Creatures of Habit

Creatures of Habit

August 2018 | Digital Transformation

Change management is the hardest part of any digital transformation program. Why is achieving widespread user adoption so difficult to achieve?

I have a confession to make. In late 2017 my employer made a small change to their standard operating procedures. Yet, I'm still following the old procedure even though I was part of the team that devised the updated procedure. Why? Force of habit.

The change was a small one designed to streamline project management workflows during campaign development. It involved adding an extra step to a QA process. This extra step required 8 clicks to compete, with significant time savings for everyone else involved in the campaign. Furthermore, this extra step and the knock-on effects elsewhere in the process had no impact on the results of the QA being conducted.

I was part of the group that proposed this change and argued strongly for it when it encountered internal opposition. That opposition was won over and the revised process was introduced in October 2017. I have since written documentation and trained new starters in our procedures, and always made sure to use the revised QA process with the extra step when doing this.

Today, I realised that despite all these benefits I'm still following the old process. I always forget the extra step. Fortunately, there have been no consequences from me not doing this on our end product, but it's creating inefficiencies elsewhere in the business.

To be fair, I don't do that much QA these days. That's probably part of the problem. I used to do a lot of QA. Now I do very little. As a result, people make allowances and do the necessary actions for me.

Even when our PM team sent group reminders about this process, it never occurred to me that I was one of the ones at fault. Although, I think that says more about me than them!

Managing Shortcuts

This anecdote raises a broader question about human nature and its impact on the way we use our tools.

We learn through repetition, and if we don't need to repeat a process that often, then we might not get the process right. If we don't get it right, some people will make allowances - especially if that person is their boss or someone senior. They shouldn't be doing that. If someone had pointed out each time that I wasn't following the full process, I might have remembered the next time. Instead, our project management team has been doing it for me.

If a change makes our life more difficult then, we are going to look to take shortcuts. This can lead to significant efficiencies in some cases. Other times, such as with a security or QA procedure, taking shortcuts can lead to mistakes with financial or reputational impacts for businesses.

If shortcuts are being made it is important to understand why, and what needs to happen as a result. Can the shortcut be incorporated into the process? Is more user education required?

Managing Change

As any project manager will tell you, the trickiest part of implementing a new piece of software or delivering a major project is not the design or development phases. That's comparatively easy. It's getting user adoption that is the hard part. A lot of the time training isn't enough. You can run as many training sessions as you like or write all the documentation in the world and ultimately it might not matter if not matched by real-world usage.

It is common to underestimate the effort required to drive user adoption when planning a project, even though this is the area that actually determines whether the overall project is ultimately seen as a success or a failure.

Driving user adoption requires both carrot and stick. Some of your users will see the immediate benefit of the change and take the carrot. Others will resist the change or fail to see the benefits, so will need to be persuaded to make the change. Most project managers plan for these two sets of users when designing a roll out plan.

The main barrier to successful change management often comes down to the reaction of the other users who don't fall into these two extremes. People are generally open to change if they understand the reasons for it. They'll see the benefits, they will probably even welcome the change. Yet simple inertia will prevent them from actually changing their behaviour. They may even be able to come up with an excuse for this inconsistency. It's important to plan for this when launching a new system or process. If you allow people to adopt out of a process, then invariably they will sooner or later.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.