you picked the right tool for your project, 80% or more of what you need should be available immediately, as is. Use the 80% and perfect your process around it, only then should you spend time working on the other 20%. And know that you will never get the full 100%.

  • Making your processes tool-centric rather than goal-centric.

Remember that any tool is a means to an end, not an objective in its own right. Don’t spend so much time trying to make a tool work according to preconceived notions that you lose sight of the ultimate objective. Ask yourself whether the same end goal can be achieved another way.
Tool overuse can be as bad as underuse, but get it right and tools can be an essential element in project efficiency and ultimate success.

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