Last week, a Button client confided in us about how overwhelmed they were with the growing number of options for online software or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). They were looking to automate, streamline and track both their team’s efficacy and deliverables but couldn’t believe the choice of tools at their (and their budget’s) disposal.

It’s a common conundrum for Canadian government agencies. Fortunately, there’s some good news. Governments across the country are expanding the number of tools available in public sector enterprises, including ensuring compliance with security and privacy requirements. This allowance is a huge opportunity for internal and external teams to source and implement tools that are specifically suited to their organization's specific needs. In particular, it opens up some amazing opportunities for asynchronous collaboration, which is an advantage now that teams are increasingly remote or hybrid. 

One of Button’s favourite ways to use online tools is by doing virtual whiteboarding canvases—an amazing way to brainstorm as a group, collaborate on journey mapping, and plan projects with your team—whether in-person or virtually. 

Most, if not all, of our client projects also use various types of task-tracking or sprint-planning tools (think Jira, Trello, Zenhub to name a few) to organize and track features and tickets and help our clients manage projects in a transparent, consistent manner.

At the same time, with great power comes great responsibility. The world of SaaS brings on additional considerations around cost, continuity, and keeping track of the growing number of tools being used by your team.  

Button doesn’t use ChatGPT to write our blog posts or educational materials, but just for fun, we asked it to describe a “Sea of SaaS” to us. To help you set your mind as you consider options, we give you a short (optional) AI-created visualization:  

Imagine a vast ocean scene with waves made up of various SaaS (Software as a Service) icons or logos. Each wave represents a different category of SaaS, such as communication tools, project management software, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, etc. The icons or logos could be floating on the waves, with some rising high and others sinking below the surface, representing the popularity or market dominance of each service. 
In the background, you could have a cloudy sky with rays of sunlight breaking through, symbolizing the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the SaaS landscape. This imagery could convey the idea of a vast, interconnected ecosystem of cloud-based software services. 

Now then, here are some of Button’s top tips to identify, trial and invest in SaaS tools without drowning in the options. 

Take the time up front to assess your needs 

Whether you’re a scrum master, team member, or executive, most software purchases start with the need to help your team track tasks or data more efficiently and collaboratively. Sometimes it’s external, like the need to facilitate an upcoming client project in a more transparent and engaging way, and one of your team members suggests a tool that they’d like to use. It sounds useful, but you don’t know much about it. Here’s how to proceed.

1. Identify the business need that needs to be solved 

Recently, we at Button had a client decide they wanted a SaaS tool to help them track data better. After a short conversation, it became clear that they had one primary pain point: the difficulty in tracking version control in Excel. We spent time unpacking if they needed a better business process for updates, a light-weight tool with more version control features (like Airtable), or a custom database-driven application with more robust access control and audit capabilities. 

We’ve helped clients adapt to all three scenarios depending on their needs. And in every case it’s great to find the time up front to identify the right solutions before diving into licenses (that cost money and need to be managed), or even pricier custom solutions that take time to deliver. In the case above, the right answer for our client was also the easiest: better business process for spreadsheet updates. 

Side note: If you are using a “spreadsheet as a database” (SaaD?) we feel your pain. And we feel like there should be a support group for that. We’re here to chat any time.  

2. Don’t be afraid to run a pilot

Running a time-boxed pilot will allow you to:

- Evaluate the tool’s ease of use  

- Track costs to determine what recurring commitments the software requires. Will it become expensive as your team grows? Can some people get away without licenses and be “guests” but still access the tool?  

- Work with your security and privacy team to make sure the tool adheres to all internal policies

- Start training a few, select team members who can then pass on lessons to the entire team, instead of having the chaos of trying to onboard everyone at once

- Talk to other teams and organizations who are using the same tools and hear about their lessons learned. Just don’t take their points of view as gospel because their use cases for the tools may differ from your objectives

- Most importantly, adapt and bring in any external support you need to help configure, train, and set up the SaaS tool  

3. Take configuration and upkeep into account 

- Will you require support, potentially external, for initial set-up and configuration of the tool? This is an important step in making sure the tool can be used properly, and in ensuring it will meet your business needs.

- Consider identifying a team member who can help monitor tool usage, including best practices, and help new team members or existing ones who are still learning to use it. Training videos are often readily available and in some cases, free. We love regular lunch-and-learns where tools and resources are reviewed and questions asked in a social setting in the office or virtually.

- Schedule daily or weekly rituals that enforce consistent tool usage across your team. This could be more formal Agile rituals like sprint-planning or backlog grooming, where the team uses the tool together. Or go more informal with fun challenges like a “Friday clean-up” where everyone goes into a planning tool and cleans up their work.

- Have a central place on your company drive to track links to work products. Many tools, including CRMs, whiteboard tools, and task-tracking tools allow you to share links to boards. Choose a central place, like a wiki, landing page, or Teams page to catalogue all of your team’s links. Just remember to be mindful of sharing settings and access control, if that’s a factor in your work.

4. Make a plan for continuity and long-term ownership

The SaaS tools you invest in are only as effective as the people in your organization who use them. Make a plan to onboard and offboard employees as they join and leave the team. 

You will also need to decide what you’ll do if the tool is no longer available (like when the procurement contract ends, or when you sunset the use of the tool). Will it allow you to export your work and data into a PDF format? Is there an API for data? Could you easily migrate to another tool? Make sure you ask and clarify this vital step before investing in any tool. 

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Alec Wenzowski

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Dave Brookfield

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