What’s the point of technology if no one uses it?  Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common scenario: most of us have been through a project that was never adopted and “didn’t stick” with its intended audience. For instance, I often think of the apps on my phone I’ve meticulously researched, downloaded, paid for…but never used.

I find IT teams, project managers, and executives often struggle to understand the factors in user decisions regarding use of a particular technology (hint: just because IT mandates use of a system doesn’t mean users will use it the right way).

Enter the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), a theory about the factors influencing users faced with new technology.  While admittedly leaning toward the academic, I find the TAM provides a great framework for understanding and measuring user readiness for change, and if nothing else is a great way to talk about the importance human factors in technology, often the biggest variable contributing to project success.

The TAM consists of three components:

Perceived Value

What do your target users – the ones you need to actually need to use the system – think of the project and the system?  How will it impact their jobs, make life better, and improve their performance?  When talking to staff about a project, we often appeal to nobler ideals such as teamwork, sustainability, the greater good of the organization, and impact on mission.  But if you can’t articulate “what’s in it for me” for each of your users, prepare to stumble a bit at go-live.  Keep an eye out for a future post on this topic, as well.

Perceived Ease of Use

How easy is the new technology to use?  Does it require new skills, and if so are you accounting for training and time to ramp up during the transition process? How does it fit into – or disrupt – each user’s daily workflow.  Recall your notes on usability from that Intro to IT class in college – Non-essential expenditures of additional time, energy, and focus degrade user experience – or check out this post on the psychology of user experience.

Social Use of the System

Originally’ the technology adoption model only included the first two variables, but the community-based nature of today’s technology has introduced a third: social use of the system.  The biggest predictor of adoption of a system is often whether or not peers use it, meaning that planting thoughtful – and influential- evangelists amongst your design and pilot teams will pay dividends when winning over the hearts and minds of holdouts.

Like any framework, the TAM has its flaws and detractors, many will find this overly simplistic, and there will undoubtedly be some effort required to make this meaningful to your organization. That said, I’ve found this a helpful template for sketching out talking points in a daily stand-up, or quickly communicating the importance of human factors in a Board meeting.

H/T to the work of Viswanath Venkateshon and many others on the various aspects of the TAM.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One of the founding members of Blackbaud’s interactive services team, Bo Crader works in various capacities as a business architect, implementation advisor and strategist. Recent projects include developing a multi-site rollout approach for a large healthcare organization, advising on the launch of a rebranding effort for a national federated nonprofit, and leading enterprise-wide organizational and technical assessments. A Blackbaud veteran, Bo has held positions in communications, consulting and business solutions.  He worked previously in publishing and served in the military. Specific areas of expertise include interactive strategy, emerging technologies, solution architecture and design, and project planning. Bo has been published in a number of publications on topics related to technology and fundraising trends. Bo holds a Master’s degree from the University of Georgia.  Bo is a frequent volunteer in his local community of Clemson, South Carolina, where he recently led an effort to start a nonprofit, and now serves as the organization’s Board Chair.

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