The importance of tools

What is the greatest tool you have ever used in your software development?  If I was asked that question my response would be that it varies from project to project.  In some cases it may have been an analytical tool to give insights into code performance and user activity.  In other cases it may have been a unit testing suite that help me catch bugs before they got to production.  One things is clear – investing in tools has always paid for itself.

Plain and simple – I am a strong believer in tools.  I believe that if there is tool out there that can help you do you work smarter, faster and cleaner – then it is a tool worth having.  Many of the tools available to us are free or at least can be tested during a free trial period.  The only cost then is the expense of getting it up and running.  A cost which in my opinion too often gets in our way as a poor distraction.

Whenever I am testing a new tool I tend to evaluate it from 3 different perspectives.  First, how easy is it to setup.  If the setup costs are too great then that will kill adoption of the tool across an organization or team.  Second, how easy is it to get the value out of the tool.  It may be easy to setup and get running but if it takes me all day to run a simple report then the value it provides is not worth it.  Third is the monetary cost.  This has to be weighed against the value being provided.  If the tool is providing performance data then this data can be rather valuable at some times and not so valuable at others.  Understanding what you are willing to pay for a tool when – will better enable you to setup contracts and terms that fit into your budget.

Finally it is important to touch upon when to get rid of a tool.  I believe strongly that just since a tool worked once – does not mean that it will work every time.  Maybe a newer tool came out that offers the same benefit but for less cost.  Maybe a change in your projects direction no longer requires a specific tool.  There could be lots of reasons.  Never hesitate to re-evaluate the worth of a tool.  As times change don’t hesitate to turn a tool off if its return on investment can no longer be justified.

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