Trent Parkhill
Guest Blogger

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Maximizing technology adoption requires understanding the motivations of different groups of users and tailoring your deployment messages and materials to address their perspectives. So what are these different groups of users and are they really so different?

Understanding how people choose and adopt new technology is critical.  This material is based on the Everett Rogers “diffusion of innovations theory” as adapted by Geoffrey Moore in “Crossing the Chasm.” Many people are familiar with this work as it is one of the basic models used in the marketing of software and hardware. What is different here is that I am proposing we can apply this understanding to improve the deployment of new technologies in our companies.

Briefly, Moore suggests that people can be broken up into five distinct groups; that each of these groups has very different motivations that determine if and when they will adopt a new technology, and that success in getting broad adoption requires separately addressing the interests and motivations of each group. The size and relationship of these groups is typically portrayed as segments of a traditional bell curve. The curve illustrates both the general order in which these groups adopt technology and their relative size and importance.

Moore suggests that we should begin introducing new technology to those on the left end of the curve and then progress, group by group, toward the right end of the curve.  He also suggests that we should focus on one group at a time, using each group as a base for selling the technology to the next group, and keeping this process moving smoothly from one group to the next.  It is important to not pause and allow a loss in momentum.

The five categories of adopters include:

  1. Innovators – They pursue new technology aggressively without regard to how this technology might be applied. They are the first to buy/try new technology items and their primary motivation is to explore how the new technologies work.
  2. Early adopters – They also adopt new technology early on. However, their interest is in how the technology will solve specific problems and needs. They are people “… who find it easy to imagine, understand, and appreciate the benefits of a new technology, and to relate these benefits to their other concerns.” (Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm, p. 12.) They also are looking at technology for “change agents,” something that could bring about major improvements in their company.  Early adopters are critical to deploying new technology because they do not need to hear several other people tell them how great a new technology is to convince them to try that technology. Once they see it operate, they “…rely on their own intuition and vision” (Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm, p. 12.)
  3. Early majority – As Moore explained, early majority users “…share some of the early adopter’s ability to relate to technology, but ultimately they are driven by a strong sense of practicality. They know that many of these newfangled inventions end up as passing fads, so they are content to wait and see how other people are making out before they [adopt a new technology]. They are skeptical of major advances and prefer to go after incremental improvements. Most importantly, they need to hear multiple references tell them how effective the new technology is before they will try it. Because of the size of this group (probably about 1/3 of your company), the transition from early adopters to early majority is the critical transition.
  4. Late majority – Typically another 1/3 of the population, this group shares the point of view of the early majority. However, they tend to not be comfortable with technology and thus tend to wait until the new technology has become a standard before they adopt it.
  5. Laggards – The laggards are not interested in new technology.

As you can see from the descriptions of each of the groups, they approach technology from a very different perspective. Subsequent blog posts will discuss how one can use an understanding of these differences in crafting the adoption elements in your project management plan.

Many of us who develop and implement new technologies in our companies tend to be either innovators or early adopters by nature.   Practical when exploring new technologies, the innovator and early adopter points of view can also blind us to what we need to do and say to engage the rest of our company and achieve broad adoption.   One of the most serious mistakes we can make when selecting and deploying new technologies is to not stop and remind ourselves that everyone does not think like us!

Do these descriptions match people in your company and their approach to new technologies?

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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