Trent Parkhill
Guest Blogger

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In my last blog post, I mentioned that by analyzing our past projects, we can improve adoption of our future information systems projects. This post will focus on the second impediment identified in this type of review: that adoption is hindered when we do not understand how to drive adoption.

After putting months of work into developing and debugging a new information system, we tend to put little thought and effort into the deployment and promotion of the system we have created. Our months of experience with the system may have convinced us that it is so easy to learn and such a great system that users will flock to it naturally, or our attention is now focused on possible integration issues. Or, perhaps we don’t know what steps to take. Whatever the reason, our mind is not focused on what it will take to drive full adoption, and we are at risk of having to settle for low initial adoption and a slow subsequent rate of adoption growth.

Elements to an “Intentional Approach” To Drive Adoption

Some of the basic elements of an intentional approach are listed in Figure 1.  Let’s concentrate on the most important element – having a plan.  If you want to do more than “deploy a new information system”, and ensure this system is adopted by all who should use it, put adoption into your project management plan! This plan should:

  • Describe what “success” in adoption would look like,
  • Include specific and measurable adoption goals,
  • Outline specific steps to achieve adoption,
  • Schedule the adoption work well before deployment (don’t let it take a back seat),
  • Include monitoring of the new system,
  • Use the learning that comes from the monitoring to adjust the plan, and
  • Continue the monitoring of adoption and the messaging until your adoption goals have been reached.

These steps may sound obvious.  However, the reality is that many IS projects do not include adoption in the project planning.

Messaging Mistakes

In the simplest plan for rolling out a new system, we often send email announcements and perhaps offer optional lunchtime presentations. However, my experience suggests that this kind of messaging does not get the early adoption we hoped for. Common problems with messaging are key impediments to successful adoption and include:

  • Roll-out distractions cause us to send out the announcement as a last minute afterthought,
  • Less than 40% of our staff open “All Staff” email,
  • The message is heard, but then quickly forgotten as the staff “gets back to work” (If we don’t get people to try out a new IS shortly after the email or presentation, they are likely to forget that it exists.),
  • We fail to make the new IS sufficiently visible,
  • We fail to leverage early users to help spread the message,
  • The messages are not sufficiently tailored to the language and perspective of the users,
  • The messages are not sufficiently “colorful” and engaging to draw attention from within the vast quantity of other information bombarding your users every day,
  • We fail to take into account how different groups of people react to change, and
  • We send one message – there is little or no follow-up after the initial launch.

With so many impediments to successful adoption, it perhaps should be no surprise that typical adoption rates for new information systems are in the 15 – 40% range. Getting past these challenges and achieving full adoption requires a more intentional approach, an approach that begins with the inclusion of adoption goals and steps in the project plan, and continues with a careful approach to messaging.

About Trent Parkhill

Trent Parkhill has more than 30 years of engineering and IT experience and consults with organizations in the engineering and professional services market on best practices in enterprise search 2.0. A former engineering consultant and Director of IT, Parkhill was named to InfoWorld’s CTO 25, the publication’s annual list of senior IT executives who demonstrate leadership within their companies and the IT community. For the past 25 years, Parkhill has managed information systems development in a variety of positions at Haley & Aldrich (H&A), a leading science and engineering firm.

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