This is concurrently the most resource-intensive phase, as well as the most important and revealing step, in your technology selection process. Don't short-change yourself here.
What is a "Bake-Off"?
Sometimes called a proof of concept (PoC), a bake-off is when you put a technology (and vendor) through some very practical, hands-on tests. You ask the two vendor finalists to mimic a real implementation sprint, and then show you how to get hands-on with at least some parts of their proposed solution.
The key is that it's totally customized to your requirements. In this bake-off, you’ll use your ingredients (content and data), your bakers (participating employees), and your ovens (your real environments)—although typically you'll employ the vendor’s kitchen (a.k.a., cloud environment).
Always hold a bake-off.
Like all good things, a useful bake-off takes time and attention, since the mechanics can get tricky. But the payoff is worth it:
- By engaging end-users in the selection process in a way that feels relevant and useful to them, via hands-on testing, it bodes well for their support during tough implementation times
- Testing your own requirements against reality enables you to reprioritize your objectives midstream, before you’re locked into a particular supplier
- This sort of prototyping allows you to jump-start your initial implementation and reduce the time from contract to value
- By learning (most of) the shortcomings of the winning vendor, you can plan around them
- You get a better sense for realistic implementation costs before you select a solution, and you also gain some valuable time and space to negotiate the best deal.
- Bake-offs require careful planning and project management
- Identify and flesh out key scenarios for the vendor to implement
- Set your team’s expectations in a planning meeting about how “polished” the vendor’s work is likely to be
- You may need to reimburse bidders for their time, but at a cut rate—negotiate here
- The ideal bake-off is one to two weeks long, but may be extended for mission-critical or performance-intensive applications, or shortened for simpler technologies
- Schedule daily “check-ins” with the vendor
- Schedule early bake-off trainings with your full team; you want to get hands-on with the technology
- Use this time to negotiate pricing and terms while still in a competitive environment
- If there’s something you don’t like about a vendor or technology, it’s likely to only get worse over time, so address it explicitly
If RSG can advise you on making the right selection, leveraging research-based vendor evaluations, don't hesitate to get in touch.
Other Posts in This Series
- Tip #1: Articulate a Solid Business Case
- Tip #2: Build the Right Team
- Tip #3: Setting the Right Business Foundations
- Tip #4: Capture Requirements That Don't Suck
- Tip #5: User Stories Are Everything
- Tip #6: Ask Questions That Really Matter
- Tip #7: Find More Than the Usual Suspects
- Tip #8: Target the Right Suppliers
- Tip #9: How to Engage Vendors
- Tip #10: Create RFPs That Actually Work
- Tip #11: Keeping It Real with Bidders
- Tip #12: Evaluate Proposals Critically
- Tip #13: Hold Demos on Your Own Terms
- Tip #14: Run Competitive Bake-Offs
Buy the book