End users are the most critical resource in any software project. Yet the end user is most often, the forgotten component. New software may be the greatest solution for a company since sliced bread, but if the end users do not accept the change, it is doomed to fail.

Typically on any project, UAT – User Acceptance Testing is performed shortly before going live. End users are introduced to a new software, with little understanding of its capabilities and its role in the organization’s big picture. However common, this procedure is flawed and often leads to project failure.

Projects fail at the UAT stage for a variety of reasons. One reason is lack of training/understanding and another is fear. In what order of importance these reasons fall depends upon the individual user. Addressing both issues addresses the key cause of project failure after a successful implementation.

Addressing Fear:

Fear can rear its head in a variety of ways when introducing a new software system. Managers may assume that their strongest employee will be the lead user in accepting and assisting other employees. However, it is this employee that may be the most fearful and therefore the most resistant to change. This user may not want to lose their ‘spot’ as the lead employee in their role. They know how to perform their work in a timely manner and they are good at it. By changing how they do their work, they may fear that they will no longer be the fastest or most accurate. This will cause them to resist change so that their position as lead is not undermined.

Some employees will fear technology as a whole. They have grown accustomed to a manual way of performing their work and the mere mention of computerizing or digitizing can send these employees into a state of abject fear.

Regardless of the cause of the fear, eliminating the fear, at the onset of project discussions is critical to user acceptance.

There are a few ways to address fear before it can manifest.

  1. Use demos if possible
  2. Watch videos of the software in action
  3. Have end users watch any available sales demos
  4. Make easy to follow training guides available to the users as soon as possible
  5. KNOW YOUR USERS – by knowing the fears each individual may face, addressing them on a user by user basis will limit the impact of each person’s fears. Also, knowing which users know just the steps of their job and which users see the big picture when performing their job will make training each of them much easier.
  6. Stop the negative chatter immediately.  Allow your users to hear and be a part of much of the discussions of a proposed project. Keep them updated and involved. Meet regularly and openly discuss individual fears. Address the negative chatter directly but gently and professionally making it clear that negative chatter, not based in fact, will not be tolerated.
  7. Create a step by step Testing guide with specific testing objectives.

Timing of UAT:

Unfortunately, timing of UAT in most projects is just prior to going live. This is not the best of times, as it is fairly late in the project to make critical changes. However in many cases there is no alternative. If feasible, based on the project, allow users to see and touch the product from a front end perspective as soon as possible. From the beginning is highly recommended. This will allow more time for the user to grow accustomed to the software and also make note of and report any inconsistencies with functional requirements.  End users should also be asked to use their actual documents and data. This will ensure the system can handle the real world environment as well as allow the end users to see their own work and how it will flow in the new system.

Addressing the fears and timing of UAT from the very beginning of a proposed project will go far in creating an environment for a more successful project implementation.

Denise Blackford, SR Systems Engineer

Denise is a Sr. Systems Engineer with RJ Young and provides software and system solutions to clients including workflow analysis and troubleshooting software issues. She has worked for RJ Young for almost 3 years and has been in the industry for over twenty-four years. Denise is originally from New Port Richey, FL and supports clients in Nashville, TN and Jackson, MS.