Deploying a new document automation solution should have a positive impact on an organisation. However, you will often hear colleagues and friends refer to projects they’ve been involved in with less than happy words. Some may even proudly display their battle scars!

I’ve seen organisations spend a considerable amount of time deciding if they need a solution, even more time selecting which specific package they will buy and then more time again deploying it. Some will even spend additional effort into looking at their expected return on investment, and when pushed, will with some level of discomfort, admit that they haven’t seen the ROI they had hoped for.

So why is it that after all this consideration and effort, deployments are not having the right level of positive impact that was hoped for?

Effective Adoption

The key to a successful deployment is effective adoption. That’s not a surprise to hear, but what is surprising is that the adoption process is frequently left to the end, with cursory effort expended towards it. The best software in the world, deployed with elegance and grace, languishes on the shelf because no one is using it. “Build it and they will come,” might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but rarely works with a software deployment.

Timing is critical if you’re looking for effective adoption. Your adoption plan should be started at the same time and with as much priority as your deployment plan. Do not leave it to last or underestimate the value or effort it will take.

Key Activities

Some key activities you need to go through, each recognising your key audience groups, are as follows:

  • Marketing. Think of this as a marketing exercise. If you have a Marketing team, use them. If not, learn how to market (there are lots of good books out there). You should view your project just as you would if you were launching a new product for your Clients. It’s important to make it a positive, exciting experience that your “customers” want to be part of.
  • Be inclusive. Every part of your organisation should understand how the new solution will impact them. Use the RACI model to help you map out who the groups are and how you need to involve them. At the very least, everyone should feel informed. If someone doesn’t feel like they’re part of your project, can you really be surprised when they inevitably ignore it?
  • Communicate. You appreciate that you need to market your project and you understand who you’re marketing too. Now you need to communicate to them, repeatedly. It’s almost impossible to communicate too much when presenting change. Use different channels and remember that your “customers” all will have preferred ways of learning. It’s also wise to take the advice from my mother, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Communication is a two-way street, and if you demonstrate that you’re listening, your audience will pay you the same courtesy.
  • Training. Don’t expect that users will happily take time out of their lunch to read the 50-page training manual that you lovingly produced. You need to make training interactive and give people time to do it properly. Interactive group activities will have a much higher success rate and allow you to nip any misunderstandings or issues in the bud. Training time should be a cost in your project- if you don’t see the investment as serious enough to account for, why should your users?
  • Build your army. You cannot possibly do this yourself. You need troops on the ground to help you push your message, drive excitement, provide timely feedback and act as your champions. Your army will typically be made up of your “Explorers” and “Pioneers,” your stakeholders.


The above activities need to recognise the groups you are dealing with. As much as it would make all our lives easier (but duller), we are all very different animals. These differences are quite apparent when trying to implement an effective adoption plan. The groups below summarise what you will find and how best to approach and work with them. I used to give each group name an animal totem; however, a lot of people seemed quite upset when referred to as the donkey! Regardless of the names you give them, the key is to identify and recognise who they are.

  • The Explorers. These are the eager beavers, the people who embrace new things and want to be part of the experience from day one. They will look to understand the nuts and bolts of the solution. More is better for them.
  • The Pioneers. Slightly more reserved than the Explorers and not requiring as much technical detail, the Pioneers want to feel part of the project and will help you gain ground early on.
  • The Pragmatists. One of the largest groups and typically where most of your people will sit. They see the wave of change coming and will embrace it if they feel informed and understand how it helps them. They will need a little coaxing and will feel better if they see that the technical kinks have already been taken care of by the Explorers and Pioneers.
  • The Inevitable. Normally the second largest group alongside the Pragmatists. They will need to understand that change is inevitable (hence the name!). They will always go back to what they already know, if they can, so you need to ensure they understand that the new solution is here to stay and must be used.
  • The Diehards. The toughest audience. We all know who these people are, and they know too. They will be the last to change and you will need to force their hand to do so. As harsh as it sounds, no negotiation will work with them and typically they will only change when there is literally no alternative for them.

Think of the above groups as a wave of change. If you can gather as much momentum at the front, those more resistant to change at the back will be swept along that little bit easier. That said people fall into these groups for a reason, and a wise person will spend some time listening to each group to try and understand why they are situated there.

I like mnemonics, chiefly because I was dropped on the head once too often as a child and struggle to remember things. I often refer to the above as the “5×5 Approach”: Five key activities to consider towards your five distinct user groups. The next time you have a deployment to manage, think of the 5×5 and see if it can help you have a successful outcome.