how to decide which software tool fits best
tool evaluation

  software tool evaluation
This question is in a format common to our  industry: 
why one software tool over another? In a past life as a software  development 
management consultant  I was often asked to do tool  recommendation.  
Detlef mentioned the important component, personal  taste. 
However, if you are in a position where your  recommendation will fire off a 
string of purchase orders, personal taste can  seem too subjective. You need 
a method of justifying your decision.  I  found myself using a handy tool  
both to select, then present my decision.  It is fast, as objective as such 
a decision ever could be, deals with the  component of cost benefit ratios.  
Build a table (I use excel). Across the top,  make columns for each brand of 
software you will consider. In this  case  Toolbook, Director, Authorware, 
MTropolis ... and any others you or your  management may be considering.  
Now go to the web pages for each of these  tools, or, if that is not available, 
contact the vendor.  Get a list of the  important features, those which the 
company itself  offers as the reasons  you should buy their product over the 
competition.  IF you are speaking  with a vendor, tell them you are doing a software 
eval, they will happily  provide you a list. List these down the left most column. 
Only place a feature  in the left column, once. So if Toolbook and Director share a 
feature,it will  only appear in this column once.   "Features" that you learned of 
through  soliciting a community of actual users, such as the Direct-L can also be 
added  to this list, but you should group them separately, or flag them somehow, 
as  they are "Anecdotal".  Don't forget to include such features as  learning curve, 
ease of use, tutorials or "free" training included,  etc. Another very important 
feature  is the platform or hardware it  requires to run. Do you already own what 
is needed to run this tool, or will  additional purchases be required?  SO, now you 
have all the main features  of the various products in a list.  At the foot of the 
column devoted to  each product, put its list price.   For each software package, 
place a zero in the cell for each  feature it offers.  Now, go back and highlight 
the rows for features your  project actually needs. Replace the zero with a 1 (one) 
in any cell that is a  feature the package has, AND you actually need for your project. 
If you  anticipate using this tool over time, come up with some weighting system, giving  
higher points to the features you need immediately, lower points to features you  definitely 
anticipate using in the next year. Further out than a year, and the  tool will have been 
upgraded or replaced, affecting over-all cost.   Count up the ones, then divide the total 
cost by the number of  features you will definitely need....and you have a cost per feature 
benefit  ratio. (this is why I use excel) The point here can spend a fortune on  
a race car, but if the speed limit is 55 mph, or the driver will only go 45mph,  why spend 
the money?  If you want to get fancy... present two cost-benefit ratios.  First count up 
each significant feature per tool and divide the purchase price,  the results is a 
feature-cost-benefit ratio. THEN count up the features you will  actually use in your 
first project, and divide the purchase price by this  second, possibly lower number.  
Present both numbers.... to furnish  material for the inevitable discussion about 
"well, we might grow into  it..."  So, this was the 5 minute course in software 
tools evaluation,  which consulting houses get paid the big bucks to make look 
like rocket  science.  Put on a fancy blue suit when you make your presentation...
maybe  your recommendation will be worth the small fortune they  ask for   ;-)  

Beth Macdonald 

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