How to Increase Product Adoption on Your Team
I love new tools. Discovering just the right one is like finding a unicorn. But that feeling can be short-lived when you realize the tool isn’t just for you.
The product has to work for your entire team, and maybe the team you sit next to, and the team you pass in the hallway, and…
You get the picture. It’s hard to imagine everyone will be as happy as you were at the start.
Either way, when you invest in a new tool, you want your team to like it. The good news is: If you play your cards right, they will successfully adopt it.
What is product adoption?
Product adoption is the process in which users become aware of a tool, determine its value, and ultimately incorporate it into their daily workflow. It’s typically broken down into 4 stages:
We often think about product adoption from the perspective of creating and selling tools. In this article, we’ll look at it from the other side—evaluating product options and working with your team to implement and embrace the right one.
Why is product adoption important?
From the product development side, it’s clear why user adoption is critical: high retention = revenue. From the user side, it’s not quite a straight line.
Of course, the bottom line is important. Switching to a new tool should boost productivity, resulting in higher output and lower churn.
But personally, I believe success can be measured by team happiness alone. If the product adds to a team member's satisfaction—or removes frustration from their role or tasks—you win..
5 steps to increase product adoption success
Want to make the switch to a new tool a lot less painful for everyone? Follow these 5 steps to ease product adoption and set your team up for success.
- Put inclusion at the center of your product adoption plan
- Figure out your strategy before diving into research
- Use market research and testing to select a product
- Establish a plan for onboarding your team
- Measure your success (and failures)
1. Put inclusion at the center of your product adoption plan
If you’re in charge, you could simply pick the tool you like and announce the big switch on Monday. Of course, we all know that approach won’t end well.
After years of creating websites, I’ve learned the end result is less important than the journey to get there with your stakeholders. The same holds true when adopting a new tool with your team: Inclusion is critical.
Let’s look at a few ways you can ensure the right people have a seat at the table.
Identify your stakeholders
The first step is to determine who should have a say in choosing and implementing a new tool. You might decide to create different groups of people with varying levels of involvement or involve a smaller group in the entire process.
So who should you include and when? These questions can help you decide:
- How much time do they have to participate?
- Will they advocate for the change?
- Will they use the tool regularly or not very often?
- Do they have a unique perspective about product needs?
- Are they a leader on the team who can impact others' opinions?
- Is change hard for them?
- Do they adapt quickly to new technology?
- Do they have authority to impact decisions?
Explore different ways to involve people in the process
Now that you have your list of people, determine when and how to include each group of stakeholders.
While every team is different, here are some options you may want to consider:
- Survey: Send a survey to large groups of users to gather input on product requirements, frustrations, and ideas.
- Usability testing: Conduct user testing on the current tool with 5-8 people to understand how they use it to do their job. Make note of features they don’t use and where they get frustrated.
- Stakeholder interviews and focus groups: Hold conversations with individuals, teams, and/or departments to understand how they interface with the tool. This is a great opportunity to identify challenges and document their wish list.
- Testing and trials: Invite a small group of users to create an account and test the final options to ensure it’s easy to use and meets their needs. Include both power users and folks that struggle to adapt new tools.
- Trainers and advocates: Form a group of strong product advocates to either train or support team members who need extra help. Ask them to check in regularly and share new tips and tricks they’ve figured out.
Create and share a communication plan
People always want to know what’s going on and that the door is open for feedback—even if they don’t participate in the larger product adoption process. That’s why you need to have a clear, shared communication plan.
When creating your communication plan, outline the following details:
- What you’ll share in each communication
- Frequency of communication
- Format of communication
- When you will and won’t be looking for feedback
Make sure to share the plan with stakeholders as a commitment to transparency and thoughtfulness. Simply removing the mystery will help you gain trust in the process.
Strike a balance between democracy and decisiveness
Inclusion enables you to hear diverse voices, while alerting you to unknown challenges. It also lets the people who use the tool every day feel confident about the decision—and buy-in is critical.
