Power to the People: Strategies for Successful User Adoption

May 29, 2015
6 Min Read

Ah, user adoption. I’m hearing cries of pain from all of my technology-related partners, and this week’s Intuit QuickBase #EMPOWER2015 conference was no exception. Fortunately, Jacob MacIntyre, generation reliability analyst at Portland General Electric, was on hand to provide some terrific advice based on his 10 years of project management experience.

Bottoms Up!

MacIntyre has many of the traits you hope for in a PM. He’s friendly, but a straight-shooter. He quickly explained to #EMPOWER 2015 attendees that user adoption can be achieved either through a bottom up or a top down implementation. His opportunity to try out the bottom up method came while he was working for Harder Mechanical Contractors.  MacIntyre’s team was helping to construct Intel’s Ronler Acres – 9.3 million square feet of manufacturing space with a $3 billion budget.

The project was rather exciting – who wouldn’t be jazzed to work with the world’s largest mobile crane? – but the hurricane of spreadsheets going back and forth among the army of buyers, designers, admins, engineers, schedulers, and document controllers was not. “The engineers in particular were pulling their hair out,” says MacIntyre. “So I brought in QuickBase as a solution to the chaos and they liked it.” When the PM got an initial report out of a QuickBase application, however, he was alarmed. “Sometimes the higher-ups are inclined to say no to a new idea because it’s a wrench thrown into the system and they don’t want to take on the risk.”

But…no one likes an angry mob. Once MacIntyre’s users were enthusiastically using the application, the PM didn’t dare take it away. At Harder, the bottom up approach in which happy users convince a higher-level resister, worked best.

View from the Top

MacIntyre’s next role was at his current company, Portland General Electric, a provider of coal, wind, hydro and natural gas power. The utility plant boasts $7.6 billion in assets and 2600 employees and MacIntyre’s group experienced a spreadsheet river. “Information from the designers, administrators, engineers, and cost controllers flowed around the functional managers, and they had no idea what was going on,” MacIntyre says. “In this case I built a fully-architected QuickBase solution and sold it to the managers with the problem. The designers, etc. weren’t super happy because they now had to go through a system, but the goal isn’t always happiness.”

Their jobs now made easier, the managers facilitated compliance by the rest of the team. Top down.

Jacob’s Gems

Here are a few other user adoption tidbits we should all file away:

  • Define your vision and the relevant players first, sketching out the story of your rollout. Create apps that will have an immediate influence.
  • Find cultural artifacts: what are users already doing that the new system can plug into?
  • Judgment of a new idea takes place in the first few minutes. If your audience seems diametrically opposed, you might be pitching to the wrong people.
  • Know the difference between cool and useful: if the end game will involve three people, you might be wasting your time. Always do a bottom line calculation and ask yourself if it’s worth it. Will it work for the company in general?
  • Know yourself – are you better at selling, development, or implementation? – and find trusted partners for the rest.
  • Change readiness is the new change management. Build a culture of change and give people the message that change is normal and we need to be okay with it. In other words, it’s going to rain so get an umbrella.
  • If your IT group hasn’t caught on to the need for SaaS, you might have to be a little dodgy. You don’t always have to ask for permission.

What user adoption approach has worked better for you? Bottom up or top down?

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