The Focal Point Blog // Business Strategy // Bret Swain // July 13, 2022

Embarking on a Software Evaluation? Leverage These 6 Pillars from the Outcome Chain Framework

person walking up a chain

We all lean on technology both in our personal and professional lives to solve problems and make life easier.

It’s everywhere and part of everything, from finding the perfect app that allows you to better track your budget or organize your recipes, to implementing a new system or adopting a new platform that will streamline processes and increase revenue. Whatever outcome we’re reaching for, it’s well understood that technology can help get us to where we want to be.  

Selecting enterprise technology, however, holds much more weight than stumbling upon a new app. Even as the volume of technology purchases increases every year, many buyers are getting important elements of the evaluation process wrong. You might think practice would make perfect, but data shows that’s not the case—most organizations aren’t doing a great job of thoroughly evaluating software, and they’re missing the mark on the solution that best suits their needs. 

According to Gartner, 48% of technology purchases are ad hoc, meaning the team’s requirements and objectives are not well understood, and another 52% of technology purchases are either canceled or abandoned before they get off the ground. Worse yet, only 20% of buyers achieve a high-quality deal and feel strongly that they did not have to compromise their ambitions.

These numbers are bleak, but frankly, they’re completely avoidable. When you better understand and align on the outcomes your organization is truly reaching for, the evaluation process for a new solution becomes infinitely easier (and even kind of fun).  

Introducing the ‘outcome chain’ framework

At Parallax and in past lives, we’ve made our fair share of technology purchase decisions. Plus, we are – after all – in the technology business, so we’ve learned a thing or two about the key questions and considerations you should think through before you make a large investment in a new solution for your business. At Parallax, we subscribe to the ‘outcome chain’ framework, originally developed by the Technology & Services Industry Association (TSIA). It’s a methodology that enables effective outcomes engineering, which is focused on consistently helping customers achieve targeted business outcomes at scale. This, of course, requires a complete understanding of what’s required to achieve a specific outcome, which is defined in the outcomes chain. The same concept applies to buyers evaluating software—they should be aware of what’s truly required to achieve the outcomes they’ve identified as well as the outcomes that providers are promising throughout the sales cycle. 

Yes, it’s essential to understand what a platform or solution can do, but what else needs to be done? What other operational changes need to be implemented in order for the solution to perform? Say an organization’s main objective is to increase their utilization by 5%—to achieve desired results, this will almost always require more than just a software purchase.

Laying everything out in an outcome chain framework provides structure to the evaluation process, ultimately helping buyers and their providers identify the key ingredients required to successfully deliver the right outcomes. 

Putting the outcome chain methodology to work 

There are several different elements of the outcome chain framework to think through and document when evaluating different systems and solutions. Let’s dive in! 

  1. Outcome: To avoid embarking on a journey where the path ahead is unclear and the requirements for success are unknown, it’s essential to first identify and capture what outcomes you want to achieve and what’s required to achieve them. Are you focused on improving utilization? Increasing project profit margins? Achieving scalable revenue growth? Align on the intended outcomes, then have these conversations with your potential providers as well. They also need to have confidence that the holistic plan is attainable and that everyone understands the elements that might need to shift or evolve so that the solution can deliver on its promises. 
  2. Financial Impact: What benefits is the solution going to provide, and what’s the expected financial impact of those benefits? The financial impact is tied directly to the outcome. How much is this going to cost? Do other required operational changes have an associated fee? Answering these questions is how you establish the expected ROI.
  3. Operating KPIs: Once you’ve aligned on intended outcomes, you need to establish the key performance indicators (KPIs) for tracking against them. These are the early indicators you’ll use to understand your likelihood of achieving your goals. What systems or reports are we going to use to track our progress? What other factors will impact our likelihood of achieving our goals? How can we measure and monitor those additional factors? What metrics matter most? When you establish answers to these questions in your evaluation journey, you’ll always be prepared to answer stakeholders’ questions throughout the implementation process. 
  4. Practices: Other day-to-day practices that might need to shift when a new platform is adopted are often overlooked, and that needs to change. What processes and best practices will need to be adopted in order to effectively leverage the software? How big is the gap between what we’re doing today, and what is required to achieve an outcome? What support am I going to be provided in establishing new processes? Who’s accountable? This is all part of creating a holistic solution in order to achieve outcomes. 
  5. Technology: Though easier said than done, it’s important not to get distracted by one-off features and functionalities that aren’t relevant to your outcome. In other words, focus is key. What technology needs to be implemented to achieve the outcome? What’s included with the solution but isn’t required to achieve the value you’re pursuing? Am I disrupting a process that doesn’t need to be disrupted? How much change management is required? While more features could sound like a good thing, it’s important to consider the resources you will need to invest in adopting those features (i.e., training, change management, data migration, risk mitigation). When in doubt, remember that the simplest path to an outcome is most often the best path. 
  6. Roles: The people component of any organizational change cannot be forgotten. Who needs to be involved? What changes will be required for my people? Will there be resistance? The solution needs to speak to the strategic goals that leadership is focused on, but it also needs to consider the logistical, operational requirements of the teams using the technology day in and day out. A rip-and-replace approach, for example, might not be the best option if teams are passionate about their current tools. Instead, the business might want to consider a solution that integrates with existing systems and that can 1) still achieve outcomes and 2) doesn’t cause widespread, unnecessary disruption and frustration across the organization. 

Let’s connect!

We understand that evaluating different tools and technologies for your business can feel overwhelming, confusing, and time-consuming. But with the outcome chains framework, those stressors go away. It’s a helpful approach that should be leveraged when making any software decision as it supports teams in covering and considering every aspect of the process so they can achieve their outcomes with ease. 

That’s why we use this same philosophy and approach when we partner with customers. Because adopting a Professional Services Automation solution is all about driving business outcomes – like better revenue, increased margin, and strategic growth. When you partner with Parallax, you not only get a powerful PSA solution built to meet the unique needs of digital agencies, marketing, and software development firms, you get ongoing access to a team of industry experts who are committed to helping you achieve the outcomes that matter to you. We’re there to support you every step of the way, probing you with important questions and ensuring that no stone is left unturned when making big decisions that have great impact on your business. 

“I must also say that working with the people at Parallax during implementation was a great experience. The team was informative and responsive. Because of Parallax’s consultative approach, I feel we got more than a tool — we have really initiated a major business transformation.”

Tim Hamilton
CEO at Praxent

Interested in learning more about the outcome chain approach? Have questions on how the process works? Get in touch with us! We love having conversations like these because they help your team focus on what’s important today while laying out the framework for new decisions, programs, or tools that’ll make a difference tomorrow.