How to Create a Successful Software User Adoption Strategy Blog Feature

By: Le'Mina McNair on August 10th, 2022

How to Create a Successful Software User Adoption Strategy

User Adoption

What’s the best way to generate buy-in for a new software? Adopting new software or a new technology solution can be a costly investment — not only financially, but also taxing on a team’s bandwidth — but a crucial one as well. So much so, even during times of economic uncertainty, many, many businesses continue to invest in IT, as evidenced by Gartner’s forecast that global IT spending is expected to rise to $4.4 trillion, or 4% over 2021 spending.

Business leaders often encounter a similar issue: low or middling rates of user adoption. Speaking with executives, McKinsey Research found “employee resistance” is the most common factor hampering “big organizational-change efforts.” While software adoption is not on par with company-wide, organizational changes, the same thinking applies: change hinges on people. And even the best, most savvy strategies to implement change struggle or outright fail without team buy-in. 

Before you introduce your team to a new software, consider these factors for your next software user adoption strategy. 

Best Practices: Change Management & a People-first Approach

Before we get into the steps, the best practices for creating a user adoption strategy often include change management and a people-first approach. Change management describes the “coordination of a structured period of transition from situation A to situation B in order to achieve lasting change within an organization,” as defined by BNET Business Dictionary

When change management is mapped onto a user adoption strategy, what takes shape is a step-by-step process that unfolds within a window of time and ultimately achieves “lasting change within an organization.” Under ideal circumstances, business leaders like yourself introduce new software and teams simply adopt the new solution and enjoy lasting benefits. But that’s not always the case. Over time, some team members may resist or underutilize the software, reducing its overall efficacy and/or ROI. 

A remedy to low and middling rates of software user adoption is deploying a people-first approach. When also mapped onto an adoption strategy, a people-first approach suggests how best to get team members involved in the process of identifying and implementing a new software, so that members come to feel a shared sense of ownership over the changes taking place at their organization. And that’s a good thing.

So, when these best practices – change management and a people-first approach – are brought together with a user adoption strategy, what process emerges? Here are the steps.

Steps to Create a Successful Software User Adoption Strategy 

Step 1: Research & Selection

Every adoption strategy should begin with learning about the end user, who are the teams or individual team members that will use the software solution. Again, “employee resistance” was cited as the top reason organizational changes fail. By learning about your end user, you can design and set in motion a process that yields high rates of user adoption. 

Learning about your end users is as simple as asking questions. You may want to use formal channels – in-person or remote meetings, one-on-ones, or training, among others – or informal channels – such as emails – but the desired outcome is the same: producing the highest quality and quantity of responses. So choose the research method that works best for you and your organization. 

What questions should you ask? While your questions should be appropriate for your unique situation, a great place to start may be the following:

  1. What work-related challenges are you experiencing?
  2. What factors contribute to these challenges?
  3. What solution, if any, is available to overcome these challenges?
  4. What did you use before this solution was available?
  5. What challenges are you experiencing with your current solution?
  6. What workarounds have you pursued?
  7. What solutions would alleviate these challenges?

Once your research is complete, now’s the time to select software. Use your research to choose solutions that address your team members’ challenges. With your list of software on hand, present your solutions to your end users. Again, this can be done on formal or informal channels, whichever works best for you and your team. 

During the presentation, encourage questions, comments, or airing of concerns, which can be used to inform the next selection of softwares. Repeat this process – selection, presentation, and feedback – until a consensus is reached and a solution is chosen. Be sure to establish a deadline for the selection process as well.

Step 2: Messaging & Feedback

Next comes messaging. Depending on your situation, you may want to formally announce or introduce the new software solution to your end users. A clear, coherent message aims to alleviate any misunderstandings pertaining to the software solution, its implementation or your intentions. But most of all, messaging aims to proactively remove future roadblocks that could create low or middling rates of user adoption.

As with Step 1, Step 2 should solicit feedback from end users. Why does feedback matter? Returning to McKinsey Research, authors writing about a “change journey,” and specifically managing corporate transformations, note how change can sap teams of their energy. Consider that change within an organization – such as incorporating a new software – places an additional burden upon a team, who often need to work harder to operate within a new workflow. Creating both top-down and bottom-up communication channels can energize and motivate teams, the authors write, making a change program four times more likely to succeed. 

Also from McKinsey Research, here are some messaging tips:

  1. Test the message on others before sharing with the wider group
  2. Make the message stick by repeating simple language
  3. Shift from telling to asking, which engages employees
  4. Make sure all channels reinforce your messages. 

On your bottom-up channels, you may anticipate difficult, or even negative, feedback. Don’t become discouraged. Just as communications can energize a team, negative feedback presents an opportunity to generate another crucial element of the user adoption process: trust. An article from the Harvard Business Review argues registering negative emotions boosts trust. “When you acknowledge negative emotions,” the authors suggest, “people feel that you care more, and therefore are more willing to trust you.”

Step 3: Short-term Training. Long-term Support.

Finally, there’s training and support. Here, too, your training and support should be tailored to your unique situation. But you can borrow lessons from Steps 1 and 2, such as crafting and delivering messaging around training and support so your end user is better informed; and setting up channels for ample top-down and bottom-up communications to field feedback.

While you may be nearing the end of the user adoption process, be mindful that your ultimate goal is “lasting change.” And to that end, aim to adopt a people-first approach to your training and support. Keep your team involved throughout the process and you may be rewarded with high rates of user adoption. 

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