User Acceptance of Innovations and new Solutions - - Web Development, Programming, SEO

Monday, September 13, 2010

User Acceptance of Innovations and new Solutions

The following provides some things to consider when developing and implementing new solutions for large volumes of end users, with a primary focus on user acceptance.  The information is my own personal opinion which is based on my experience as a Solution Architect and Developer.  I have struggled on many occasions to have users accept and adopt a new system or process, and as a result now incorporate number of techniques and methods to assist with user acceptance when designing and developing a solution.  Some of these would be common sense, but others are often overlooked as an important part of the planning, development, testing and implementation phases of a new innovation.  The main focus is on some of the reasons for the non-acceptance of new solutions and some techniques to help improve level of user acceptance.  This applies to the implementation of any new system or process for any large group of users, and is not dependent on the platform used to develop the solution.

User Resistance Non-Acceptance
Having users accept the use of new innovations in their day-to-day operations can sometimes be quite difficult.  When dealing with larger number of end users, there will almost always be some resistance from users, particularly if they have a personal stake or authority within the business.  Resistance may be caused by a number of reasons including the general lack of a technical understanding or abilities, as there will always be people who struggle with and avoid the use of technology and computers.  Other reasons might be that a solution was introduced to replace an existing system and processes that people were comfortable and failure with.  If the equivalent implementation of the existing system or process is not obviously easier and more efficient to use, as well as to provide some additional features or functionality users will be much less likely to adopt the new solution.

Process Alignment
When planning to implement an innovation or new solution, it is important to analyse existing systems and processes, as well as to consult with actual end-users of existing systems and users of the proposed system.  Ensuring that the implementation incorporates all functionality of the existing system will help with user adoption, as users will already be failure with the system and how it works.  On the other hand, if similar functionality is replicated in the new solution, but the interface and/or process is completely different, users may struggle to adopt the change.

In most small or large organisations, there are a number of people who actively seek out better and more efficient ways to do their day-to-day work and in many cases the work of others.  Many of these individuals would be referred to as Champions of the business, as they possess the confidence required to suggest something new that has not been implemented or considered in the past, or to make suggestions for changes to be made to existing systems or processes.  Champions are very valuable to a business, as they can nurture change into a business by instigating and promoting cultural change within an organisation.  Champions would have a firm understanding of the day-to-day operations of their own, and other colleagues roles.  Working closely with such people when designing and developing a system can help ensure that it provides the necessary functionality in an interface that is user friendly.  Once implemented, the champion will have a solid understanding of the functionality and how to use the system. As they came forward with the idea or concept in the first place, they will also feel and most likely have some sort of ownership over the idea within the business.  As feel as though they are partially responsible for the system being implemented, they will almost always hold others' hands during the initial stages after implementation and can also provide training to others in how to use the system.

Solution Architecture & Developer Resource Management
Although it might be great for people to be thinking proactively about how to improve their day-to-day operations or efficiency, it can also result in development time and resources being wasted if a system is not adopted after being implemented.  This is more likely to happen if a person has not consulted others for a advise or second opinion in relation to their idea or concept.  There are many cases where someone has a seemingly great idea, then after weeks of development the idea is implemented as a technical solution.  The user who made the initial request is delighted to see the results of their idea implemented as a solution, but others may struggle to see the same benefits.  In some instances, the requester will have a play with their new 'toy' for a few hours or days if your lucky, only to push it aside after the initial excitement has passed and resume the use of previous systems and processed.  You should always weigh up the pros and cons of a new implementation, considering the amount of development that is required to build the system.  Some small visual or functional enhancements may take days or weeks to develop, but provide no or minimal additional benefit overall.  Part of the role of a solution architect or developer during the planning phase should be to evaluate if the investment of development resources is likely to be money or time well spent.  There are often other alternatives available that will also satisfy requirements of a request.  In many cases, there would be much more efficient ways to achieve a similar result, but a compromise may have to be made to make it possible to implement a solution without wasting time and resources.  Usually after carefully explaining how an alternative and more practical method (in terms of development time and resources) can be used to turn their request into a solution, they are happy customers.  A demonstration using similar functionality implemented elsewhere may be required, as it also helps the person with the idea see how it could come together.

System, User Interface and User Acceptance Testing (UAT)
To further increase the chances of user acceptance for a solution developed using SharePoint or another platform, you should aim to and build a user interface that is intuitive and easy to navigate.  If users are able to use the solution without requiring training, they are also much more likely to use and continue to use the system.  When developing an interface, it can be hard to put yourself in the shoes of the end users as you would already have a much deeper understanding of the system introducing bias.  When you are certain that your interface is as easy and straight forward to use as it gets, think twice.  There will most likely be users that will interpret the interface different to yourself and others, particularly when there are icons or buttons used with symbolic graphics describing their function.  A good way to make sure that the interface is indeed intuitive and easy to use is to take a sample of end users who have no previous knowledge of the details of the solution, and to have them work through the processed and functionality using the interface provided.  You will soon know if the interface requires adjustment, or if it is logical and satisfactory to the sample users.  This is also a good way to find any issues, and to have others provide unbiased feedback about the interface, functionality and overall solution.  If the group of sample users is larger, the results will provide a more accurate gauge of the solution’s success.  If the sample group doesn’t represent the full group of end users, bias and other external factors can be introduced that will skew the results or feedback.  This may be caused by different levels of computer skills required for people in different roles.  A more extreme example would be selecting other developers as the sample test group for the new interface or solution.  Generally speaking, a developer, or anyone with a deeper understanding of computers and technology will interpret an interface differently than someone without the same skill level, who would be more likely to struggle.  Having the opinion or input from other developers is certainly valuable, but it is still essential to design and test the user interface and functionality of the solution with end users.
There are formal procedures that can be followed when performing User Acceptance Testing to help ensure all aspects of the system are covered.

There are many contributing factors to why the may be resistance from users when adopting a new solution or process.  Careful planning, as well as consultation with the end users of a system is essential in order to develop a solution that will satisfy the needs of the end users.  Testing the system and user interface on a sample group of users is important to obtain feedback about the system and interface prior to implementation.  When a the user interface of a system is simple, intuitive and easy to use, the level of user acceptance will be much greater.


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