The “holy grail” of Change Management success - Adoption or Usage or both? by Ron Leeman

In my 2-Day online Workshop one of the sessions I have is about Project Management vs Change Management and on one of the slides I cite the following:

For me, User Adoption is the single most important success criteria for any technology implementation whatever kind it may be. At the end of the day if people do not use what has been implemented then there was no point in doing it in the first place. Your implementation becomes a waste of money, effort, and time. The business benefits that you originally developed will not likely be met and your RoI will go down the plug-hole.

Think about it … User Adoption is much more than just a matter of training users to use new technology. Remember by implementing a new technology you are disrupting the daily routine of the people in your business that are going to use the new technology which has what I call the BPS effect on people which in turn has an impact on peoples feelings … the picture below demonstrates what I mean:

As well as this there are also many other barriers to achieving a good User Adoption rate such as:

  • User not tech-savvy
  • Lack of user buy-in.
  • Availability of training time.
  • Proving awareness to end-users.
  • Lack of implementation strategy.
  • Lack of user competency.
  • Implementation is too disruptive.

To name but a few ...

But let’s take a step back for the moment and define what exactly User Adoption is?

For those that know me, they will now be thinking he’s gone back onto Google again … LOL. Correct but would you believe I searched high and low on Google for definitions but could only find one … 

Maybe I didn’t look hard enough!

So where in the Change Management life-cycle does User Adoption start and when does it end? Well contrary to popular opinion User Adoption starts well before implementation or go-live.

During my search for a definition of adoption on Google, I came across many of the usual X strategies, keys, steps etc for successful User Adoption so I thought I would just capture a few of the more interesting ones and create a simple table that provides just the high-level activities (I haven’t included URL’s but if you want to view any of the articles I suggest just entering the article title as the Google search string).

As you can see there are a lot of similarities in all of them e.g. Communication, Training, Support, Awareness, Sponsorship and all those other great, but obvious, words. For me, all of these are placed firmly in the pre-implementation/go-live although some can also come in the post-implementation phase.

From my own experience, I did note some missing activities such as: 

  • Stakeholder Engagement.
  • Business Readiness Assessment.
  • Providing a “play” environment.
  • Getting people involved in things such as solutions, process improvement and as change agents.

So all good stuff but as we know User Adoption goes on way beyond implementation and go-live for many weeks and sometimes even months.

In relation to this, it should be noted that there were only a few of the activities in the above table that were related to post-implementation e.g. Establish ongoing resources & support, Monitor and course correct which brings me on the subject of measurement which for me is the critical element of post-implementation User Adoption.

So guess what? Yep back onto Google again and the first interesting piece I found was:


In a 2018 blog by Tomer Sharon called “Measuring user adoption” he says:

"Considering new features and new users, there are four types of user adoption (user adoption model below)":

He goes on to say:

“Understanding people’s adoption behaviour toward a thing (feature, service, process, etc.) is extremely helpful in identifying whether or not the thing is providing value. When people are quick to try something out for the first time, it means they care about the problem it is set to solve and that they have high expectations of it. High adoption numbers mean that your thing has promise.”

And then adds that there are three main adoption metrics:

  • Adoption rate: The percentage of new users of a feature. The formula for calculating adoption rate is: Adoption rate = number of new users / total number of users.
  • Time-to-first [key action]: The mean time it takes a new user to try an existing feature, or an existing user to try a new feature for the first time.
  • Percentage of users who [performed key action] for the first time: A slightly different way to examine the first time experience. What percentage of users have performed an action you care about for the first time in a given time period.

Yep, I get all of that stuff!

Additionally, during my search I came across some other interesting articles:


There was a Vyopta article called “Top 4 UC Adoption Metrics You Should Know, and Why”, which was really about Unified Communication, but on reading it some of what they say can be used to measure User Adoption generically regardless of the technology that has been implemented. In the article they make some interesting points:

“First, a word about adoption and usage and the difference between the two. We define adoption as the percentage of people actively using a given resource. Usage is the amount or level of use of such a resource. To illustrate why this distinction is important, think of this example: a company can have great usage, but poor adoption because they have a small percentage of people using technology a lot. This may be a great return on investment for those few users, but companies need widespread usage AND adoption in order to increase productivity and experience true digital transformation.”

Differentiating between Adoption and Usage stopped me dead in my tracks and kind of put the "cat amongst the pigeons" regarding the future direction of this article so I took a deep breath and re-evaluated what I had written above.

Following some serious naval contemplation and a few dips in the swimming pool (always a good source of inspiration) I came back to the “land of the living”.

Just to reiterate in the Vyopta article they differentiate between Adoption and Usage as follows:

  • Adoption (percentage of people actively using a given resource).
  • Usage (the amount or level of use of such a resource)

So pretty simple and straightforward really!

As a result, let’s just dwell on the word “use” or “usage” for a moment.


In a document called Information Systems Success Measurement written by William H. DeLone American University, USA and Ephraim R. McLean Georgia State University, USA they discuss the “DeLone and McLean model” of 1992 depicted below (it was enhanced in 2013) and talk about “Use” … the degree and manner in which employees and customers utilise the capabilities of an information system e.g.:

  • amount of use
  • frequency of use
  • nature of use
  • appropriateness of use
  • extent of use
  • purpose of use


In another article called "Usage vs. Adoption: The real Measure of Success for IT Transitions" written by William Leander in 2017 for Santarosa Consulting he says:

"Usage is the ante in the IT transition game. It is necessary but not sufficient as a measure of success. After all, what choice do users have but to use the now ‘only game in town’ system? On the other hand, true adoption may be more about psyche and emotions than tactics. It generally is the extent to which users fully embrace the new system in a manner that leads to the behavioural changes behind improved results. Usage and adoption are a duality. Both are essential in that neither alone can lead to success."

So what should we be focusing on ... Usage rather than Adoption or both as mentioned before?

OK, I think I've said enough and have hopefully given you some food for thought.


I started work for the UK’s MoD and after completing intensive training at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham (now the UK’s Defence Academy) I worked for them as a Work Study Practitioner, and Organisation and Methods Officer which involved observing people working, making changes to ways of working and then measuring them to determine efficiencies. I call this the forerunner of Change Management. Following the MoD I had a stint with Abbey National BS/Abbey as a Business Analyst, Productivity Consultant and Senior Business Consultant. After Abbey, I started as an Independent Change Management Consultant and worked in many industry sectors but all involving change in some way, shape, or form. I now live in Thailand where I continue my change work such as researching matters of interest concerning change, coaching & mentoring for change management and authoring consulting frameworks and business templates. I still do the odd project in the Region just to keep “my hand in”. In 2012 I was recognised as a Change Leader by the World HRD Congress.