Just be aware that including too many voices can muddy the decision-making process and slow down, or even halt, product adoption.
I’ve been part of both approaches, and the truth is, it’s hard to find the middle balance. No two teams are alike, and their excitement—or aversion to—change and technology will impact your plan. Consider your balance carefully, and don’t be afraid to adjust if it’s not working.
2. Figure out your strategy before diving into research
It can be tempting to start signing up for product logins and dive head-first into testing. (Free trial gets me every time!)
But it’s critical to outline (and share) a clear strategy first. After all, that’s the only way to know what your team really needs.
Create a strategic brief
A strategic brief will help you capture all your thoughts in one place. It also ensures you and your key stakeholders are on the same page about the product adoption process.
The strategic brief is a perfect first document to share with your larger stakeholder group. Here’s what to include at a minimum:
- Why is our company/department looking for a new tool?
- How will this change benefit individuals on our team?
- What are the top goals this tool needs to solve?
- Who is using this tool? Who are the primary and secondary audiences?
- What are the areas of risk for the process and tool?
- What is the onboarding plan?
- Who will be involved in making this decision?
- Who is the ultimate decision-maker?
Define your product criteria
Once the strategic brief is finalized with stakeholder input, work on creating detailed criteria you can use to determine which tools will or won’t work for your team.
Setting criteria before you look at tools ensures 2 things:
- You have a clear understanding of your needs.
- Slick, shiny tools won’t pull you away from what you really need.
I recommend creating a simple spreadsheet that includes an area for general information about each tool, as well as columns for possible criteria where you can mark Yes, No, or Maybe in your initial review.
I recently compiled a list of tools that could solve a client’s unique project management needs and quickly had a spreadsheet full of over 100 possible options. Without my product criteria spreadsheet, it would have been impossible to narrow in quickly on the top 10.
We created a product evaluation template you can use to guide your search. Feel free to customize it to your needs, and note which features are must-haves vs. nice-to-haves for your team. Try to stick with only 5-10 must-haves so you don’t end up with 100 products on your list or looking for a unicorn that doesn’t exist.
Be sure to go back to all the information you gathered from your users to fine-tune this list. Once you finalize the criteria, share it with stakeholders to get their feedback.
Be aware of why it won’t work
Before finalizing your strategy and criteria, consider worst-case scenarios. Thinking through all the reasons why your team might not adopt a tool will help ensure your strategy is solid.
Here are some common reasons product adoption may fail:
- The tool doesn’t address their individual (or the overall team’s) needs.
- You didn’t offer the kind of support they needed to get up to speed and comfortable.
- Your team didn’t get behind the goals of the new tool and/or isn’t motivated to change. What they have now seems just fine to them.
- They weren’t included in the process from selection to implementation.
- There’s no onboarding plan for new team members.
- There isn’t enough time set aside to transition from one tool to another. Your team’s workload is too much to take on this new change.
- The product doesn’t have good support and documentation.
- The product isn’t improved regularly.
- It’s too complicated for your team’s needs.
- The tool doesn’t fit with the current workflow—or worse, it fights against how they work.
- A key user or team voice hasn’t become a product advocate.
- No one really owns (and lives and breathes) the new tool.
- A lot of change is already happening at the organization, and another one feels like too much.
- Your team doesn’t get the opportunity to really own the setup and use.
If you anticipate any of the challenges above, adjust your strategy and criteria to avoid or minimize the risks.
3. Use market research and testing to select a product
Now that you’re clear on what you do—and don’t—need, you can start your search. Quickly fill out your criteria spreadsheet to rule out options that don’t work for you.
To identify your top contenders, conduct keyword searches, talk to colleagues, and review best software lists. You’ll quickly find more options than you ever wanted. By the end of this search you should have 5-10 tools that meet your product criteria requirements.
