Project success: it's all about the users

You've been tasked with designing and deploying a technology initiative. Whether it's desktop virtualization, customer relationship management, a new identity management tool or a knowledge management system, you have to get users on board if it's going to work. Getting them on your side requires a level of political and intrapersonal nous to rival your technological skills. Here are five critical success factors to get the user base in your corner.

Work with the mavens

In his 2000 book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell described how emerging ideas became mainstream. One of the linchpins in the spread of an idea was the maven - a person with many social connections, who is respected and can spread an idea. Find the maven users in your organization, who lots of others will listen to, and get them on board.

Give them a carrot, not a stick

Users naturally respond better to rewards, rather than reprimands. Giving them a positive reason to try out a new system will help to get their support. When trying to sell desktop virtualization as a concept, you could tell them that running a centralized desktop gives them the option to change physical computers or work from home.

Scope your work with maximum user input

A technology initiative will resonate more with users if you give them input into the functional specification of the system. For example, promoting a content management system to users will be more successful if you ask them up front what they want. This writer was once forced to use a CMS with no tagging capability, no ability to resize uploaded images, and no byline capability. What better way to build resentment into the user base than by ignoring the features they love?

Make the pilot as long as possible

Long pilot projects give you the chance to work out the kinks in a project, tweak it for performance, and create a better operating environment for the broader user base as it rolls out.

Tie the project into a broader corporate objective

It is easier for a company's users to adopt an initiative if it rides on the wave of enthusiasm generated by another project. Has the management set a goal of increasing customer sales by 10% in the year? That could be a good way to garner buy-in for your CRM system.

Armed with these techniques in your political toolbox, you will be better equipped to win over hearts and minds.


Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.