STOP using feature lists and start getting what you actually need.

STOP using feature lists and start getting what you actually need

We've talked before about why the NHS keeps getting software wrong. Often, the problem stems from people asking the wrong questions at the tender stage, meaning the project is doomed from the start. We're going to be controversial here and say that long lists of features are where it all starts to go pear-shaped.

We've talked before about why the NHS keeps getting software wrong. Often, the problem stems from people asking the wrong questions at the tender stage, meaning the project is doomed from the start. We're going to be controversial here and say that long lists of features are where it all starts to go pear-shaped.

From years of responding to tender requests, we can confidently argue that a requirements list involving hundreds of features is a pointless exercise because the answer is almost always “yes”. What field management software doesn’t collect data on completed cleaning jobs or provide proof of delivery for logistics customers?  

It is not only a pointless exercise but also potentially a harmful one, because it reduces the opportunity for open discussion and exploration of your software needs with a provider. When these lists are used to judge the viability of a tender, they don’t allow for companies to qualify or contextualise their answers, or even to question further a requested feature. It’s another missed opportunity: these guys want to understand the problem because it will make any solution they offer far more effective.   

What’s more important to explore is how the system in question does these things. It is far more meaningful to ask what auditing functionality it has, how easy it is to create or change audits, how quickly an audit can be set up for users and whether it’s straightforward to interrogate the data collected. 

So, instead of merely asking whether a platform or piece of software can perform a particular task, which these days is almost certainly a given, ask how long it will take and how much it will cost. When you need an audit question changed or a spelling mistake corrected, it’s more useful to know that it will take up to three months and add £250 to your bill. 

Critical question 

We would contend that instead of spreadsheet checklists of more than 300 functional and non-functional requirements going into ever greater detail, the single most important question NHS trusts need to ask is: “Can my platform change as my requirements change?” In other words, is the platform configurable by nature and what kind of service is the software or platform provider committing to.  

After all, regulations change frequently so having software that can be adapted in response is crucial. Taking the National Standards of Cleaning as an example, when originally issued in 2007, they were meant to be reviewed every five years.  As we know, in reality, the first review was not performed for 14 years, but these new 2020 Standards are indicating more subtle improvements will come in each year. How well would your existing solution provider cope with these changes?  

As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, the future is uncertain. With hospitals required to rethink all their processes virtually overnight, in today’s fast-changing world inflexible software is no longer good enough. 

I always recommend to my clients that rather than get hung up on software features in granular detail, they focus on the problem the trust needs solving and build out from there. Starting with a lengthy shopping list of minutely-detailed requirements inevitably results in a slow – and therefore costly – tender process, let alone the complex implementation, because the scope is simply too large. Even worse, it encourages ‘scope creep’ as each stakeholder adds their own requirements, exacerbating the problem.  

In my experience, when an NHS trust doesn’t choose a flexible platform it’s very likely that within days of using it they will discover problems or shortcomings of some kind. Too late they find that it could take months to make any changes because the scale of requirements is huge and cumbersome. Added to which, training staff to correctly use an inflexible platform becomes a mammoth task in itself. 

By all means look for software, or better still a platform, that can solve your immediate issue but ensure it’s a solution that, like our own mpro5, can evolve and scale up with your business, otherwise it will limit you.  

Future-proof 

When considering potential providers, look for a company (such as mpro5😉) that is always developing the software or platform far in advance of you needing new features. This means you won’t have to spend your time sourcing a new piece of software to do the same things slightly differently in just a few years’ time. (Having to recreate the base functionality all over again is typically what leads to the creation of ridiculously long feature lists in the first place). 

Finally, the service part of the Software as a Service (SaaS) is key. Ideally, you want a company that implements a simple solution quickly and then is on-hand to adapt and update things swiftly as your needs evolve or scale up. In other words, it’s not just the software that needs to be agile – the supporting service must be too.

To find out more...

visit our Healthcare page to read more about we help NHS Trusts adapt to ever-changing compliance.