Don't be a Fool, Choose the Right Tool


on a feature by feature basis instead of trying to compare entire tool sets against one another.  This method can be used to choose many things, such as a house, a car, or even a spouse (don't tell my wife I said that).

With a full understanding of what you want, you are ready to start your selection.  Your high level requirements (such as cost and platform) should do a good job of weeding out most tools and give you a manageable group to review. The initial phase, therefore, can be performed by a single person or small group.  Once you have identified a group of 4 or 5 tools to work with, then return to key users to help with the ranking in their areas of expertise.  Once again, this gives you the ability to focus on features, preventing any strong sales pitches from clouding your judgment.

After ranking your tools using your spreadsheet, you should have a clear winner.  If you don't, you need to dig into the detail for the top scoring tools and see where they are different.  Have the group examine their rankings for the two tools and reevaluate.  If you still can't reach a conclusion, take a vote, or settle the dispute with a spirited game of office paint ball.

A Note Regarding Licensing
If you choose a tool that requires concurrent/floating licenses, it can be a real challenge to choose how many you really need.  These license types are typically very expensive, and it is easy to purchase more than you need.  This decision will have a direct effect on the cost of the tool, so it needs to be considered during the tool selection process.

Determining your license needs is different for every environment and tool set.  The ratios will also change depending on the total number of users.  To determine how many you need, first identify your core users.  These are the users that will use the tool the most, and you need to decide what the consequences are if any of these users are denied a license when they need it.  Next, identify your casual users, or those that might require a license only a few times a week.  You can use a liberal ratio here, depending on the tool, cost and expected frequency of use.  Whatever you decide, it is always best to estimate on the low side.  The reason is that you can always buy more licenses, but you can't give them back!  Even if you are offered a great deal to buy more then you need, don't forget that many of these tools also have annual maintenance costs, which can eventually erode those quantity savings if you have more than you need.

In order to select the right tools, you need good planning, a solid understanding of your needs, and involvement from all effected users in order to maximize your success.  If done properly, you will have a much better chance at successfully implementing the new tool into the user environment (a different subject worthy of a different article), and you'll be one step closer to a cubicle near the windows.

Matthew Johnson has over eleven years of experience in the Configuration Management field, with expertise in administrating enterprise level configuration management tools in the medical device industry.  He lives in Southeastern PA with his wife, two little boys and a yellow labrador that is really just a furry stomach with four legs and a head.

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