8 Tips to Successfully Adopt an Online Project Management Tool
So, you’ve made the decision: An online project management tool is the way forward. You’ve done the research, tested the products, made your selection, and got the thumbs-up from your sponsors. Now all you need to do is send the login details to your tech-savvy, collaboration-hungry team and then sit back and watch the magic happen, right?
Wrong. Change is challenging. Many initiatives fail, with shiny new tools soon lying unused and gathering dust. Every vision needs a strategy behind it. These tips will help your team successfully adopt your new project management tool.
1. Gain some wisdom: If you don’t have first-hand experience of deploying an online project management tool, talk to those that do. Talk to the tool provider and see if a representative can connect you with existing users who are happy to share their own experience of the process and the product (the provider’s willingness to do so is also some indication of its confidence in the product and support performance).
Having deployed LiquidPlanner across an organization, I’m always happy to do this for the company’s potential/early adopters. The provider should also be able to give you useful pointers, and partner with you to develop and deliver your rollout strategy. (Again, your adoption success is also theirs, so use them). Do some research on general change management principles also; information on common pitfalls is readily available.
2. Have a plan: Think of the rollout as a project in itself. To be successful, your rollout needs the same up-front planning as any other job. Don’t just put the tool out there and expect immediate adoption with no further direction (a fire-and-forget launch process will have short-lived success, if any). Talk to stakeholders and get their input—early involvement is essential for a workable plan and will help to gain their buy-in.
Timing is everything. Throwing a new tool into the mix with an overloaded team at a critical stage of a project can be counter-productive for its adoption and the project. You may be deploying the tool to stop runaway schedules and slipping milestones, but get the deployment wrong and it won’t stick. To fix things, you’ll end up resorting to the old crystal ball and magic wand—and we all know how well that works.
3. Choose the go-to champion(s): Successful change requires management and leadership so decide who’s going to champion the new tool deployment and make this person known to all. This move needs consideration at the planning stage; even with a smooth rollout, demands on the champion’s time may still be significant. If that responsibility gets added to an already unachievable to-do list, you won’t be able to support your stakeholders. And if you can’t answer your stakeholder’s questions in a timely fashion, they’ll stop asking and adoption will falter.
4. Engage the team: Stakeholder buy-in is essential for successful adoption of any new tool; employee resistance is the primary killer of change initiatives. Online project management software give teams the benefit of transparency, but bear in mind that not all users will be comfortable with that. Give team members early visibility to the tool and be clear on the reasons for its implementation and the anticipated benefits (for the business and for the team).
Sit-down demos are great for adding focus and giving opportunity for Q&As, but may not always be feasible. Make sure all stakeholders have access to online product demos and (even better) instructional videos. Plan in some short-term wins, and recognise and reward those that contribute to adoption success.
5. Let them play: Set up a dummy project or sandbox area within the tool that users can practice on without fear of impacting real data. This gives everyone involved the opportunity to become familiar with the tool, and get comfortable with the environment before going live with real projects and tasks.
6. Start small: Once your team recognizes the benefits of using a new tool, the temptation may be to populate it with every project from day one. This big bang approach is risky unless everyone involved is thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the tool. Instead, think about starting with non-critical project tasks or even administrative non-project tasks to give users time to feel comfortable with the new system, and then gradually add in additional projects over time.
7. Get feedback and share the results: Keep talking to your users. Be the focal point for their questions and issues, and feed these questions back to the tool provider for resolution or consideration for future releases. Once users become familiar with the tool and gain confidence, then direct contact with the provider makes sense. But in the early stages, the champion(s) are best-placed to coordinate this traffic and direct their wisdom to those who need it.
8. Follow up . . . and keep following up: Adoption of a new tool only truly ends when its use becomes part of the team or organizational culture. Keep the dialog with the team going—share hints and tips and make the users aware of new features. Don’t just assume they read all the press the provider puts out there with each upgrade. People move around so make sure new hires get the training they need. After all, knowledge doesn’t just leave the building if people move on.
What kind of success have you experienced adopting a new online project management tool?
Kevin Crump is a certified PRINCE2 Practitioner with over 18 years’ experience of IT Projects and Operations management, including software development and test, quality management system design and customer support.