Don't choose software the way NFL teams choose players in the draft

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I really like professional football, and I'm from St. Louis.  Unfortunately, these two facts combine to mean that I'm a big fan of the worst team in the NFL: the St. Louis Rams.  This year the Rams have the first pick in the draft, so they can take absolutely any incoming rookie they want. I'm worried that the Rams are going to make the wrong decision, and I think they're going to do it for the same reasons a lot of businesses make bad decisions.

Note: there's a lot of football talk in this post, but it's really not about football.  Bear with me.

At the end of the College Football season, it was clear who the Rams should pick.  Ndamukong Suh, a defensive tackle from Nebraska, was clearly the best player and everyone knew that the Rams should pick him.  Sadly, the draft happens about four months after the end of the football season, and that leaves lots of time for everyone to second-guess easy decisions.

Since the season ended, the obvious first pick in the draft has changed from Suh to Sam Bradford (a quarterback from Oklahoma).  What happened during this time to change everyone's minds?  Absolutely nothing.  No new games have been played.  The needs of the Rams haven't changed.  Sam Bradford hasn't magically gotten any better, and Ndamukong Suh hasn't gotten any worse.  This is a clear example of people talking themselves out of the obvious decision because they're focusing on things that don't matter.

The saying, "can't see the forest for the trees" is very fitting here.  Everyone is focusing on the trees (Bradford has charisma, he looked good throwing in no pads to an uncovered receiver, etc.) and they can't see the forest (Suh is probably a better player).  This is an easy decision and everyone is making it seem difficult by over-analyzing it.

This same thing happens all the time in business.  Since this blog is about technology, I want to specifically point out how needless analysis leads companies to use the wrong hardware and software.

Imagine that your company is trying to pick a phone service. You've narrowed it down to two options: Nortel and Vonage.  Nortel systems are expensive, complicated, and outdated.  Vonage is (from what I hear) easy to use, and affordable.  This seems like an easy decision.

But wait!  Vonage only advertises 25 features, and Nortel has hundreds.  You run a very important business and you deserve as many features as possible.  To help figure this out, you make a spreadsheet listing the features of each, and assigning values to these features.  You survey your employees, talk to some tech-savvy friends, and read what the experts say online.  After a month of research, you decide to use Nortel because your analysis suggests that the extra features are important.

Let me summarize what just happened.  There are two products: an expensive product that you don't like, and an affordable product that you do like.  Over the course of a month, you convince yourself to go with the expensive/bad product. Maybe this doesn't actually happen to you, but it does happen to a lot of businesses.  I've seen it first hand, and it can ruin a company.  When a problem has an obvious solution, it's normally the correct solution.

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't do your homework before making decisions.  I'm just saying that after a long day of staring at trees, it's important to step back and look at the forest for a while.  If you want to pick software, try using the products you're considering.  Most of the time, you'll be able to tell immediately which product is better for you.

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