I hate software demonstrations. They are nearly useless. Here are my primary gripes…
Suspension of disbelief
I cried when I saw ET. That is the magic of movies. Somehow a perfectly rational person can believe that a lost alien has been rescued by children. I think that same aspect of human nature betrays us when we watch software demonstrations. People want to believe. I have seen people swear that they saw something in a demonstration that I know was impossible. Somehow, people see what they want. Perhaps people are too optimistic.
I know I am trapped in a bad demonstration when a volley begins between participants and demonstrators. Each question begins with “Can it…” Of course each response is “Yes.” Or my favorite “Yes, with customization,” which is vendorspeak for NO.
There are so many problems with this approach I don’t know where to begin. Actually I do. The vendor is lying through his/her teeth until proven otherwise. Any simple question that someone asks can be interpreted in a way to illicit a positive response. Usually the questions are too poorly thought out to really capture the intent. Furthermore, if the vendor is not demonstrating, but just volleying back positive responses is anyone really learning anything?
I guess Americans would rather watch TV than read a good book. That is the true when it comes to the software selection process too. Everyone would rather crowd into a room to see a fraction of the functionality demonstrated than read through the documentation to really learn how the system works. See my earlier post about reading documentation.
Why are we here?
When we do have software demonstrations (which is as seldom as possible) I always make sure we start the meeting by telling everyone why we are gathered. There are two reasons for demonstrations: education and acquisition. Everyone assumes that a software demonstration will lead to a purchase decision, so it is important to strongly emphasize to all parties if you are just window shopping.
It is OK to have software demonstrations just to spark ideas and expand your understanding of what is possible. When that is the case it is critical that the participants and vendors know this and that the message is clear that there is NO commitment beyond today. These demonstrations should have a very limited internal audience.
If the demonstration is part of a selection process at my organization that will be self evident. The demonstrations will be tightly scripted. Everyone participating will have assignments, including:
- completion of evaluations that are tied back to the features/functions required to achieve the project goals;
- documentation feature/functions that need to be pursued; and
- identification of possible gaps.
If there is no written documentation that is attached to the contract than this whole exercise has limited value. There is no obligation on the vendor’s behalf to provide the client with anything discussed during a demonstration.