Post by Rob Collie


A Recent Trip to the Hospital Highlighted the Folly of The Way Things Work

That Oh So Sneaky “Adoption Problem”

I spend a lot of time talking to software vendors. One vendor specifically of course, whose name rhymes with “Bike Row Loft.”  But all software vendors share one basic habit, which is that they’re constantly asking, “How do we get more customers to BUY our tools?”

But I also spend a lot of time talking to their customers.  And while the vendors expect their customers’ most pressing question to be “which software tools do I buy,” the reality I see is FAR different.

Buying software is just the FIRST step down a very difficult road.  You choose the software from Vendor X, announce the decision to your organization, send Vendor X a check…  and that’s the starting gun.


Yeah, Vendor X sees that as the END of the story.  And so do their competitors, Vendor Y and Vendor Z, who slink away defeated.  But you, the purchaser of the tools, well, your story is just beginning isn’t it?

Now you have to get your PEOPLE to start USING the new tools.  And to KEEP using them.  I’ve discovered that this is by FAR a much bigger problem than choosing the tool. 

“The New Operating Room Sucks, Who Designs These Things?”


The WTF-Were-They-Thinking Problem is the flipside of the Adoption Problem.  And it was clearly illustrated to me recently when my wife had a minor surgical procedure.

The operating room had recently been…  “upgraded.”  And the nurses, the doctors, the entire medical staff was complaining about it nonstop.  The entire setup of the new OR was apparently far less functional than the prior setup.  Equipment, instruments, the table itself – all were now located in places that were clumsy and awkward for performing actual surgeries.

This does not inspire confidence – surgeons complaining about their work tools and environment. But they couldn’t help it.  “The people designed this have clearly never performed surgery” was their refrain.


The WTF-Were-They-Thinking Problem (Right)
is the flipside of the Adoption Problem (Left)

The USERS of the tools (surgeons or data analysts) aren’t involved in the SELECTION of the tools (operating rooms and software).  And this is the root of both problems.  They are, actually, one and the same.

Arranged marriages of software and users are a spin of the roulette wheel.  Sometimes it works, but usually it does not.

So what do we do about it?  Two things.

The Takeaways:  One for Software Vendors, One for Their Customers

Let’s start with software customers.  Don’t let tool selection be an executive, ivory tower thing.  Involve the users closely in the process.  And not just “celebrity” users, like the fancy-pants managers of certain departments.  I mean the REAL users.  The workers you don’t normally meet face to face.  Skip the middlemen/middlewomen and go straight to the real users.

Don’t just do the checkbox analysis, unless you include “users like it a LOT” as the biggest checkbox.

OK, vendors.  You already design your tools, in theory at least, to be easy to adopt. So, no real change there.

But some tools ARE easier to adopt than others!  And if your product happens to be one of those, well, feature that fact as part of your marketing.

Completely Random Example!


This Example Selected ENTIRELY at Random!  Honest! Winking smile

So, hypothetically speaking…  let’s say there are two BI tools.  One of them is like a stealth virus that slips into Excel users’ brains and workflows without resistance.  The other positions itself as a full-on alternative to the tool they already use (Excel) and therefore starts out with no buyin, and in fact stubborn resistance.

If you are the vendor who produces the first tool, the stealth virus, maybe you should leverage that.  Maybe even tell your customers that their Adoption Problem will be much MUCH smaller should they choose your tool over, say, one whose name rhymes with Bad Blow.  Heck, use that tool as a gateway drug to your other tools.  Say it with me…  WE SOLVE THE ADOPTION PROBLEM.  Because your customers are FULLY aware of the Adoption Problem even though it’s mostly invisible to you, the vendor.  The Adoption Problem keeps them up at night.  The age of BYOD has made users even more self-determining than before, less likely to just accept edicts from on high.

And if you’re a BI software customer, maybe give some thought to this too.  The people who are going to be using the tools already use Excel.  If one of the tools out there has a gateway to BI that flows through Excel…  I don’t know.  Maybe give it some thought.

We’ve seen this over and over again. Organizations want to move their analyst users into the 21st century.  They buy them Tool X and it fails.  Tool Y also subsequently fails.  (Those vendors count the sales as Wins of course, but they didn’t turn out to be wins for the customer). 

MANY of our client engagements take place at companies who “own” Tableau licenses, for instance, but only a handful of people are actually using it.  We get called in when the customer finally cries Uncle on that effort and is ready to try something new.  The reason we succeed where others fail, in this regard, is we use a toolset that COMES TO the existing users, helps them where they already are, and opens many subsequent doors to the rest of the Microsoft BI stack.  The other tools are an ATTACK on those users and their existing skillsets and comfort zones.  Don’t fight battles you don’t have to.

OK, enough.  See you folks next week. Same bat time, same bat channel Smile