We had forgotten what the goal was. Why were we looking for a house in the first place? In the winter of 2009, my wife and I set out with a simple goal: graduate from our small apartment and buy a large enough home that we could raise a few kids in it and not have to move with each new child that came along.

This goal was soon displaced by the sight of features that just days before we didn’t need, care about, and didn’t help accomplish our goal. These features were exciting and fun and so soon we developed a matrix. We would keep track of all these now “necessary” features and then choose the house that had the most dots on the matrix…. simple.

So what’s the problem with this mentality? Well, we had lost sight of our goal. So whether selecting a house or a new donor management solution, here are some things to be aware of if you’re tempted by the matrix.

1. Scope Creep

If you’ve ever managed a project, you know a simple key to failure is to keep changing the requirements that define a successful project completion.

A matrix approach, unfortunately, is well suited to do just that.

As in our home search, the more features we saw, the more houses we then had to see. The temptation becomes to grow the “needed feature list” with every interesting and cool feature that you encounter. This propels the need to continue looking at even more options. Without even knowing it, you have changed your goal from the tool that will help us reach our goal, to finding the software with the most features (or in my case, a house that could handle 2-3 kids to one that had granite countertops).

2. Consumption of Time

Scope creep willingly leads you right into the next pitfall of matrix madness. Phone calls, appointments, emails, hour-long demonstrations all take time away from what you’ve really been hired to do. A matrix-method approach will ensure that you look at 2-3 times more products than you need to because it will give you the misguided sense that the more products reviewed, the better decision you’ll be able to make.

Unfortunately this mentality will demand that you spend many more hours watching demonstrations of products you know won’t truly help accomplish your initial goal.

3. Feature Confusion

The matrix’s allure is organization.

“It’ll help me keep track of what each solution offers,” you tell yourself as you spend hours crafting the perfect Excel template to hold this information. The reality is that there are far too many nuances in the performance of a feature to be represented by a simple check-mark on a spreadsheet.

You owe it to yourself to make careful notes on not simply whether the feature exists, but rather what value will it bring to the organization and will it ultimately help accomplish our goals as a development team.

4. Collaboration Killer

If you’ve been assigned to recommend a new donor management solution to the rest organization, it’s obviously important to receive collaborative “buy-in” from the other stakeholders.

As you receive proposals and sit through demonstrations, you are the eyes and the ears for everyone else in the organization. If your primary deliverable to the rest of the team after spending hours researching products is a feature matrix, you’ve inadvertently changed the conversation from “goal accomplishment” to “feature awareness.”

It’s difficult to have a collaborative discussion about how a solution will help the organization achieve its fundraising goals when the centerpiece of the meeting is essentially a summary of 5, 10, or 15 different product brochures.

The maddening effect of the matrix is this: you put a tremendous amount of time and energy into the donor management research project that you were given and end up not really having a better idea which is the best product for your organization — which one will help to increase the funding for your mission in a cost justifiable way.

Make certain then that your process for selecting your next donor management solution is a goal-oriented one and not solely based on features. The right features can certainly help you achieve your goals, just make sure you keep priorities in the right order, all the way through the process.

By the way, we came to our senses and bought the 4-bedroom house that allowed us to meet our goal and not the 1500 square foot condo with the granite countertops and pool.