Best Practices For A Successful Project Management Software Implementation (Pt. 2): User Adoption

By: on January 18, 2017

Have you ever received a gift for a birthday or a holiday that was given with the best intentions, but fell a bit short on delivery? Maybe an item of clothing that didn’t fit or a basketball when, in fact, you play soccer?

Unless the box also contained a gift receipt, chances are that just-off-the-mark purchase is still gathering dust on a shelf. Because, despite the good intentions, a basketball simply isn’t the right tool if you’re trying to kick a ball down a field to score a goal.

Project management (PM) leaders who fail to consider end users when purchasing a new tool also risk poor user adoption. Unfortunately, software implementations don’t come with a gift receipt, and poor adoption or sustained use of a new tool are risks most small and midsize businesses (SMBs) simply can’t afford to take.

To give your SMB the best chance for a successful PM software implementation, we’ve created this two-part article series, inspired by Gartner research.

In part one, we outline several best practices for selecting the right PM software for your organization and here, in part two, we tackle user adoption.

See “Final Considerations” at the end for a downloadable checklist summarizing the tips for encouraging and sustaining adoption we’ll discuss below.

Tips for Facilitating User Adoption of PM Software at Your SMB

Promoting and sustaining user adoption over the course of a product’s life span is a challenge for many organizations. According to Gartner Senior Research Analyst, Mbula Schoen, many of the research firm’s enterprise clients fail to involve end users in software selection and vetting. When end users finally hear about the new tool, it’s too late to provide feedback.

“A common mistake made by those implementing the tool is that they often selected, purchased and rolled out the PPM tool without involving or soliciting input from the various users. The users are essentially the people who will be required to use the tools on a daily basis. It therefore comes as no surprise that adoption will be slow and negatively impact sustained usage because this critical part of the selection process—end-user input—was omitted.”

Source: “Best Practices for Sustained User Adoption of PPM Tools” (This content is available to Gartner clients).

In order to avoid similar issues at your SMB, we’ve outlined the following tips for facilitating user adoption before, during and after the software selection process. This ensures that your end users are not only aware of the changes surrounding the new tool, but have had ample time to provide feedback and are therefore invested in the tool’s success.

#1: Before You Buy

The first step in facilitating user adoption of a new PM tool is to put together a team to manage organizational change. This group will be responsible for crafting an organizational change plan designed to engage stakeholders throughout the implementation.

If your SMB has a project management office (PMO), the PMO can lead this charge. If your organization doesn’t yet have an established PMO, assigning a select group the responsibility of managing organizational change can be a first step toward establishing one.

This group will be responsible for the following:

  • Identifying a need for change
  • Performing stakeholder impact analysis
  • Finalizing tool requirements

Identifying a need for change: Taking an active rather than a passive approach to change is a defining leadership quality. Actively searching for ways to improve small inefficiencies will not only improve output, it is also a great way to help you advance in PPM maturity.

You should engage with executives and senior leadership to define an organizational strategy and tie project initiatives to business goals. Then work with project managers and project teams to learn what they’re trying to accomplish and any pain points hindering their success.

Once you know what organizational goals project teams are trying to achieve, you can home in on an issue and work with stakeholders to decide if a new PM tool can help teams achieve their objectives.

Perform stakeholder impact analysis: Make a list of every person, team and department that will use the new tool. This includes day-to-day users, as well as leaders who consume data the tool will produce. Be sure to not only address who your stakeholders are, but how they will be impacted and the timing of the impact.

Brad Kriter, manager of the project management office at ZTR Control Systems, says that getting buy-in from stakeholders is key to a successful implementation.

Kriter advocates communicating early and often, saying that it’s important to let people know that a change is imminent, along with the following details:

  • Why the change is necessary
  • What metrics will be used to compare products
  • Who will make the final decision

Then, he says, be sure to keep them in the loop as important milestones are reached.

“Those who have concerns will have had sufficient opportunity to voice them…If you expect resistance, target the influential skeptics and attempt to understand and address their concerns or make them part of the decision process.”

