Talking Usability: User Acceptance

As technical writers, we do not drive user acceptance, but we can influence it by writing about a system’s new features and functions, provide training, and answer users’ questions. I believe we can do a little more to help win user acceptance if we understand the challenges users face when confronted with change.

  • There is no motivation to change so why change
  • Management is not supporting the change so why change
  • The change will affect the way people work and nobody likes that
  • The change means learning something new and nobody likes to learn new things

Organizations need to understand how to overcome these obstacles if they want to advocate change. The following are methods I used to win user acceptance for using SharePoint instead of shared drives.

Give a Reason for Change

If users are not motivated to change—give them reasons why change is necessary. Here is an actual statement used to discuss my project team’s decision to use SharePoint, “We are moving our documentation to SharePoint because it will allow better collaboration.” Nothing happened. The project team was satisfied with keeping project documents on shared drives. I learned that one of the members of the project team was also a key stakeholder and she fought hard to discourage using SharePoint.

A better justification for switching to SharePoint was needed, so this is what was said to the project team: “We are moving our documentation to SharePoint because shared drives are not accessible to remote users. If you wish to work at home then we need to centralize our documentation on SharePoint.” The key stakeholder backed off from campaigning against SharePoint because she worried about losing her work-from-home privileges. A few members of the project team preferred keeping their documents on their desktop as a backup, and claimed that shared drive provided better security. Then it happened—a winter storm.

Yes, a wintery storm dropped several inches of snow, which created havoc for commuters and caused the closure of our office for several days. The project team was able to work from home because they were able to access their documents via SharePoint via their MobiKeys. Unfortunately, those who maintained their documents on the shared drive could not access them.

Find a Champion

If you convince one person that the change is well suited for everyone’s needs (the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few) you have made some progress. If you don't have clout, you are not likely to convince anyone. In which case, you need someone with clout to support you. A Champion is a person who is in a good position to help you navigate through the obstacles that will arise when advocating change; a person who believes that the change is good for the organization; a person who has the clout to help you convince stakeholders and get management support. Decision makers aren’t always easily swayed by good ideas and good intentions. Sometimes all it takes is the support of a Champion to get people to listen and pay attention.

The closure of the office because of the snowstorm provided an opportunity to prove if SharePoint could allow the project team to work from home—and it did. The project leader was satisfied that SharePoint could facilitate working from home and mandated that all project documents be moved to SharePoint.

Address Users’ Concerns

Another important step to winning user acceptance is to listen to users’ concerns. Focus your attention on the users creating the most resistance. With the support of the Champion, organize meetings to discuss the change, listen to users’ issues and concerns, and collect their requirements. Categorize the requirements according to priority and criticality. Answer each requirement with a strategy to address the requirement. Don’t delay. Make addressing users' concerns a priority.

The project’s team leader was concerned that people outside of the project team could access the documents on SharePoint. To address this concern, I created user groups and assigned them read, write, and delete privileges and gave a demonstration to show proof of concept. To address concerns that information on the home page (dashboard) would be visible to people outside of the project team, I assigned user groups to specific Web parts of the dashboard that were to be visible to the public. I addressed each and every requirement until she ran out of requirements.

Provide Training

Another important step of winning user acceptance is to provide training. The basis of this training is the users’ requirements. Demonstrate the new features and functions of the product; explain how it integrates with current systems and services, and ease of use. Offer incentives to encourage participation. Give each attendee a quick reference card of all the important/common features and functions.

To encourage better use of SharePoint, I provided training during lunch. To encourage participation, the project manager provided pizza and drinks. All attendees received quick reference cards. Whenever coworkers had a question about SharePoint, I stopped what I was doing and helped them. Over time, coworkers had fewer questions and required less of my assistance.

Ensure a Smooth Transition

Whatever is in the planning to impose on the user community, you need a plan to transition users. Ensure that the back end of the system is fully integrated and tested for the “go live” day. Inform users when the system will go live and provide the telephone number of the help desk. The day of go-live will be like the first day of school after a summer break—confusion. The help desk will be inundated with calls, users will complain, management will scream, and productivity will grind to a halt. Over time, calls to the help desk will decrease, users won’t complain as much, and productivity will improve. You might even hear a few compliments that the system is better and easier to use.

Peace and quiet will return to your organization as it did mine, you will be a superhero because you took the time and effort to win user acceptance.

That’s how I helped win user acceptance for SharePoint. If I can do it, so can you.

I’m David Dick and I’m talking usability.

One Reply to “Talking Usability: User Acceptance”

  1. Hi David,

    Nice post! This part has just made my day:
    To encourage participation, the project manager provided pizza and drinks.

    Pavlov’s approach to encouraging the needed behavior still works! 🙂 No, really – this does the trick in many situations, since humans are animals to some extent.


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