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User Adoption: How to Get There, From Here Part 1 of 3


There is a general misconception about user adoption. Some believe that it means people will love whatever the new thing is and fully embrace it with big smiles and joy in their heart. While that would be nice, it is not what user adoption is all about. At its simplest, user adoption means … well, the adoption of the change by the user. It is not that they like it … or like you for that matter … but that they use it. An equally important key to consider with user adoption is the understanding that the sooner they adopt the change, the sooner you receive return on your investment and achieve your business objectives. The timely adoption of a change plays a crucial role in the overall success.

To get people to adopt a change, you must know where they are now and where you want them to be when you are done. It is a journey. It takes laying out a plan that understands WHY it is needed, WHO is impacted, WHAT you are trying to achieve and WHEN it is happening. The HOW is through proper change management. Let us break down some of these things for a Document Management System (DMS) project.


First, ALWAYS start with WHY. The answers may vary by firm or organization, but without clearly stating why this change is happening you will have little chance of timely adoption of this potentially disruptive, systemic change. Without the WHY people will feel like this change is being done TO them rather than FOR them. This needs to be stated in terms of the business (not the technical) reasons for the change. Also, a DMS change has impact to everyone in the organization. As such, the message about this change should come from someone that can speak with authority on behalf of the organization – a leader who can help all departments impacted understand why the decision was made, how it will help people in their day-to-day lives, and what this means moving forward. Adoption also increases when leadership leads by example, so ensure key managers and executives are well informed and ready to use the new DMS regularly as well.


Now, let us look at WHO is impacted by this change and in what ways they are impacted. This is a critical part of a DMS change and is the classic "know your audience" approach so you can address them appropriately. Not all things matter to everyone in the same way. Knowing this helps you message the change, reinforce the change AND influence who should send the change message(s) to what groups.


The WHAT should also clearly be established. Identify the goals of the project – not just the business reasons why – but define the specific goals you are trying to achieve. Establishing goals helps you identify and associate metrics that tie back to success, known as key performance indicators (KPIs). With KPIs in place, you are then able to discern at every step of the project if you are on track to achieve the targeted business outcomes.


Never surprise people with a change like this. Manage people's expectations. Plan it out and communicate early and often before the change, during the change, and after the change. Use a variety of communications vehicles—events, electronic media, people—to share the message.


This is where proven strategy and change management comes in. View the entire project as an evolutionary process with goals for each stage.

  • BEFORE STAGE: Establish the clear direction, line up sponsors, map out communication plans, conduct impact analysis, and start the pre-learning. This is where you do discovery by talking with people and groups to get their input and insight into their day to day operations and issues.
  • DURING STAGE: Give people just what they need—not just in case they need it—level of information to get through the initial upgrade. Use best in class learning approaches and provide proactive support to get people back to their current level of productivity as quickly as possible.
  • AFTER STAGE: This is where the real business objectives are achieved. Do not stop communicating, educating, supporting, and reinforcing until you have achieved your targeted business outcomes.

No matter where you are in your project, it is never too late to start doing good things! If you cannot get all the things done before or during the rollout, weave them in after the rollout. The point is all these things are important and have significant impact on people's adoption of the new DMS.

“We made the move to NetDocuments about 6 months before the coronavirus pandemic, and we are so thankful we did! With NetDocuments, our attorneys can work remotely just as easily as in the office. During the rushed transition to get everyone up and running from their homes, we didn’t need to do any additional setup or make any adjustments with regard to NetDocuments. It was already fully functional for everyone, regardless of where they logged in from. Had we not moved from our old document management system to NetDocuments, our firm would have faced a nightmare. We would have had a significant period of business interruption while we configured and implemented a way for everyone to access our client’s files. With NetDocuments, we experienced absolutely no lag in productivity.”

  • Kathy J. Hamilton | Director | THE BLUM FIRM, P.C.

Stay tuned for our next blog that will be published next week, that addresses metrics and tracking success with your DMS. The third and final article in the series will discuss reasons why some projects have low adoption, and key ways to avoid this. Stay tuned for more!

Article written by Kenny Leckie, Sr. Technology & Change Management Consultant at Traveling Coaches.

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