Brad Kriter, PMO manager at ZTR Control Systems

Gartner analyst Schoen advises that the best way to get buy-in from stakeholders is to tailor communications and address the “what’s in it for me” (WIFM) for each user type. When stakeholders know why a change is occurring and how it will impact them directly, they are more likely to be motivated by and engaged with the new tool.

Finalizing tool requirements: After you have performed your stakeholder impact analysis, you should have a good idea of what each stakeholder’s requirements are and how they translate into tool capabilities.

For example, imagine that the outcome you’re trying to achieve is better project planning, and your stakeholders need to track employee skill sets, availability and performance metrics. In that case, the key capabilities you’ll look for will likely include resource management and reporting.

Now you can go about creating a shortlist of products that meet these needs. Be sure that tools address immediate needs and align with your PPM maturity. As Gartner warns, implementations that are misaligned with your goals and maturity “are doomed to fail.”

#2: During the Selection Process

Once you have your shortlist of products, the next step in facilitating adoption is ensuring that the end users are involved with vetting each product.

This involves setting up vendor demos tailored to the needs of your stakeholders. For example, setting up a demo for project team members, another for project managers and another for executives.

Gartner encourages asking vendors to set up demos as a “day-in-the-life” scenario for each stakeholder group. This will allow each group to compare products by asking:

  • “Does it align with existing workflows?”
  • “Does it solve our immediate needs and drive our near-term goals?”

One you have the feedback from each group, you can work on comparing the return on investment (ROI) and choosing a solution where the benefits offered outweigh the costs.

Understanding ROI

Software Advice offers several free resources to help you through the software selection process, including step-by-step guides for evaluating software demos and comparing vendor price quotes.

The demo guide offers advice for setting up demos, communicating with vendors and scoring each product. The price-quote guide includes steps for reviewing vendor quotes and comparing one product to another by evaluating total cost of ownership (TCO).

Demos can show how a system will benefit or detract from your team’s workflows, while calculating TCO gives you a better idea what the corresponding costs are for each tool. Both of these steps are critical for understanding the potential return on your investment.

best practices for software selection

#3: After Implementation

You might think the hard part is done once you have purchased a tool. In reality, the hard work is just beginning. After implementation, you’re responsible for introducing the new software to the organization, promoting the benefits and overseeing training programs.

ZTR’s Kriter says that this is where many organizations fail, noting that a lack of promotion and training can doom what would otherwise have been a good solution.

“User acceptance of a new software tool is critical to successful implementation…Provide training, even if the new tool seems intuitive. Some individuals need a little additional encouragement,” says Kriter.

The key is to avoid “one-size-fits-all” training and, similar to the vendor demos, tailor each session to the needs of your stakeholders. Take into account that not every user group will be able to dedicate the same amount of time, and as such, provide stakeholders with different training options.

The following are a few examples of informal training programs you might consider in addition to formal, classroom training:

Training Initiatives Designed to Drive User Engagement and Adoption
training initiatives
Gartner notes that it’s important to create opportunities for user feedback and identify and close any learning gaps over the life span of the tool.

One way to do this is to have recurring training sessions, for example, once a month while you’re ramping up and then once a quarter to serve as a refresher.

Final Considerations

In part one, we discussed that Gartner estimates the average life span for a PM tool at less than five years. Within that time, organizational goals may shift and user needs may change. As such, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate PM tools after two to three years to ensure they are still delivering value.

Consider incorporating this review into your organizational change management plan. “Identifying a need for change” can include replacing ineffective tools just as it can mean implementing new ones.

Finally, ask for feedback from users during training and subsequent refresher courses to see if tools are continuing to meet the needs of users. Rather than replacing a whole system, you may be able to use add-ons or plug-ins to supplement missing features and capabilities.

For more information about tool selection or facilitating user adoption, email me at I’m available to answer any questions you might have.

For help remembering the tips we’ve discussed here, download our checklist for facilitating user adoption:

user adoption checklist

Download Checklist

Did you find this content to be useful?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Want to subscribe to our project management research? Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletters.

You may also like:

Best Practices for a Successful Project Management Software Implementation (Pt. 1): Tool Selection

What Executives and Managers Want in Project Management Software

Top Capabilities SMBs Should Look for in a New PM System

Compare Project Management Software