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Should you start with a requirements study for a new software system?

Heresy it may be, but I question the galvanic twitch to start every software selection with a requirements definition. If your department wants to choose software, this step sucks up much time and money in interviews or focus groups. Yet many in-house counsel do not even know what their requirements are other than very high level notions that any consultant would already understand. It is also difficult to reconcile conflicting requirements, especially if one person – particularly a senior lawyer – staunchly advocates a particular “need.”

Third, even if you can catalogue and reconcile all of your requirements, if you ask vendors whether they can comply they often say they can – they don’t spell out the cost, difficulty, or timing of those customizations or workarounds. And after the dust clears many of the capabilities of software systems languish unused. Why bother to ask about gourmet cravings if people stick to meat and potatoes?

At least consider a different approach. Designate a short-list of plausible vendors and spend ample time on demonstrations and discussions with a few contenders. Then people in the department actually have a better sense of what the systems look like and can do.

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