Articles / System Adoption Methodology

Many systems are introduced into organisations, yet fail to realise significant benefits because people in the organisation either choose not to use the system, or do not use it most effectively.

Most of the accepted work on adoption of innovations has been carried out by Everett M. Rodgers. His book “[Diffusion of Innovations][1]” is the classic and has been widely quoted. It was first published in 1962 and is still in print.

This theoretical background helps me to develop a methodology that is more likely to succeed; by allowing me to focus on key user groups, and to highlight the benefits the innovation will have for those groups.

It provides three key dimensions to an implementation framework:

  • The adoption process – ie. where the individual is on the spectrum of knowing nothing to using fully;
  • The characteristics of the innovation in question that will influence the individual to adopt or reject it;
  • The characteristics of the individual – ie. where they are on the spectrum of being first to innovate through to being last to change.

These dimensions are described in below (using detail taken from [Wikipedia][2], but based on Rodgers’ book), along with the actions that would be taken to support each stage.

The adoption process

Stage Definition Supporting Action
Knowledge In this stage the individual is first exposed to an innovation but lacks information about the innovation. During this stage of the process the individual has not been inspired to find more information about the innovation. Initial awareness-raising communication (such as roadshows, poster campaigns, emails etc) designed to highlight the individual’s need of the innovation.
Persuasion In this stage the individual is interested in the innovation and actively seeks information/detail about the innovation. Provision of information perhaps as a website or magazine articles. Preferably self-service, but may require someone to answer queries.
Decision In this stage the individual takes the concept of the innovation and weighs the advantages/disadvantages of using the innovation and decides whether to adopt or reject the innovation. Find people who will champion the innovation in their part of the organisation, and speak to their colleagues about it.
Implementation In this stage the individual employs the innovation to a varying degree depending on the situation. During this stage the individual determines the usefulness of the innovation and may search for further information about it. Provide “help” at the point of need, either through a self-service information portal, or through a help desk. Provide coaching to encourage better and more extensive use.
Confirmation Although the name of this stage may be misleading, in this stage the individual finalizes their decision to continue using the innovation and may use the innovation to its fullest potential. Encourage this person to become a champion and to contribute to the help desk resources.

Characteristics of innovations

Rogers defines several intrinsic characteristics of innovations that influence an individual’s decision to adopt or reject an innovation. These characteristics help me to define the content of any communication about the benefits of the innovation.

Factor Definition Supporting Actions
Relative Advantage How improved an innovation is over the previous generation. Highlight the improvements and how they will benefit the individual.
Compatibility The level of compatibility that an innovation has to be assimilated into an individual’s life. Highlight how the innovation fits into what the individual is already doing.
Complexity or Simplicity If the innovation is too difficult to use an individual will not likely adopt it. Highlight ease of use, or provide help and job aids that can be accessed quickly at the point of need.
Trialability How easily an innovation may be experimented with as it is being adopted. If a user has a hard time using and trying an innovation this individual will be less likely to adopt it. Provide simple ways of trying out the innovation, preferably with support from a champion where possible.
Observability The extent that an innovation is visible to others. An innovation that is more visible will drive communication among the individual’s peers and personal networks and will in turn create more positive or negative reactions. Make sure that any communications are easy to spread to the individual’s network of contacts. Ideally this would be built into the innovation itself, so that the individual can invite contacts to join them in using the innovation.

Characteristics of the individual

Rogers identified five categories of adopters within a particular social group, which are useful to those promoting change, as they help me to identify groups of people to target. [Taken from: Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA, 5th ed]

Adopter category Definition Supporting Actions
Innovators Innovators are the first individuals to adopt an innovation. Innovators are willing to take risks, youngest in age, have the highest social class, have great financial lucidity, very social and have closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators.Risk tolerance has them adopting technologies which may ultimately fail. Financial resources help absorb these failures Provide “early warning systems” that communicate innovations prior to launch.This will generate interest and appetite amongst this group. They will try out the innovation and will be ideal beta testers.
Early Adopters This is the second fastest category of individuals who adopt an innovation. These individuals have the highest degree of opinion leadership among the other adopter categories.Early adopters are typically younger in age, have a higher social status, have more financial lucidity, advanced education, and are more socially forward than late adopters. More discrete in adoption choices than innovators. Realize judicious choice of adoption will help them maintain central communication position. This group will become your champions.They will need to be listened to in order to remain “on board”.Provide mechanisms for them to give feedback and to direct changes. Provide as much information as possible about the underlying technologies and the road-map for the future.
Early Majority Individuals in this category adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time. This time of adoption is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters.Early Majority tend to be slower in the adoption process, have above average social status, contact with early adopters, and seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system. This group will become the critical mass.They will need a lot of input from champions and should be the target of marketing communications highlighting the features and benefits of the innovation.
Late Majority Individuals in this category will adopt an innovation after the average member of the society. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation.Late Majority people are typically skeptical about an innovation, have below average social status, very little financial lucidity, in contact with others in late majority and early majority, very little opinion leadership. This group will need input such as case studies showing real benefits, and possibly a great deal of “hand-holding”.They will need to grow into using the innovation through constant exposure.They may need some extrinsic motivating factors, such as recognition or reward to encourage use of the innovation.
Laggards Individuals in this category are the last to adopt an innovation. Unlike some of the previous categories, individuals in this category show little to no opinion leadership. These individuals typically have an aversion to change-agents and tend to be advanced in age.Laggards typically tend to be focused on “traditions”, likely to have lowest social status, lowest financial fluidity, be oldest of all other adopters, in contact with only family and close friends, very little to no opinion leadership. This group may need to be forced to use the innovation by making it the only way that they can complete certain tasks which are important to them.Or the organisation may accept that this group will eventually leave, and not worry about persuading them.

Communication process

Most system rollouts only look at communicating with users once the rollout is ready to begin. This is too late. It’s far better to start that communication process as early as possible.

This communication should be two way. Effective system rollouts need to listen to users via a consistent feedback loop that is easily accessible to end users.

I’d recommend that there is someone on board who is responsible for community engagement. Ideally that person will already have quite a good network within the organisation.

The community engagement manager will have a number of roles that tend to follow a repeating cycle:

  1. Listen to “war stories” about how the technology is being used
  2. Reflect those war stories back into the community and ask questions
  3. Get to the heart of any problems – whether technical or cultural – and discuss those problems with the user community
  4. Set expectations, without over-promising
  5. Demonstrate the technology in action – being the lead champion
  6. Find the “pinch points” – situations where the technology does not live up to expectations
  7. Respond to issues that you hear about by providing easily accessible work-arounds or advice
  8. Find the success stories and disseminate them
  9. Gather people who will become the technology champions around the organisation
  10. Aggregate and disseminate knowledge from the other champions – give them recognition as experts.
  11. Make sure the community is made aware of any issues with the technology as soon as they arise

Training activities

The training element of any technology implementation includes all the people-centred training and communications activity that is not directly related to purchasing boxes or writing code.

Ideally, these activities are built-in at the start of the project, and should consider:

  • Awareness-raising communications
  • User documentation
  • Local champions
  • Context sensitive help
  • Telephone support
  • Self-service support portal
  • Ongoing hints and tips
  • User forums

Not all of the above are appropriate in every situation. Yet all should be considered at the start of the project.


Posted: 12 November 2012

Tags: Projects