On Technology Adoption…

I’ve often wondered about the intersection between enterprise technology adoption and … therapy?

Some years ago, I had dinner with Mark Demeny and Amanda Shiga in Copenhagen. We tossed around the idea of a theoretical CMS conference and who we would invite to speak. Maybe it was the Carlsberg talking, but we eventually settled on what would give enterprises the most value –

Some form of organizational therapist or counselor.

Because enterprise tech often fails not because of the technology, but because of some kind of adoption issue. Sometimes those issues are project-related –

  • Too much emphasis is placed on the technology itself, and not enough on the surrounding context of why it’s needed and how it fits into (or redefines) the existing process

  • Budget and schedule for things like training, RE-training, and internal marketing are overlooked.

Sometimes those issues are … psycho-social –

  • There are genuine bad actors inside the company that actively subvert the project for various reasons

  • There are people who just don’t like change, resent the project, fear the future it will bring, or find some other reason to be passively difficult

This last one is tricky, because issues there are distributed and not attributable to a single person. You can’t single one person out. They have to be fixed at a foundational, aggregate layer.

Michael Sampson wrote a great book called, simply “User Adoption Strategies.” It was full of actual adoption plans to get your USERS on-board – the rank and file; the people who are intended to use the tool day-in and day-out. It was a great book, and I’ve never really seen much else like it.

If you search for “technology adoption” now, you find a lot of words around talking decision makers and executives into trying something new. But organizations still seem to think that users will just follow along, willingly and enthusiastically.

When we talk about “adoption,” we seem to view it through the lens of an entire faceless organization. Well, what about Bob from Accounting? How do we make sure Bob gets it and likes it and uses it? Help us figure Bob out.

This also gets complicated by “two-stage” adoptions. With platforms, first it has to get adopted by the implementing team, and THEN it needs to get adopted by the end users. You can fail at both.

At Optimizely, we’ve split this into “onboarding” and “customer success.” Like how an airplane “climbs out” then “cruises” – they’re two different things, and require two different approaches.

And again, I come back to the idea of … therapy. A lot of software has failed purely on social and organizational dysfunction. I feel like a trainer or project manager or customer success manager needs to be part therapist, because they’ll help identify issues in your org that you’re not aware of. Oftentimes, your employees will say things to them that they won’t say to you.

I don’t know the exact solution here, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

This is item #20 in a sequence of 42 items.

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