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Don’t Pave the Cow Path: It’s Time to Get Rid of Software Mods

Don’t Pave the Cow Path: It’s Time to Get Rid of Software Mods

May 21, 2014

I have written many rants about the overuse of “mods” by distributors when they purchase software. All too often it is a case of wanting to duplicate the way things have always been done. We refer to this as “paving over the cow path.” Instead of accepting that there are best practices that will make a company more effective, the company will assume that what it started doing in the age of abacuses is still the best way to do things.

Recently, our new Software Driven Process Improvement service to review and streamline software utilization has generated some strong interest. It works so well, I want to teach you to do it yourself. I know that does not make me a great salesperson, but there are many companies that need help.

First, create a list of all mods you have had written over the years (in the case of one client, there were over a thousand). For each mod, give it a name, describe what it does, and why it was necessary.

Once you have the list, review it with your software vendor. Determine if any of the modifications have become part of the core package in the years since it was created. A simple (well, not always very simple) upgrade may be able to eliminate many of the mods without much pain.

Next, review all of the mods that are not part of the newest release. Divide these into three groups. The first are “Mission Critical” mods. These are custom-coded applications that, if they were eliminated, the company could not operate. Be careful. Do not let “but we have always done it this way” rule the evaluation. Ask yourself if it is really needed, or ask your vendor if there are other ways to accomplish the same end.

In most of our projects there are few if any mods that end up in this first group. When we find one that does, we begin a detailed analysis of why it is mission-critical and what is the cost of doing it the way it is currently done. Using the basic principles of lean (eliminating waste) and six sigma (data-driven analysis of value) we attempt to cost-justify the application. Our resident Black Belt also devises and evaluates other ways to accomplish the same end. By using metrics and rigorous analysis it is possible to analyze the value created by a process. This is done without emotion and the numbers usually speak for themselves.

Group two are those mods that make our life easier. A mod may change the way a screen is laid out, it may maintain the order in which a process has always been done, or it may simply do some of the work itself. Once again, we apply the six sigma principles to understand the cost, the alternatives and their relative merits. It gives management the ability to make decisions based on solid measurements and projections of what can be.

The final group is mods that we can no longer remember why they were done, mods that are no longer used and mods that do not provide a competitive advantage, a reduction in cost or any other useful purpose. These are just eliminated.

By going through this process most if not all mods can be eliminated. That makes it possible for a company to once again take advantage of ongoing enhancements in the system without the attendant cost of carrying mods forward.

One reason to buy packaged software is to get the value of having hundreds of other customers using it. The best software companies make sure that industry best practices are integrated into all processes. Getting rid of mods that no longer make sense can make this intelligence available to you. Get all of the value you are paying for.

Try the analysis yourself. If you are more than two releases behind in your software, it is time to understand why you are not updating the software. Taking advantage of the R&D invested to make sure a modern ERP package is up to date just makes good sense.

Clear out needless mods and update your applications.

Get more information on distribution and manufacturing software options from the Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group’s Software Guides, available here.

Steve Epner is principal in the Brown Smith Wallace Consulting firm based in St. Louis. He has been advising distributors for over 30 years. Epner also teaches Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Graduate School of Business at Saint Louis University.

Epner is the author of Simplify Everything: Get Your Team from Do-Do to Done-Done with One Surefire Process, available from MDM.

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