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Improving User Adoption and Avoiding the Cycle of Doom

Regardless of the technology you have in place at your organization, whether it be your database, payroll system, or project management software, user adoption is key to long-term success.

Poor user adoption leads to a “cycle of doom.” Take your database, for example: For whatever reason, users don’t like the system (poor user adoption), so they create their own data management tools. With multiple data management tools now in place, data is stored in too many places, (e.g., a single email address has to be updated in multiple systems). As a result, data is not updated everywhere when it should be, and data becomes “bad.” As the data becomes bad, staff trusts the system even less, and the cycle of doom continues.

Cycle of Doom


So how do you avoid the cycle of doom with your database? Here are four suggestions:

  1. Identify what data each user needs from the AMS. Different users have different needs, so it is important to identify what every user wants or expects from the system, and then identify if and how the AMS can deliver that to the user. For example, most senior managers typically need reports of some type. They don’t need to know how to enter data or process transactions, but they do need to know how to pull information and it needs to be easy. Thus queries, reports, and/or dashboards will make sense for these users.
  2. Demonstrate the value and accuracy of the data you already have. I’ve seen it repeated too many times to remember: a client will tell me that the data in their database is “bad.” When I dig deeper, I discover that a key record, e.g., a board member, had a bad email address. As a result of that one record being wrong, the entire database is thought to be bad. To counter this belief, create and disseminate reports that demonstrate the accuracy of the data. Examples can include trends in percentage of bounced emails (you can usually get these reports from your broadcast email tool) and returned snail-mail. If the data is generally accurate in your AMS, you have to let everyone know that, and you have to continually repeat and reinforce that message.
  3. Seek out and destroy shadow databases. A shadow database is any active set of data that is managed outside the primary AMS. For example, I often see associations managing committee lists outside of the primary AMS, even though the AMS contains all of the committee members’ contact information and the AMS has committee management functionality. Shadow databases are the primary contributor to the cycle of doom. Once you’ve identified these systems, you must work with the staff person who is maintaining it to bring that data and management of that data back into the primary AMS.
  4. Create an internal users group. I believe that creation of an internal users group that meets regularly (minimum of once per month, preferably more) may be the single most important thing you can do to improve the management of your database. I’ve written about this extensively here. An internal users group will allow you to quickly identify and address issues that are negatively impacting user adoption. Being proactive rather than reactive will pay very large dividends over time.

The cycle of doom is not a fait accompli. These simple tips can help you improve user adoption and ultimately avoid the cycle of doom.

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