Choosing the right tool for the job?

Published by Mel Joy on behalf of Ian May. Check out or hit Ian up on Twitter at @ThatIanMay

Project Managers love talking about tools, almost as much as we love a good methodology or people discussion. So how come making a decision about which App or package to use sometimes presents such a dilemma? And how should you go about making an informed choice?

I guess part of the problem is fear of making a poor decision. Then there’s also the nagging doubt that you haven’t looked hard enough to find exactly the right thing to help solve your problem in the short, medium and long term.

I was recently faced with a similar challenge so here’s how I solved the problem.

I’m starting my own business offering support to agencies and managers with digital project management problems. It’s essentially a consultancy where, for the moment, I’m going to be working on my own. I’m reasonably good with financial management but I don’t have a background in accounting and I needed a tool to help me deal with invoicing, expenses, cash flow, tax and the operational side of running the business finances.

As I saw it there were a couple of routes to choosing a solution:

  1. Internet research
  2. Asking my personal network for recommendations
  3. Speaking to my accountant or the bank to see what they suggested

I started with 2. And then I followed up with 1. I may still try 3. but it’s early days in the relationship and, rightly or wrongly, I trust the advice of my peers over and above anyone else’s.

The great thing about being part of the Digital Project Management (DPM) community is that you have access to a bunch of clever, helpful people. So I quickly had some recommendations and the beginnings of my dilemma – which one of these great tools to pick? At this point I knew they probably wouldn’t be free to use but I hadn’t considered price as a factor.

The other thing I’ve been doing is as much reading and research as possible trying to understand what’s important when you go freelance. So I listened to a number of the Boagworld podcasts about starting your own web design business (Season 12?). Paul Boag is well known in the industry and he uses and recommends a platform called FreeAgent.

Soon I was down to a shortlist of 3:

  1. Xero
  2. Kashflow
  3. FreeAgent

I suppose what I should have done was find someone I know who’d tried all 3 and ask them which they found best!

Faced with a knowledge gap and no-one to ask (it was a Saturday night and my DPM friends don’t love me that much!) I did what I think most people would do: Googled it.

Fortunately I found a couple of useful things pretty quickly: a Blog post article comparing Xero to Kashflow and FreeAgent discussing the problem I had, and a site called GetApp which offers a comparison service for web apps.

At this point I also did the other thing that people in my situation often do and opened each of the possible vendors websites in a separate tab to find out what they had to say. I liked what I saw. It’s obvious that the companies have put a lot of thought into their products and marketing them. And I could see straight away that this kind of tool was exactly what I needed. The question was which one?

Pricing of the 3 products is on a pay-as-you-go basis and each also has a free trial available. The problem was: I hadn’t got time to try them all out – even though investing in one of these felt like a big decision and I wanted to get it right.

So why, oh why, did I pick to try out the most expensive one?  I think it was a combination of these factors:

  1. On the GetApp comparison chart my second favourite tool was missing a feature that I think might come in useful in the future
  2. It was the one that Paul Boag recommends (and I suspect my business will be operating in a similar way to his)
  3. I’ve always believed in the maxim ‘buy cheap buy twice’ and seeing as there was a free trial I figured it was worth a go!

It’ll be really interesting to see how the experience turns out, and whether I stick with my choice.  Watch this space…

If you’ve faced a similar dilemma, why not tell us about it (and how you solved it) in the comments.

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