Improving User Adoption

Many organizations that deployed a content management system have gone through phases of deployment, development and upgrades without leveraging common practices around information architecture and usability.

In some cases, a well-intentioned IT department holds user requirements sessions, only to implement the technical features without truly understanding core principles of usability. In other situations, a particular process will be enabled and user tested with good design principles but employing the “build it and they will come” deployment plan.

In other words, let users just start using the system. In rare cases, organizations do get those elements right but then after the deployment is completed, there is no organizational design to maintain the system, continue to train users, and update design and functionality as user needs change.

The reasons for a lack of user acceptance break down into numerous categories ranging from lack of user involvement in the development process to inadequate content.

For these reasons, many users of content management systems are frustrated and long for a well-designed, maintained, highly functional system with well-organized information and search that gives them what they need when they need it. They blame the technology rather than the way that technology has been configured and managed.

The challenge is that everyone wants everything to be user friendly and intuitive. Users want tools that help them do their jobs without requiring that they jump through hoops to upload and access information. If the system is awkward and poorly designed, users do not want to spend the time to learn how to get the most from the system. However, even when the tools are sophisticated and well designed, fluency is still necessary to leverage them effectively.

When adoption is poor, it is difficult for an organization to get the majority of users needed to achieve the good collaboration, where the knowledge is producing real value and triggering successful cycles of participation and contribution. So moving to a new platform, rather than solving core issues, seems to be the preferred approach that many organizations take, though that will lead to a recurrence of the core challenges. It is best to get to the root of the problems and address them.

Even with a perfectly configured system and design that is user tested, validated, refined, tested some more and validated again, there is no guarantee that the system will be adopted and embraced. Taking an intentional approach to the system requirements and design will go a long way toward increasing the likelihood of user adoption. User adoption requires a thoughtful, intentional approach to a number of areas.

Here are some ways to maximize the chances for success of user adoption.

In many cases, users don’t have a voice in the design decisions and are not sufficiently kept in the loop through ongoing communications from leadership. Involve users in the development process. Socialization should be part of a project from the beginning and continue throughout the life of the project.

Perform user acceptance testing. It is very important to give users a chance to test the system before asking them to use it.

Create realistic expectations for how intuitive the system can be. No matter how user friendly the system is, it may never be completely intuitive to all. The nature of work processes and the information to support those processes can be complex.

The nature of the task might require understanding terminology that is not part of everyone’s vocabulary. If the job itself requires training and skill development, the information may also require a degree of socialization. Some systems can be very complex.

Allow users time to develop a mental model. When learning to use an application of any sort, users need time to grasp the big picture and become fluent in the details. This means that it would be better to show users the details over time as opposed to in a one-shot training. Doing that at the scale of any enterprise requires planning and development of just-in-time learning that people can move through to get the big picture and can access in the context of their work processes.

Provide users with the consistency they need. A consistent taxonomy and information architecture will help improve usability in the first place but also increase the learnability of the system. Once users learn about one part of an information structure, they can more quickly understand and internalize other areas if the same terminology is used.

Update functionality often enough to keep up with changes in user requirements. No information environment is static, so ongoing feedback that drives new functionality and capabilities is required. It is important to keep users updated on features in each new release.

Without updates to functionality, continued testing and adjustments, the delta between what users need and what the application provides will get larger and lead to greater dissatisfaction.

Provide high-quality content. A system deployment should begin with value for the user. That means populating repositories with curated, tagged quality content that they will find valuable. Too often there is a “lift-and-load” migration in which poorly organized content filled with redundant, outdated and trivial content is presented to the user in a new environment. No matter how good the design is, the content will not be viable if it does not meet the users’ work requirements, and it will not be accessible if it is not tagged and organized.

User acceptance of a system will be improved when the right information is available for the tasks and the right processes are reflected in the application.

Offer users an easy way to contribute content. Another barrier to acceptance is a difficult process for uploading content. Too many metadata fields, long lists of choices or fields that don’t apply to the content will keep people from content uploading. The process for uploading content should be as painless as possible. Frequently the best answer is machine-assisted tagging where an auto-classifier tuned to the content and taxonomies appropriate for the process presents the user with suggested values, and the user either accepts them or selects a different value.

Establish a robust governance process. A content management system lives in an ecosystem that is continually changing. There are multiple upstream and downstream processes, and resources need to be allocated with a view to the larger picture of the information environment.

The system owners and sponsors must make decisions in that context as well as within the context of the system environment. Therefore, they should have a seat at the table in the enterprise information governance decisions and the institution of controls, standards and compliance processes all the way down to the level of content repositories. If sites and content do not have ownership, they will quickly become outdated. If policy decisions are made without compliance mechanisms, they will not be implemented.

Users don’t hate content management systems. They hate poorly designed applications. In reality what they don’t like is the lack of functionality, the poorly constructed taxonomies, confusing navigation, endless fields to fill out and poor-quality content. With the correct approach to design and deployment and with adequate training and ongoing updates, people like and in many cases like a content management system. It helps them do their jobs, makes tasks easier to accomplish, improves efficiency and lets workers redirect their efforts to the more challenging and fulfilling parts of their jobs.

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