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When Faucets Fail: Keys to Successfully Adopting New Tools

Example of Failed Adoption

In 1928, the wild cabbage cultivar known as broccoli was still new to the United States when E.B. White, channeling his inner scamp, penned his most famous caption for a cartoon in the New Yorker. The scene: An earnest mother admonishes her child to try the new vegetable, and the little girl, even in her tenderest youth, is positively awash with jaded cynicism. The runt, ruefully eyeing the plated abomination, seems weighted to the breaking point with all the hard-won wisdom that the better part of a decade can afford a kid. For this little girl has heard this song and dance before: the endless ruses of airplanes and choo choo trains and dessert. Not today, Mommy. To leave no doubt that she was onto mother’s nefarious shenanigans, the daughter crisply replies:

“Well, I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.”

No doubt the child felt not only vindicated and proud of her own insight, but that she was doing everyone a service. The reality was that she would have no dessert and the hellspawn vegetable would sit there until it was finished. A bad experience for all involved.
New technology, like broccoli, promises to make our lives better, healthier, easier. Unfortunately, new tools don’t have that reassuring patina of established use: the cultural acceptance, tribal knowledge, desktop shortcuts et al that tools develop over time. New tools (most especially in requirements, which often have many steps involving many people) may be abandoned for the old methods, which have no period of adjustment, yet also no prospect for improved experience. Even worse, initiative fatigue, a form of plain old change fatigue, can automatically short circuit a new technology.

I was recently browsing the “non-corporate press” section of the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and found a collection of old cartoons mercilessly lampooning a foolhardy new technology: the automobile. The message was clear, “My horse and buggy work just fine, thank you.” It was a striking reminder that technology and change can turn the nicest of folks into braying jackasses that you couldn’t move with a Chinook, let alone a carrot and stick. And no one is immune. Like Mr. White, we all have an inner scamp that has an inherent tendency to childishly reject change.

Even if the requirements for the tool have been vetted (hardly a forgone conclusion, even in departments that specialize in requirements management), you have to prepare the users for the change.

Keys to Successfully Adopting A New Requirement Tool.
Talk about your expectations for the new technology with new users. What are your specific objectives for use in this instance? Is it performance improvement, for example? How do you measure that? Here are some basic points you should address:
  1. What are your specific conditions for disuse/rollback? (Are there conditions?)
  2. Plan and set expectations for some frustration as natural (Don’t promise silver bullets!)
  3. Account for attention spans
  4. Be realistic in your expectations
  5. Develop an implementation plan
  6. Develop a training plan
  7. Establish success metrics
  8. Identify subject matter experts and a communications plan
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