It happens to us all… we get excited about a new technology solution and forget what it may take for our organization to make the most of it. Unfortunately, without careful attention to system adoption, your solution can be doomed to sit unused, even if its functionality is wonderful!
The good news: there are tried-and-true methods to plan for successful user adoption and, ultimately, a culture that embraces technology at your organization.
This March, I teamed up with Austin Buchan of College Forward, Kevin Peralta of Amigos de las Américas (AMIGOS), and Norman Reiss of Center for Court Innovation to present best practices for technology adoption at the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference. We also had a lively conversation with attendees, you can view the session slides here.
The following are some of the key points we discussed and the experiences we shared:
1. With Your Executive Team On Board, You’re In Business. When engaged leadership supports and promotes your system, it gains visibility and priority within your organization. If your executive director and leadership are actively promoting the new system to your organization, you’re probably in good shape! If not, have you defined the benefits concretely enough?
Your executive sponsor should be clearly communicating the tangible benefits to the organization, and willing to commit organizational resources (time and money) to the system over the long haul. (Having trouble getting buy-in? Here are seven tips.)
2. Align The Organization With Clear Communication and Involvement. During our session, we debunked a myth that people hate change. They don’t hate change so much as disruption to their work. If you can help them understand the benefits of the change for them and the organization, you can remove resistance.
You likely have many key stakeholders to include in the project. Make sure your objectives are documented and clearly communicated to all of them (internal and external). Norman Reiss recommended having representatives for different groups in your organization if it is too large to have everyone at the table (literally) at once.
Kevin Peralta discussed a related and critical topic in the panel: resistant stakeholders. It is very common to have a skeptic or group of skeptics. Engage them early on so their voice is heard, and make them part of the process. Ignore them at your peril as others may agree but not speak up. If those stakeholders’ concerns are addressed, they can become your biggest champions, and strengthen your system as well.
Assigning roles also helps align your organization. Consider delegating the following roles: 1) your system administrator, who owns support, troubleshooting, and maintenance for the system, and who should be involved in your project from day one; 2) a steering committee who makes major strategic decisions about the system (such as the budget); and 3) influencers who help you encourage users to adopt the system (this could be your executive director, or just someone whom the team respects as technology-savvy). Make sure that these additional responsibilities take some precedence in your staff’s schedule, rather than being shoehorned into their existing workload.
3. Prepare Wisely, Setting Appropriate Timelines and Expectations. Once you have your stakeholders in alignment, you can begin to lay out your roadmap. Our top tips include:
- Using a realistic estimate from your implementation partner, think about when you will be devoting the most time to the project, and whether this will overlap with other organizational priorities. Technology projects can often fail just because they are implemented during an organization’s busiest time of the year, when no one has time to focus on learning to use the new system.
- Consider budget and funding cycles for your system.
- Set expectations and timeframes for training and launch.
- Ensure appropriate staffing for soliciting feedback before, during, and after launch, additional training/“office hours,” and engaging sluggish users.
4. Put Your Plan Into Action With the Help of Your Toolkit. The tools in your arsenal are your communications plan, documentation/recording of feedback, and training:
Thoughtful communication can be easily overlooked as an essential component of system adoption. You want to set expectations before, during, and after the transition. The content of your communication is important, however, frequency and variety are also key. Don’t just send one email, use repetition in different mediums to make sure everyone’s clear. As well, it should be a two-way street where stakeholders feel free to ask questions and give feedback. Make sure you have dedicated roles for offering support initially and in the future.
We strongly recommend capturing/recording feedback during user testing. Ideally, you can incorporate this feedback into your business requirements roadmap for future prioritization and development, as your situation and needs will continue to evolve and change. This information may also be useful to document lessons and how-tos.
Austin Buchan shared training lessons learned at College Forward. Their system is used by fellows, or volunteers, who are only with them for 11 months. So it’s critical that they make it easy to learn the system in order to manage these ongoing waves of new users. Initially, they trained on the full array of functionality. However, they later realized that users were overwhelmed and forgetting what they had learned. They also noticed that certain functionality in their system was needed for three months, and only after that did fellows need to know some more complex functionality. The takeaway: break out your training so it focuses only on tasks users need to manage right away. Make sure it’s necessary and relevant. Less is more when it comes to retaining information. Training should be ongoing to keep up with organizational need.
- Nonprofit Technology Adoption: Why It Matters and How to Be Successful (Exponent Partners)
- 13 Lessons on Building your Nonprofit Technology Culture (Exponent Partners)
- Project Success – Implementation Failure (Bright Step Partners)
- Why User Adoption Shouldn’t Be An Afterthought (Nonprofit Bridge)