Obstacles to Technology Implementation

It is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory.  ~W. Edwards Deming

To those of us who enjoy reading technical articles, or attending technical conferences, the idea of change is bracing. We embrace change, and we like technology. We like to explore it, explain it, sell it, implement it, and succeed with it. We are so involved with it that it can be hard for us to understand why there often seems to be so much resistance to making technological changes, and why the results can sometimes be so disappointing.

And yet technology avoidance is a fact of life. Change is often resisted, and even when a new technical innovation is not stopped cold at the front door, implementation often falters down the line, depriving the company that bought the proposed solution of many of its potential benefits.

This resistance to the exploration of new technologies, and the often unsuccessful or incomplete implementations that can follow, hinder our industry’s ability to adapt to a rapidly changing business.  When a new technology fails to deliver the expected results, the consequences can be serious and long lasting. Far beyond the disappointment of a missed sale, a failed technology implementation can result in an environment of general resistance to future attempts at change, and it can cause stagnation where bold action is indicated.

What we see as a failure of technology is most often not technical, but social and cultural. Attempts to make change usually falter not because the new way doesn’t work or because the product is faulty, but because not enough attention has been paid to the human factors that can make any kind of change a challenging proposition. The human emotions, fears and prejudices that block change and the implementation of new technologies are many, and they can happen at the beginning, middle, or late stages of the adoption process.

Blocked Beginnings: Stopping Before We Start

In almost all cases, representatives of technology companies see their products as having great value to their potential clients, and they genuinely want to help them succeed by implementing the solutions that they offer. They are also the first in line to see the rejection process at work. They have heard every possible reason for rejecting promising new solutions, and the storylines usually fall into a few reliable categories:

“We’re happy: Everything works fine.” This may be the single most common response to a new product introduction. But read between the lines and you’re liable to detect a deep level of denial. In a business where things typically go wrong 150 times a day, wouldn’t we all be interested in any product that offered hope of a better success rate?

“We tried that before and it didn’t work.”  The “Been There, Done That” approach to technology avoidance. Anyone who has been in this business long enough has probably seen their share of disappointing solutions, and over-promising can poison the well for worthier products: but early disappointments don’t always mean eternal failure. Most of the technologies that today define our business started off with long bug lists.

“Yes, I like the 99 things that it can do, but what about that one thing that it can’t do?”” It’s easy to reject a new technology based on the one thing that it can’t do, and easy to spot this as one more excuse for technology avoidance.

“This is no time for us to be spending money on speculative projects.” In tough economic times, it’s easy for decision-makers to go into defensive mode, hoping to tough things out by cutting costs and avoiding purchases no matter how convincing the ROI.

“Sure your application sounds like a pretty good idea to me, let me check with the people who will be using it.”  This sounds so logical. It is important to get buy-in from users before implementing any fundamental change; but evaluating a new technology based soley on the opinions of the people who will be using it can be misleading: Workers accustomed to the old way may feel threatened or uncomfortable when presented with a new solution.

“You’ll have to show that this is a better way than what has been successful for the past 15 years.” I really wish I were making this one up, but unfortunately, it is a real-life example. When you hear this line, run, don’t walk, out of that office. This person isn’t buying anytime soon.

“Our clients aren’t asking for that.” This sounds like a reasonable reason for rejecting new technology. Why would you want to invest in something that your customers haven’t even asked for?

“What if something goes wrong?”  This is a primal fear of all print salespeople. Any mistake or unexpected result puts them into the very uncomfortable position of having to explain to their client why their job won’t be delivered on time.  Anything new, no matter how promising, wakes this fear.

“If we offer your low-cost solution, we will be losing money on the high-priced services and products we supply.” Technology continues to bring lower-cost solutions, and with them the fear of reduced commissions.

Dropping the Ball: Change Avoidance in the Trenches

After a decision has been made to make a change, the real work begins: implementing the new approach into the current work environment.  Interestingly, there aren’t nearly as many memorable quotes coming from production as there are from the front office or sales departments. In part, this is a clue to the nature of the workplace dynamics: production workers are often not accustomed to having a voice in operations, so they offer minimal input regarding any new changes that seem to be coming down from the top. Opposition may not be expressed openly, but passive resistance can be the biggest contributor to failure of implementation.

“We never have that problem before.” This is first cousin to the “Everything Works Fine” line from the front office, but with a twist: this time something has gone wrong, and we know why: it’s that new technology, that procedure change, that has made our finely-tuned production operation go off the rails.

“That sounds like a great theory, but I’ve got real work to do here.” This is a real favorite of the in-the-trenches technology blocker. By drawing a distinction between the job at hand and the proposed solution, the new technology is given ivory-tower status: Nice in theory, but unrelated to “real” work.”

7 Tips for Overcoming Technology Avoidance at the Sales Point

1.Ask questions. Asking questions not only allows you to learn more about your client’s operations, it can also help your client to realize that there may be aspects of the operation that have not been examined sufficiently

2. Understand you client’s real needs before offering a solution they feel they don’t need. No matter how wonderful your solution is, if the client doesn’t know they need it, they won’t buy it.

3.Become a resource of real information. Understand how your product fits in with all other elements in the production chain.

4.Focus on what your product does, not on what it doesn’t do.

5.Identify the risks of standing still.

6.Be prepared with an ROI.

7.Be available for support after the sale. Problems will crop up, and a representative who becomes hard-to-get after the first sale may not get a second.

7 Tips for Succeeding in Implementation in the Trenches

1.Have 100% support from the very top. Any air between top and middle management on the wisdom of the proposed change will doom the project from the start.

2.Allow time for deep implementation. Understand that success and improvement will not be immediate. Fundamental change is a process, not an event.

3.Encourage workers to attend industry events and to connect with their peers. Knowledge is contagious, and workers who rejected a new technology when it was presented to them in the shop are likely to become enthusiastic when they learn how others are using it.

4.Maintain a generous tolerance for mistakes while new processes are put into place. Understand that tings will go wrong that didn’t go wrong before.

5.Maintain zero-tolerance for non-cooperation.

6.Be sure you team has had good training, and follow up after an adequate break-in period.

7.Don’t be afraid to involve an independent consultant to help. A trusted outside perspective is invaluable.57 Tips for Product Developers:

Any new technology represents change, and a lot of human elements will combine to make that change difficult to implement Products that are truly different will not only offer change: they will help make that change easy to understand and accept.

1.Ease of use is the most important feature. Follow Thoreau’s advice and, “Simplify, Simplify.”

2.No matter how easy you think the product is to use, be sure that documentation is adequate, clear, and to the point. Test with non-users. Please make sure all your terms are included in the glossary and help menu.

3.Be sure that you are addressing a real need, or at least potential need, and not just a cool concept.

4.Be sure that your training covers not just the “how” of using your product, but also the “why”. Knowledgeable users will make your product shine. Confused users will make it seem faulty.

5.Remember (again) that you customers don’t need features: They need results.

Since the words technology and change so often go together, we think of them as being interchangeable, yet there is a great difference between the two: While technology seems to advance at lightning-fast speed, real change is a deliberate process that requires persistence and patience, a day after day effort that is more slog than sprint. Successful implementation of technology requires both the nimbleness to see change coming, and the steadiness to put it into place.

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