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The result was an inventive, well-accepted, and widely used system. Moreover, users regarded the minor problems that did arise as bugs to be worked out of our system. Critical to the success of this project was the choice of opinion leaders among users for involvement. The basis for leadership differs from organization to organization, but these leaders are not usually hard to identify. Frequently, they occupy their place of influence as a result of technical proficiency, not formal position.

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Opinion leaders, however, are not necessarily the most skilled operators. Someone whose technical skills are so superior that followers can have no hope of emulation may fall too far outside the norms of a group to be a real opinion leader. In the marketing organization just described, one senior account manager refused to use the new electronic system.

The system implementers were at first alarmed but then realized that this individual was not an opinion leader.

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Their efforts flowed around him, unimpeded by his opposition. Six months after everyone else went on the system, he capitulated, convinced at last of its utility. Many a technology developer will confess bewilderment that innovations do not win automatic acceptance. It may be overly optimistic to believe that an innovation will sell itself, but it is equally dangerous to oversell the new system.

Novel and exotic technologies are especially vulnerable to hype.

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Articles in the media about robots and artificial intelligence, for example, have raised expectations far higher than the actual performance of current technologies warrants. Potential users quickly grow disillusioned when much touted innovations perform below expectations.

Months before they had their hands on the software, intended users faced questions from their customers about how they liked it. The gap between perception and reality was traceable to the energetic efforts of one project manager early on. Knowing the importance of selling the concept to management, this enthusiast had extended his campaign to virtually anyone who would listen. Since it was a sexy topic, the new artificial intelligence system received wide attention in the media as well as in organizational newsletters.

This oversell presented a problem to implementation managers, who had to fight the perception that their project was way behind schedule and that their product delivered less than promised. There are two reasons for conducting a pilot operation before introducing an innovation across the board in a large organization: first, to serve as an experiment and prove technical feasibility to top management and, second, to serve as a credible demonstration model for other units in the organization. These two purposes are not always compatible. If the innovation must succeed at the pilot site in order to survive politically, the implementation manager may choose a site that poses virtually no risk but that neither offers real benefit to the organization nor establishes a model for other units.

At the same time, however, if the trial is to be a credible test, it cannot take place among the most innovative people in the corporation.

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Success at this kind of site is vulnerable to the criticism that these users are far from typical. Testing the new technology at the worst performing unit, even though it may be where the innovation is most needed and would show the most spectacular results, is no better a choice. If the project fizzles, the implementation manager will not know how much of the failure was caused by extraordinary problems with the site and how much by the inherent properties of the technology.

If the project succeeds, critics will be quick to note that anything would have helped operations at that site.

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The solution, therefore, is to be clear about the purpose of the test—experimental or demonstration—and then to choose the site that best matches the need. If customers canceled orders, the partially built systems were either totally scrapped—that is, broken down into components and sent back to the warehouse—or matched with incoming orders to determine if the fit was close enough to warrant retrofitting. When this matching process, which had been done manually, was computerized, the first applications site was an operation with an enthusiastic champion, but it was to be phased out in a matter of months.

The site was politically risk free but not useful for a demonstration.

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Although the first application was successful, the operation closed down before the site could serve as a demonstration for other plants, and the implementation manager in charge of the next site had to start all over. Consider a different example: a paper maker that chose one of its high-visibility mills as the first site for an expensive, large-scale computerized control system.

Local management was determined to see the system succeed for the sake of the mill; corporate management viewed it as an experiment. The site was promising but not risk free. Even if managers realize that the trial of a new technology is a critical demonstration, they do not always ask the next question: a demonstration for whom?

The physical and organizational position of the first site will heavily influence who the next wave of users will be. Over the years, many studies have shown a strong inverse relationship between proximity to facilities and use of them. This result is not surprising if the distance is measured in miles.

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What is surprising is that out of sight—no matter by how much—generally means out of mind. The difference in the use of a library by engineers on a college campus depended on how many more feet, not miles, nonusers were from the library than users. Similarly, new computer terminals in a large oil company were used first by people with adjoining offices and only reluctantly by people even a few more feet down the hall. Distance is a relative, not absolute, measure to be weighed against current routine rather than against any objective standard.

Even so, the placement of an innovation frequently determines who uses the new technology first and most. If the equipment is located farther away from older or more reluctant potential users, they have a ready excuse for avoiding it. Consequently, managers who do not consider physical layout in their implementation strategies may, by default, select as first users people with little or no influence in the organization.

As noted earlier, involving opinion leaders in the planning process helps smooth the path of implementation. If the first users of a new technology are credible role models neither extraordinarily adept nor very poorly skilled , their demonstration has heightened meaning for a wide audience. Sometimes these opinion leaders strongly resist the technology, and getting even one of them to use it can create the necessary crack in the dam. Getting them to try the innovation may require nothing more elaborate than a well-paced and tactfully presented training session.

Often, however, an implementation manager has to create new role models by siting the innovation where the workers most open to change can demystify the technology for others by using it themselves. Although it is definitely a mistake to correlate resistance with age per se, it remains true that people with a long-term investment in certain routines and skills often hesitate to give up the security of those habits. Again, it is best to avoid extremes and to site new technology near workers who are fairly open to change but not so different from those whose resistance makes them poor models.

Once the crane operators had worked out the wrinkles, management could progressively install the system throughout the plant.

The crane operators were not opinion leaders at first because of their relative youth and different backgrounds, but they were both receptive to innovation and not so very different as to be unacceptable role models. If an innovation is to succeed, the implementation team must include 1 a sponsor, usually a fairly high-level person who makes sure that the project receives financial and manpower resources and who is wise about the politics of the organization; 2 a champion, who is salesperson, diplomat, and problem solver for the innovation; 3 a project manager, who oversees administrative details; and 4 an integrator, who manages conflicting priorities and molds the group through communication skills.

Since these are roles, not people, more than one person can fulfill a given function, and one individual can take on more than a single role.

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Even if all these roles are filled, however, the project can still stall if the organization does not vest sufficient authority in one person to make things happen. One of these individuals—usually the sponsor or the champion—must have enough organizational power to mobilize the necessary resources, and that power base must encompass both technology developers and users.

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There are, of course, many ways to mobilize supplies and people. By encouraging ownership of an innovation in a user organization, for example, skillful advocates can create a power base to pull rather than push the innovation along. But enthusiasm for a new technology is not enough. New technology usually requires a supportive infrastructure and the allocation of scarce resources for preparing the implementation site. A champion based in the development group with no authority among the receivers must rely on time-consuming individual persuasion to garner the necessary resources.

A short case will illustrate the point. A manufacturer of engineering test equipment was in trouble because many orders for its customized products reached the plant floor missing vital components. Technical experts were able to catch omissions and incorrect selection of parts before the orders went into production, but the mechanics of checking orders and cycling them back through the purchase-order process cost enormous amounts of time, money, and customer goodwill. Customers were angry at the delay of orders for weeks when manufacturing bounced them back to the initial salespeople and were even more dismayed when price quotations had to be revised upward because of a part forgotten in the first go-around.

An internally developed technology offered a partial solution: a computer program could automatically check the orders before salespeople issued quotations.