How to Increase Product Adoption on Your Team

Published: 2022-08-26

I love new tools. Discovering just the right one is like finding a unicorn. But that feeling can be short-lived when you realize the tool isn’t just for you.

The product has to work for your entire team, and maybe the team you sit next to, and the team you pass in the hallway, and…

You get the picture. It’s hard to imagine everyone will be as happy as you were at the start.

Either way, when you invest in a new tool, you want your team to like it. The good news is: If you play your cards right, they will successfully adopt it.

What is product adoption?

Product adoption is the process in which users become aware of a tool, determine its value, and ultimately incorporate it into their daily workflow. It’s typically broken down into 4 stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Evaluation
  4. Conversion

We often think about product adoption from the perspective of creating and selling tools. In this article, we’ll look at it from the other side—evaluating product options and working with your team to implement and embrace the right one.

Why is product adoption important?

From the product development side, it’s clear why user adoption is critical: high retention = revenue. From the user side, it’s not quite a straight line.

Of course, the bottom line is important. Switching to a new tool should boost productivity, resulting in higher output and lower churn.

But personally, I believe success can be measured by team happiness alone. If the product adds to a team member's satisfaction—or removes frustration from their role or tasks—you win..

5 steps to increase product adoption success

Want to make the switch to a new tool a lot less painful for everyone? Follow these 5 steps to ease product adoption and set your team up for success.

  1. Put inclusion at the center of your product adoption plan
  2. Figure out your strategy before diving into research
  3. Use market research and testing to select a product
  4. Establish a plan for onboarding your team
  5. Measure your success (and failures)

1. Put inclusion at the center of your product adoption plan

If you’re in charge, you could simply pick the tool you like and announce the big switch on Monday. Of course, we all know that approach won’t end well.

After years of creating websites, I’ve learned the end result is less important than the journey to get there with your stakeholders. The same holds true when adopting a new tool with your team: Inclusion is critical.

Let’s look at a few ways you can ensure the right people have a seat at the table.

Identify your stakeholders

The first step is to determine who should have a say in choosing and implementing a new tool. You might decide to create different groups of people with varying levels of involvement or involve a smaller group in the entire process.

So who should you include and when? These questions can help you decide:

  • How much time do they have to participate?
  • Will they advocate for the change?
  • Will they use the tool regularly or not very often?
  • Do they have a unique perspective about product needs?
  • Are they a leader on the team who can impact others' opinions?
  • Is change hard for them?
  • Do they adapt quickly to new technology?
  • Do they have authority to impact decisions?

Explore different ways to involve people in the process

Now that you have your list of people, determine when and how to include each group of stakeholders.

While every team is different, here are some options you may want to consider:

  • Survey: Send a survey to large groups of users to gather input on product requirements, frustrations, and ideas.
  • Usability testing: Conduct user testing on the current tool with 5-8 people to understand how they use it to do their job. Make note of features they don’t use and where they get frustrated.
  • Stakeholder interviews and focus groups: Hold conversations with individuals, teams, and/or departments to understand how they interface with the tool. This is a great opportunity to identify challenges and document their wish list.
  • Testing and trials: Invite a small group of users to create an account and test the final options to ensure it’s easy to use and meets their needs. Include both power users and folks that struggle to adapt new tools.
  • Trainers and advocates: Form a group of strong product advocates to either train or support team members who need extra help. Ask them to check in regularly and share new tips and tricks they’ve figured out.

Create and share a communication plan

People always want to know what’s going on and that the door is open for feedback—even if they don’t participate in the larger product adoption process. That’s why you need to have a clear, shared communication plan.

When creating your communication plan, outline the following details:

  1. What you’ll share in each communication
  2. Frequency of communication
  3. Format of communication
  4. When you will and won’t be looking for feedback

Make sure to share the plan with stakeholders as a commitment to transparency and thoughtfulness. Simply removing the mystery will help you gain trust in the process.

Strike a balance between democracy and decisiveness

Inclusion enables you to hear diverse voices, while alerting you to unknown challenges. It also lets the people who use the tool every day feel confident about the decision—and buy-in is critical.

Just be aware that including too many voices can muddy the decision-making process and slow down, or even halt, product adoption.

I’ve been part of both approaches, and the truth is, it’s hard to find the middle balance. No two teams are alike, and their excitement—or aversion to—change and technology will impact your plan. Consider your balance carefully, and don’t be afraid to adjust if it’s not working.

2. Figure out your strategy before diving into research

It can be tempting to start signing up for product logins and dive head-first into testing. (Free trial gets me every time!)

But it’s critical to outline (and share) a clear strategy first. After all, that’s the only way to know what your team really needs.

Create a strategic brief

A strategic brief will help you capture all your thoughts in one place. It also ensures you and your key stakeholders are on the same page about the product adoption process.

The strategic brief is a perfect first document to share with your larger stakeholder group. Here’s what to include at a minimum:

  • Why is our company/department looking for a new tool?
  • How will this change benefit individuals on our team?
  • What are the top goals this tool needs to solve?
  • Who is using this tool? Who are the primary and secondary audiences?
  • What are the areas of risk for the process and tool?
  • What is the onboarding plan?
  • Who will be involved in making this decision?
  • Who is the ultimate decision-maker?

Define your product criteria

Once the strategic brief is finalized with stakeholder input, work on creating detailed criteria you can use to determine which tools will or won’t work for your team.

Setting criteria before you look at tools ensures 2 things:

  1. You have a clear understanding of your needs.
  2. Slick, shiny tools won’t pull you away from what you really need.

I recommend creating a simple spreadsheet that includes an area for general information about each tool, as well as columns for possible criteria where you can mark Yes, No, or Maybe in your initial review.

I recently compiled a list of tools that could solve a client’s unique project management needs and quickly had a spreadsheet full of over 100 possible options. Without my product criteria spreadsheet, it would have been impossible to narrow in quickly on the top 10.

We created a product evaluation template you can use to guide your search. Feel free to customize it to your needs, and note which features are must-haves vs. nice-to-haves for your team. Try to stick with only 5-10 must-haves so you don’t end up with 100 products on your list or looking for a unicorn that doesn’t exist.

Be sure to go back to all the information you gathered from your users to fine-tune this list. Once you finalize the criteria, share it with stakeholders to get their feedback.