Successful Application Rollout Strategies – If you build it, will they come?

Strategy

In prior posts, we’ve reviewed some ideas on ROI-based justification for project initiatives, how to scope a project, and some modern tools for managing a project. But, my thoughts now turn to the 1989 movie Field of Dreams – if you build it, will they come?

You’re probably familiar with the term on-boarding.  It originates from Human Resources where it was used in the context of orientation of new hires toward becoming productive members of an organization. Today it is often used to describe the process of winning new entities into a system or culture – and extends to absorbing (new) users into a (new) business application.

All too often, onboarding is not considered early enough in the planning stages. Sometimes, it’s even forgotten until after the system is put into production!

I like to think of onboarding in two broad categories. Solicit & Elicit.  You want to successfully solicit an audience of users, and then elicit from them the type of behavior that will breed sustainable benefits for both parties.

Solicit

Methods for soliciting engagement from your target audience will vary based on how captive they already are.  Is there a current business relationship (employees, customers, partners)?  Are they already users of one of your business applications?  Or are they members of the public with no knowledge of your organization’s existence?

Here are some generic soliciting methods:

Partneringsponsorship, beta program, pilot group
Marketingsurveys, announcements, advertising, social media
Vision creationprototypes, demonstrations, model offices
Incentivesprocess efficiencies, discounts for business conducted through the new application

 Elicit

Once you have gained initial engagement from your audience, appreciate that their attention may be fleeting.  You need to make a positive and memorable first impression.  You don’t need them to taste every application feature, just enough to draw them back.

Here are some generic ways to elicit ongoing commitment:

Quick Win

Start with introducing the user to a small but impactful piece of functionality that brings them obvious value.

Ease into it

Recognize that the application is all new to the user; use familiar themes, wording and navigation; guide them on a clear path to what newbies will want to do first; more advanced functionality should be available of course, but is not a priority on day one.

Achievement

New users must leave the application feeling that it was a worthwhile experience, and that they actually achieved something.  If they complete a transaction, have the application mark this milestone for them, even congratulating them appropriately.

Capture

Unless the users are employees, capture their contact information, providing whatever incentive is necessary to do so.

Return Route

Assign users with a user id and provide a route back to the application. For non-employees, a suitable user id is often their e-mail id, so e-mail them a temporary password and a link back to the application or other information. For employees, maybe leave an icon on their desktop, drop a reminder into their calendar, or arrange a follow-up session to gain feedback.

User Experience Cycle

During the so-called ‘honeymoon’ phase (arguably within the first 50 to 500 hours of system use), users are still exploring and developing habits.  It is at this stage that they are willing to experiment, offer feedback for improvement, or tell a friend.

After the honeymoon is over, users generally settle into a routine and become somewhat blasé about the application.  That’s why it is important to announce and deliver new functionality that will sustain their interest.

User Experience Cycle graph

Your Onboarding Plan

Here are five steps to create your own onboarding plan:

  1. Review your project’s business goals
  2. List and roughly sequence the success factors toward goal achievement, keeping in mind the perspective of your users.  Your success factors may align nicely to the user experience cycle above.
  3. Weigh the factors for each class of users in your ecosystem. Your own ‘success factors’ chart might look something like the one below.Onboarding Success Factors Chart
  4. Plan appropriate events and features to address each weighted success factor. For example, the chart above might guide you to expend a lot of resources to raise awareness among prospective customers/users, while a simple announcement may suffice for internal  users / employees.
  5. Plan monitors and measurements to judge the health of your onboarding plan during and following its execution.

Real-world Onboarding

Some of our clients have gotten very creative in their onboarding plans.

AcuSport, a leading distributors of outdoor and shooting sports products, wanted to ensure that their new e-commerce system would be highly intuitive for its dealers, to avoid expensive training.  To address this success factor, AcuSport incorporated usability into their test regime in a unique way.

Rather than providing detailed scripts to their pilot group, they gave them a series of weakly described goals, such as: “You are a newly registered dealer, and you want to stock up on the latest Remington rifles you’ve heard about on the radio.  Go.”

No added instructions or support were offered – the pilot users had to find their own way.  All the while, their system interaction and facial reactions were recorded for later observation.

Carole Fabrics, a leading provider of custom window treatments and cut fabrics to the interior design community, wanted to make a splash with their second-generation B2B e-commerce solution ‘CaroleNet.com’.

With ultra-modern online features to browse fabrics and turn creativity into product orders, the system’s value was self-evident.  However, Carole Fabrics’ executive team knew that creating Awareness and Incentive for Interior Designers to try CaroleNet were critical success factors in their onboarding plan.

So, along with conventional advertising methods, CaroleNet was featured in live webinars, Flash videos and also posted on YouTube.  In addition, attractive incentives were provided for new CaroleNet users – including deep discounts on their first online orders.

The Beacon, a leading Insurance Company in the Caribbean, took on a sweeping initiative to reorganize its operations to become much more customer-centric, and to support significant business growth without increasing staff.

As part of the initiative, they modernized their legacy system, providing a powerful user interface, integrated document management, electronic document generation and robust workflow to orchestrate operations and achieve their target customer service levels.

However, The Beacon’s executives recognized that their users had become quite comfortable using the legacy system, and would need to see the Value of moving to the new system.  As such, an onboarding plan was executed in parallel to system development.

First, all employees from top to bottom were introduced to the initiative with a company-wide meeting kicked-off by The Beacon’s visionary CEO, Gerald Hadeed.  This established the importance of the initiative and created a positive buzz throughout the company.

Soon after, so called ‘model offices’ brought together resources from business development, underwriting, management and document management.  Sitting around a single table, they received an introduction to the draft system and then combined to process many different scripted business scenarios.  In this way, a shared vision of the future was established early on – at a time when their feedback could still shape it.

By the time the system went live, very little training and support was needed, because users were already comfortable – and even anxious to begin using it.

If you build it, will they come?

So, yes – deliver a modern, fully integrated, feature rich enterprise or e-commerce system that is truly world class!  But … remember that without an effective onboarding plan, you may end up with an empty field of dreams and nobody willing to play ball.

Steve Collins

Author: Steve Collins

Steve is a Director of Professional Services for LANSA in the Americas. With a solid academic background in mathematics and software engineering, Steve began his career as an application programmer using many different languages and platforms. In his 18 years with LANSA, Steve has played roles of architect, designer, project manager and quality manager on many large and innovative projects and actually prototyped LANSA’s very first Web application. Steve is a regular speaker at LANSA user conferences, has presented at various seminars and has written technology and project management articles for industry publications.

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