A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on the characteristics of a highly configurable project management software system. You can read that post here. Now let's answer the question, how can you know if a system is truly configurable? Here are three tips that you can use to evaluate a system.
1. Test a Key Process
First you need to choose a key process that your organization executes. Don't have one? Stop! You need to work on your processes first before getting a tool to support a non-existent process. You'll never be able to do a proper evaluation otherwise, much less get real value from implementation. Now, let's assume you have a process and it is documented. Perhaps it is the process for creating and launching a new project. Take that documented process and implement it in the tool. See how the tool can mold itself and be configured to implement your process. You may need to add some database fields to capture key data elements, you may need to create a template, or you may need to generate a notification to key individuals.
After you have done that to your satisfaction, change the process. Pretend that you are a year down the road and your process is changing. Make up something. Now see how easy it is to change the process in the tool. That will reveal a lot about how configurable the tool really is.
2. Extend the Tool
Create some custom fields. Change a screen or a form. See how easy it is to change the information that is shown and collected on the screen. This will be important as you grow and mature in your processes.
3. Create a Reporting Factory
Reports are king. You have to be able to analyze your data. Don't be satisfied with the canned reports in the system. Dream up other reports that you can run, lots of them. Create them in the system. How easy is it to create them? Can you create them? If you don't know what reports you need, you probably should step back and think that through. Then try and create them. This should include reports that are centered around projects, tasks, and resources at a minimum. It may also be reports around time or costs. Even if you do not think you will need that information, you may in the future and this will help you evaluate how you can adapt to your changing needs.