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Ten user adoption tips to avoid software project failure


Johannesburg, 13 Jun 2022
Read time 6min 10sec
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Amanda Ellis, Modern Workplace Delivery Lead, Mint Group.
Amanda Ellis, Modern Workplace Delivery Lead, Mint Group.

Anecdotal evidence – and actual studies – all support the notion: the majority of software projects fail or fail to realise the long-term benefits they were supposed to achieve. 

The Standish Group's 2020 CHAOS report, for example, puts this failure rate at around 66% of software projects, while according to a Gartner study, three-quarters of all ERP projects go wrong.

In its guideline on introducing ERP software, Deloitte noted that five of the 10 greatest obstacles to ERP project failure can be linked to poor change management or lack of user adoption.

It’s not just ERP projects that are at risk. In a report published in 2020, a Forbes Technology Council’s expert panel listed 14 of the most common reasons software projects fail.

Although “not enough emphasis on soft skills” was at the bottom of the Forbes list, more than half the reasons can be related back to what Amanda Ellis, Mint Group Modern Workplace Delivery Lead, attributes to the reluctance of users to actually adopt and use the software.

Indeed, Ellis maintains that the reason many excellent IT system implementations never realise the long-term benefits they set out to achieve is because companies focus disproportionately on the structure and technical aspects of the IT solution itself, and not on engaging business users in the process of solution acquisition, design and implementation. Some estimates put the failure rate of new technology adoption in the workplace at between 50% and 70%.

“The lack of user adoption occurs even though the company has often spent a small fortune that goes way beyond just monetary cost of the software itself – time spent in meetings, planning sessions, disruptions, productivity loses, rework… the list is endless,” Ellis says.

However, engaging employees and getting them to embrace new technology can be difficult.

And, Ellis notes, problems with user adoption don’t apply only to massive software projects like ERP implementations. “Even small, seemingly simple, projects fail – and very often for the same reasons: end-users simply don’t embrace the new solutions and make them part of their everyday operations,” she explains.

Gartner has estimated that 17% of the success of an IT project can be attributed to organisational change management, of which user adoption is a critical component.

Despite this, companies continue to under-invest in organisational change management. A Gartner survey found that businesses allocate on average only 5% of the overall system implementation budget to the change management effort. This is far short of the average of 15% of the programme budget the research organisation recommends should be allocated to organisational change management, inclusive of training. And that amount should be higher if the changes are significant or the corporate culture is more change-averse.

“When it comes to software projects, change management and user adoption go hand in hand. We need to use change management methodologies to change people’s minds, change the way they think and change their habits to ensure they embrace new software solutions as an integral part of their daily work lives,” Ellis says.

She offers these tips for boosting user adoption of new software solutions:

  1. Start early. The user adoption process should start as early in the process as possible – from the time of scoping the project. Any later may well require costly rework and backtracking.
  2. Identify the pain-points the software is intended to address. No matter how cool or cutting-edge a software solution might appear to be, if it doesn’t address the pain points being experienced by the ultimate users of that solution, its implementation will be resisted.
  3. Involve end-users from the start. Users who understand what the project is intended to accomplish and who have been involved in the decision-making process are more likely to be open to the changes it will bring.
  4. What’s in it for me? Acknowledge that people are “selfish”. While some people in the organisation may care about organisational change and helping the business grow, most are more concerned about what the new solution will do to make their lives easier. And if it does that, they will be more likely to adopt it.
  5. Allocate budgets appropriately. Most organisations recognise that it’s the people, not technology, that are the heart of the business. And most executives are aware that human behaviour resists change. Yet, when budgets are tight, the first thing that gets cut is usually the funds earmarked for “soft” aspects of the project like user adoption and change management. However, a cutting-edge solution that isn’t used could mean not realising the anticipated return on investment, at least in the expected timeframe. Instead of cutting back – or worse, cutting out – the user adoption process, rather cut back on some of the solution’s ‘bells and whistles’. These can always be added later when the budget permits.
  6. Unrealistic deadlines. Don’t put the entire project – and the business – at risk because of an unrealistic deadline set at the start of the process. Rushing to get things done and demanding a switchover on a particular date before the system has been properly tested and issues resolved will result in users going back to using whatever they had been using in the past. “If you plan for nothing, you will surely get there,” so start planning earlier if you need to achieve a goal.
  7. Be transparent. Share both the good and the bad news around the project’s process. For example, if users are going to be inconvenienced for a while during and after the implementation, tell them that that will happen. If they are prepared for the inconvenience, they are more likely to tolerate it than reject the entire solution.
  8. Communicate. Use whatever means possible to create awareness and excitement about the new solution. That requires more than the occasional e-mail or text message. Appoint dynamic and influential change champions to communicate developments to their own teams; make use of all forms of digital platforms in your organisation to ensure that all users are aware regardless of their communication preference.
  9. Training. While training is important, lack of awareness and users' desire to want to change will make training more difficult, if not totally ineffective. The change management campaign must therefore precede any technical training if you want to ensure that user adoption sticks.
  10. Don’t stop after the go-live celebrations. Change doesn’t happen overnight. People can take weeks – and sometimes months – to move forward. You need to constantly remind users of the benefits of the change (what’s in it for me) to ensure they don’t slip back into old habits after a few weeks or months. This is too often forgotten or ignored in the user adoption process.
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