The secret to a successful technology rollout

Too often, IT focuses on getting the technology right and forgets the people who have to deal with the changes

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New technology in the workplace should yield improvements with user productivity. Yet after all the work done to deploy that new technology, what we typically see is little productivity gain.

There seem to be two causes: lack of training, and reluctance by users to change their behaviors. And the lack of training makes it even easier for users to resist changing their behavior.

These issues became strikingly clear in a conversation I had about major Office 365 migrations with Maria Pardee, general manager of workplace and enterprise service management at CSC.

Yes, when the 20- to 30-somethings get a new laptop with Windows 10, Office 2016, Skype for Business, Slack or HipChat, and so on, they respond with, "It's about time!" But many users are ensconced in older versions of Windows and Office, so they hesitate to learn new versions or disrupt their work to make the shift. That hesitation is exacerbated by the lack of user training that would help ease the transition effort and -- often forgotten in training -- explain the benefits of making the change.

Too often, all the time, effort, and funding for a migration is spent on the technology. IT stretches itself thin to do the technical setup and migration. IT takes user adoption for granted, almost expecting users to hug IT in appreciation. Instead, faced with tools that don't work like they used to, users often end up cursing the day the IT staffers were born.

IT has to take a step back here and try to understand the human element of unleashing new tech in its environment. Ask yourself what the migration's goal is for users. If for users the result is to just keep doing their jobs as they did, but with changed or new new tools, all that new tech will be a waste to them.

When users don't meaningfully benefit, the back-end benefits alone have to justify the cost to both IT and users of the change -- and it's rare that companies acknowledge that's what's happening. If that reality is what's common at your company, it's time to do something different.

Tactically, there are ways to ease users' cost adoption and even encourage adoption when the user benefits are not clear or dramatic.

For example, you might stagger the rollouts so the disruption is spread out. Rolling out a series of smaller changes takes more time, but it also lets users get more comfortable with the changes, reducing the disruption to their work. It might even let some users get deep into new capabilities and share their excitement with colleagues, who won't be so overwhelmed with changes that they can't focus on the benefits.

Another technique is to sell the changes before they occur. Begin an email campaign before the rollout that talks up a few great new features coming to users. Explain how this will make their lives easier, such as how it might improve their communication and collaboration capabilities. Perhaps include a video or two to whet their appetite.

And, of course, you need to provide training, both before and after the rollout. (I'm a big fan of choose-your-own-adventure, task-based online video training.) Even if users don't take the training, they at least they know you care about them.

Actions like these are what make the difference between a hug and a curse. 

IT needs to change its mindset so that a win doesn't mean simply a successful technical deployment but instead means a successful user deployment. After all, users are the ones using the technology you're rolling out, so if it's not working well for them, what's the point?

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