Adoption Tools – Scaffolding and Proximal Learning

Adoption is most important of all…

Getting real value out of any process or project automation solution requires many things.  These systems must produce some tangible results, such as increased business agility (decision support, visibility, etc.). And they must have some intrinsic value (ROI, compliance, better productivity, and make executives look good).  Don’t laugh about that last one – never underestimate the value of providing important and influential people tools to make them successful.

Other key factors:

  • First iteration must be relatively quickly deployed
  • It must work – as in not break
  • It must remain stable – as in keep working reliably
  • It has to be usable by ALL stakeholders (application owners, customers, users, executives, etc.)
  • It must be used – (AKA adopted)

While all of these are important, adoption is the most important one of all – after all, a system cannot be successful if it isn’t being used.

 Adoption solutions are becoming self-evident

Way too many attempts to improve processes and create value have ended in utter failure.  No need to cite examples here… If you’ve been in the workforce more than a year or two, you have seen failure firsthand.   What was the reason for the failures?  Many studies cite “missed requirements,” “lack of scope control” or “lack of sufficient management/oversight” as the reasons. All are true, but in almost every case, the underlying cause is a lack of alignment. Either not everyone has bought into the solution, or not everyone can use the solution effectively.

 Ever stop and think why ‘iterative’ development and implementation methodologies have become so popular in software development?  It’s because in many (though not all) cases, people have discovered that they are the ONLY way to accomplish meaningful change.  Iterative development facilitates a framework where all stakeholders become comfortable with the “what” and “how” of change.  Their involvement throughout the development process eliminates the need to get buy-in after systems have been deployed.  This leads me to a conclusion that I believe to be self-evident:

Adoption happens throughout system development, not after!

To further that concept, it’s critical to understand that complex systems’ development is never complete.  Decision support systems are always growing and evolving.  Many think that once an application is deployed that it is “done” and that its evolution is centered on the changing business environment; this is true.  However, it’s not the whole story.  What is often missed is planning for ongoing organizational adoption.

Sustained Adoption requires disciplined attention and measurement.

A teacher’s perspective on organizational change

My sister is a high school teacher and has a Master’s in education.  She and I were discussing the challenges of getting organizational adoption for complex systems.  When I told her about our iterative, incremental approach, she said “That sounds like you’re mirroring scaffolding theory.” I did some research and she was spot-on right… Scaffolding theory, introduced in the 1950s by Jerome Burner to describe parents’ role in children’s cognitive development, and expanded by  Lev Vygotsky to include the idea of experts assisting students, is now used in American schools to improve the effectiveness of a learner’s instructional experience.

Instructional scaffolding is the provision of sufficient support to promote learning when concepts and skills are being first introduced to students. These supports may include the following:



Proximal development shows how people (and systems) can move to from things they already do to new things so long as the leap isn’t too far.  Mistake many (most) organizations make is slamming in technology and trying to get users to use everything so they get maximal value from day one.  This clearly puts users in the ‘what I can’t do’ region.  This is akin to asking someone who’s riding a bike with training wheels to jump on a Harley and take if for a spin – this won’t go well…

Iterative approaches to change allows the PEOPLE, PROCESSES, and TECHNOLOGIES to grow in incremental steps.  Each step builds on the new heights attained by reaching the step before.

scaffolding stairs

Use of instructional scaffolding in various contexts:

  • modeling a task
  • giving advice
  • providing coaching

What works in the real world

Here are a few things that we’ve learned:

  • Create maximum visibility to keep all stakeholders aware of information critical to their success
  • Build and staff dedicated sustained adoption program
  • Analyze impact of proposed changes by looking at proximal change at the people, process, and technology levels
  • Building multi-modal learning tools into solutions

Our toolbox

People ask us how we manage our projects and work toward sustainable adoption for ourselves and for our clients.  Here are a few of the tools we use:

  • Office 365 – extensive use of SharePoint sites/lists for artifact management/work board
  • Microsoft Project Online – managing schedules, time capture, reporting
  • Point 8020’s ShowMe ™ and Just-In-Time Learning™ – embedded and contextual on-demand product training. Also customized to specific solutions

At Innovative-e, we have a solid understanding of what drives adoption and how critical adoption is to the success of our customers’ solutions. That understanding has led to our cultivating solutions with the necessary supports that will help our customers make the most of the solutions they implement.


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