Now you can finally begin creating trial accounts. Choose 2-3 finalists to test and share with your stakeholders, then work with core stakeholders to narrow in on the final choice.
Bring some (or all) of your users into the testing period so they can help you rule out options. You might also want them to test the top option before announcing your choice. This gives them a chance to highlight any big concerns and hopefully rally behind the final selection.
Just be sure to create clear boundaries around the type of feedback we want at this point. You’re not looking to hear what people love or hate. You’re trying to confirm which tool meets your product criteria and will work best for the overall team.
Once you’ve made your selection, it’s time to move on to onboarding.
4. Establish a plan for onboarding your team
Perhaps the most critical step for successful product adoption is onboarding.
Understand your product adoption curve
When developing your onboarding plan, it’s helpful to determine where your team fits in on the typical product adoption curve. You might have a small staff that only hits a couple points along the way. Or maybe you’ve got 100+ users who run the gamut. Either way, you’ll need to understand how (or if) they’ll warm up to the new tool.
This curve can help you understand the different types of users you’ll need to bring into the process. Consider where your team falls on the curve and when you need to reach each group during the process. It might not just be at the end.
Provide training options that support different adopters
This could be the thing that makes or breaks production adoption in the long term. Make some meetings mandatory so everyone gets the same information at the same time.
Don’t forget to remind the team why you’re making this transition and point out how the new product will impact their roles specifically. While you outlined the advantages during the strategic brief process, it's good to review them when you’re in the thick of learning a new tool. Directly connecting these benefits to your team’s concerns, hopes, and needs will go a long way in motivating them to make the switch.
Here are some training and support options you may want to consider:
Create a sandbox version with full projects already built so users can test out all the features. This is nice to have both during testing and onboarding (and even long after).
Book a meeting to play in the sandbox together. List specific tasks everyone needs to complete, and gather feedback as you go along. Check out TeamGantt's kickoff meeting resources for ideas on where to start.
Webinars and courses
Book time to watch product videos and/or take 101 courses to learn the basics and cover critical topics together. Reserve time afterwards to discuss thoughts and gather feedback.
Work with the product company team to set up customized training. You can schedule this at the beginning of your team’s journey with the product or after everyone’s had a chance to work with the tool and has specific questions. Maybe even both!
No matter what the tool can do, it’s critical to define how you are going to use the tool. Schedule an internal training to walk your team through specific scenarios and how they should address them in the tool. You may want to hold several sessions as new requests and questions arise.
Create a user manual that stakeholders can revisit and share with new team members. Make sure the manual spells out the following things:
- How the tool fits into your workflow
- Rules around features you will and won’t use
- Product screenshots with tips and tricks for use
- Links to key online resources, including videos, blogs, and product tutorials
Regular reminders and tips
Set up a regular meeting to share tips and tricks and remind folks how your company has decided to use the tool so people don’t start veering off. This can serve as ongoing support, while also boosting team accountability and tool consistency.
You might want to meet weekly at first, then monthly (or just move the conversation to Slack).
Individual check-ins and support
Some folks will just need more time and support on your team to make the transition. Consider 1:1 training, along with regular check-ins, until they’re confidently up-to-speed.
5. Measure your success and failures
When the dust has settled and your adoption strategy has been fully executed, take a moment to reflect on the process as a team. Get together for a retrospective or send out a survey to uncover:
- What worked well about the process?
- What could go better next time?
- What frustrations or bugs still exist that we can address?
- Is this tool allowing you to do your job better? How so?
- Is it making you happier?
It’s important to learn what you can do better next time. You also might need to report upwards on the success of the project. Remember: Employee happiness is a great data point to share.
Successful product adoption starts with a plan
Ready to implement a new tool for your team? TeamGantt makes it easy to communicate, execute, and track your plan all the way to success.
And if you’re on the hunt for new project management software, we’ve got all the features you need to rally your team and deliver projects on time and budget.