Advice on evaluating new software tools for your workflow

The creative field evolves at a rapid pace, constantly pushing designers and developers to adapt their workflows to the new landscape. Luckily, tools and software evolve just as fast, but there’s a catch. Every popular tool will claim that it’s the solution to all your problems, that it’ll save you time, make you money and clean the oven for you. So how do you pick the right tools?

Certainly the right tools are unlikely to simply be the ones popular right now, and a bandwagon mentality can lead you to make hasty choices. We’ve seen how disastrous a bad software rollout can be. It’s not pretty.

A methodical, outcome-focused approach is the way to avoid these issues. This article will give some insight into how the Builtvisible creative team goes about evaluating prospective new additions to our toolkit. Naturally, we’re focused here on the creative workflow, but these principles will apply equally to tooling in any discipline.

Initial Research: Why are you considering using a new tool?

Before you even start looking at tools and software packages, why are you even considering making a change? What’s wrong with your current set-up? What’s the core problem you want to solve with a new tool? If you can’t answer those questions, it’s far too soon to consider options.

Once you can answer those questions, it needs writing down. Go into as much specific detail as you can about what your tool needs to achieve. Is it important that it has both macOS and Windows versions? Does it need to be able to export in certain file formats? Does it need to make rapid iteration easier than your current package? Whatever those requirements, the resulting checklist will allow you to quickly assess if your chosen replacement satisfies all the needs of the team.

With that done, you’re ready to start evaluating tools against that spec. Below are the areas you’ll want to think about.

1. What organisational benefits does the tool provide?

It might sound obvious, but it’s important to understand what benefit using a new tool will bring, analysing pros and cons and comparing it with other similar products on the market. Certainly, plenty of people will already be discussing the merits of software X vs. software Y, so that’s a good starting point for understanding the differences between them. Specialised forums are usually a great source of information here, and you’ll be able to see what real-world users think of the product.

2. Which of your problems will the tool resolve?

Going back to the spec doc discussed above, you need to understand if the software you’re considering is actually going to solve your core problem.

Setting tangible goals here is essential. Avoid vague requirements like ‘Provide a good environment for web design’, and go for something more specific such as ‘Reduce the amount of time required to create web page designs’.

As a real-world example, Builtvisible’s creative team has been evaluating Adobe XD as a tool for UI design and layouts. The criteria we were measuring against here was:

  1. Allow for quicker, more agile iteration of wireframes and full designs
  2. Allow for more quick and effective communication and sharing internally
  3. Allow for more quick and effective communication and sharing with clients

The features of XD mean that we can confidently tick off all three of these points, and so we move through to the next stage of the process.

3. Do your colleagues have other pain points they’d consider higher priority?

It’s almost certain that your team mates will have their own ideas about the parts of your workflow that work and the parts that need work. It’s important to listen to and include those who’ll end up using the new technology and make sure they understand why the process is changing and how it’s going to benefit them. Simply imposing a new software choice on unsuspecting staff will only breed frustration.

Blue lights

Planning: What resources will be required?

Once the benefits of the new product are clear and your mind is made up, it’s time to start thinking about the resources you’ll need in order to integrate the new software into your workflow.

1. Training and on-boarding costs

It’s crucial to understand how time-consuming the onboarding process will be. No matter how big or small, you have to consider the amount of time you’ll have to spend on testing, training and producing resources and documentation.

A poor rollout can be disastrous in terms of time and money, so don’t skimp on the time you allocate to this stage. Software that has launched hastily without proper testing can cause problems further down the line, when the members of the team starts to encounter issues that can cause severe delays. At the same time, poor documentation can lead to confusion, with the risk that your colleagues will stop using it entirely.

2. Are clients going to be affected by the change?

It’s easy to think of your software choices as a purely internal concern, but the needs of your clients can really make or break the deal.

First amongst these considerations is compatibility. A lot of designers in the industry love Sketch – we do too! – but we’ve decided against making it part of our toolkit. Clients often state a preference for receiving files in more universal Adobe formats, meaning that we need to maintain the Creative Cloud suite as our primary platform.

3. How are you going to get sign-off from budget holders if it requires extra spend?

A thorough evaluation process can help you make a solid business case to stakeholders, but that alone is not enough.

There are a few elements to consider when it comes to justifying any extra spend. As well as the cost of the new product, you’ll be expected to know what you’ll get in return for that spend. Those will come both in very tangible forms, such as the ability to deliver X% more work as a result of workflow improvements, and less measurable outcomes such as facilitating smoother working relationships between team members.

Take into account all the possible future variables. Is adding more people going to mean you need to upgrade to a different type of account that costs a lot more? Is the price going to increase based on the number of projects?’ Will you have to pay more to unlock specific functionality?

Pink crossed pattern

Roll out: Training structure

So, you chose the right software, weighed the pros and cons, received the green light from budget holders. Now, it’s time to officially share the new tool with the rest of the team, but not before planning the launch appropriately.

1. Create fool-proof documentation

Even if there are tutorials and guides available on the internet, is a good idea to write a bespoke user guide tailored to your team’s needs.

That document should highlight the benefits that the new system will bring to the company. Include examples covering your workflow and explain clearly the steps necessary to implement the new tool in your production process.

To really sell the upgrade, include information about how other teams within the business will benefit from the change. As an agency, we recently adopted Basecamp for project management and were careful to emphasise how the software was useful not only for account managers handling client comms, but also how it would enable the creative team to share files and documents seamlessly.

2. Share links and guides

Provide links for tutorials and guides so your colleagues can deepen their knowledge of the new tool and make sure to offer the necessary assistance after the official launch.

It’s good to have a solid plan of action that includes different scenarios so as to minimise the burden that providing help and support puts on your workload, and to let your colleagues know who to go to if they run into problems.

3. Share the excitement

Sometimes the simple list of benefits or a purely technical guide are not sufficient to win over your team mates about the quality of the tool. It’s crucial to illustrate practically the benefits that the new software can bring to them.

When possible, is worth considering organising a 1-to-1 session with your team mates, or a group demonstration of what the package can do.

Try to involve your colleagues in challenges and workshops, like Becki Hall suggests:

“Host a lunch and learn, rather than a mid-afternoon PowerPoint review. Create a “new technology scavenger hunt” or bingo-style game to really get people invested.”

Blue and green lights

Ongoing: Troubleshooting

Once the rollout phase is over, make sure that the new software is used in an appropriate manner and evaluate the performance.

1. Collect feedback and concerns

Regular checks are crucial to understand if your team is using the new tool as intended. Make sure to take note of any doubts, suggestions or feedback, which will help you to strengthen the workflow and spot issues that didn’t appear during tests.

It’s really important to heed your colleagues’ ideas and take into account new options or solutions while making sure to stick with the agreed workflow.

2. Review

To measure the benefits that the new tool provides to your team and your company, you should schedule a review and verify if the new software has achieved its aims, how it improved your way of working and if there were any unforeseen issues.

This step is fundamental to understand which improvements are necessary to make the process better in the future. The rollout is really only the beginning, and should mark the start of an ongoing process of improvement.

Adopting new software can be a long and laborious process, but it’s worth the extra effort needed to make sure you get it right. A half-baked rollout is bad for everyone.

As long as you follow the advice above and adhere to a rigorous plan for evaluating your options, you can make sure that every tool you roll out is a roaring success.

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