Insight By REI Systems

Designing IT solutions that users want

This content is provided by REI Systems.

Many IT firms (and agencies using Information Technology) believe that the successful implementation of a project means sticking to plans, managing budgets, and meeting deadlines. They are satisfied when they have delivered the promised functionality on-time and on-budget. Yet, when these firms look back a few months after deployment, they may find that they and their client sponsors don’t get the expected user adoption, and don’t get the expected results. In short, there is no return on an IT investment if users don’t use the technology. While the project may be deemed a success because it has been deployed, business results will not be fully realized until the intended users adopt the solution.

Frankly, even if users are compelled to use a technology tool to perform mission-critical activities, they may not use the full available functionality – they may continue to seek and use workarounds (or even use the old system).  The lack of user satisfaction can be seen in increased helpdesk tickets, negative feedback in employment viewpoint surveys, and lack of engagement in training or rollout activities. To avoid wasting time and money, companies must find ways to reduce the complexity of IT systems and plan for organizational and user readiness from the project’s start.

Based on lessons from REI Systems’ 25+ years of experience designing mission-enabling solutions for federal, state & local, and commercial customers, we have concluded that to drive adoption and achieve high levels of satisfaction amongst users, Solutions Engineering companies must answer two key questions:

  1. Have we built the right product in the right way?
  2. Have we thought about product use, and engaged users to build buy-in along the way?

Answering the first question requires us to combine functional and technical elements such as features and product quality with user-centric elements such as usefulness and ease of use. Answering the second question requires us to engage solution stakeholders early, design user journeys empathetically, communicate proactively, and set up users to perform their tasks successfully. We recommend four critical components of user adoption as part of a customer’s overall solution success:

1. User Benefits and Business Results

“Well begun is half done,” which is why end users should be included in planning from the start. For clients to get the desired impact from their IT investment, vendors should follow REI Systems’ example by being explicit about the problems the technology solution is expected to solve for the end users, and how that solution will impact their overall user journey, especially where the solution does not stand-alone. If there is a struggle to define this clearly, there is a risk of building the wrong thing as the project progresses. A solution must contribute to the client’s mission success, offering ways to measure ease of use, satisfaction, and results and integrate into the solution as it is developed. Finally, as part of the project management approach, those responsible for business investments should collaborate with people who are focused on product and user experience, solution development, and user preparation/ training to create a solution that is likely to be adopted and used.

2. User Awareness and Engagement

Once the “why” has been clearly articulated, it needs to be validated by engaging users. To develop awareness a developer must step into the shoes of the end user and track touch points before and after the technology solution, developing options, and then refining them rapidly by testing with actual end users whenever possible. It is helpful to segment users based on their roles and personas, to avoid creating a one-size-fits-all solution and to balance simplicity with flexibility. Two-way feedback – and observing partial solutions in actual use – informs solution design and messaging campaigns to effectively meet user needs and avoid surprises. Then, user feedback must be reflected in the elaboration, construction, acceptance, and post-deployment support phases of a project.

3. User Experience and Feedback

A technology solution should be easy and intuitive to use so user focus is always on the business workflow and achievement of business goals; figure out the technology should not be a distraction. To create a positive user experience, the solution must be effective, efficient, intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing. In other words, does it help both new and repeat users get the job done with least effort while evoking joy? No matter how good a product designer is, there are no proxies for feedback from end users, so users must be engaged during product development. Even organizations that use an agile development model for rapid feedback and adjustments, are likely to go off course if the sources of feedback do not include real users.

4. User Preparation and Support

Even with a user interface designed for maximally intuitive ease of use, users will appreciate having an introduction to the solution, access to hands-on learning opportunities, and just-in-time support. Timing and quality of messaging, training, and availability of tools and services are critical to user acceptance. Therefore, it is important to invest in setting the expectations for all users and create positive defining moments by guiding them toward quick wins. Identifying barriers to adoption, and helping users navigate past them will help organizations capture the value of the technology solution. A balanced consideration of user skill levels, self-service and training, 24/7 automated responses, and human touchpoints can assure that users feel confident adopting and using the new solution.

Even the highest quality and most innovative solutions fail if they are not ultimately adopted by end users. Designing IT solutions that users want is not a single act, but a series of acts that create memorable experiences and drive real usage from the target audience. It is only when intended users use the full capabilities provided by a technology solution that an organization gets a return on its technology investment – it is as simple as that.

More information on user experience and user adoption is available at REI User Adoption Overview.


About the Authors

Indunil Ranaviraja, Principal, REI Systems

Indunil has expertise in organizational change management, strategic planning, program management and evaluation, and communications.

Subhash Kari, Vice President, REI Systems

Subhash has expertise in grants management, mission systems development and modernization, shared services, and business intelligence.


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