Characteristics of your early adopters to tech projects

Apple Store, University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA

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We all have seen the news stories of the line around the Apple store when iPhone was released and then again when iPad was released. It’s pretty clear to see that those customers outside that store are the early adopters of Apple’s technology. They are completely invested in trying the new tool out and they willingly go forth knowing that first generation usually will have some blips and beeps that aren’t exactly right.

So when you are facing a new project, what qualities or characteristics do you need to see in the people around you to know that they are your early adopters? For me, I have found that often what I need in an early adopter of a tech project is not always the same person who is standing outside of Apple waiting to have a new iPhone or iPad in their hands. Sometimes, I have found that those Apple early adopters are amongst the most difficult people to get on board with my tech project.

I’ve noted a few characteristics and I really hope that this drives some conversation, because early adopters are the life blood of almost any tech project. I’m always looking for new ways to convert over more to this category and I might not see something as a sign of being this type of person – but you might. Let me know what other characteristics you would include on this list.

  • Leadership – There are two things I must mention under leadership – I need both types – the leaders with official power and the leaders without official power. Most tech projects do not get launched if there is not a member of upper management who has given their blessing. If I can’t get that leader to bless the ‘go forth’ movement, I have to go above them – to the board tech committee. That is very rare now. But the more important leader you need to get into the early adopter category is the unofficial leader. This is the person that others might go to for help because they are afraid of tech staff. This is the person who you know if they discount the project that their word will care far more harm. I find most of my time is spent with these types of leaders – but no doubt about it – you need both leaders.
  • Ability to give constructive feedback – There are some people who are going to find every single thing wrong with a project. If it is a database project, they are going to hate the font, color, logo, and even the pace of the cursor blinking speed. This person is just providing criticism – not truly useful feedback. Constructive feedback never feels like an attack and it provides more information. Maybe the issue with the font is a true issue. The person providing constructive feedback would indicate that the font is an issue and then provide examples about why it is an issue. That why is so important! For more about constructive feedback, read The 4-1-1- on Constructive Criticism.
  • Independence – Counting on the scope of your project, you may not have a lot of time to provide one-on-one training. Early adopters are more than happy to explore on their own. In fact, they often prefer to be given a little bit of information and go off on their own. While this can be scary (they might run into something that isn’t done!), it is so useful for you. Your time can be spent on preparing for those other users who need more guidance and assistance.
  • Sees the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ – Again, your type of project impacts how important this is. Switching out hardware probably won’t be hard to sell the end of the project. But if you are in a project with lots of twists and turns (database development is my example here again), you need to have someone who can see that after a lot of work up front, the work will be less at the end. Too many people get hung up with how much ‘extra’ work there is at the beginning of a project. Their fears get in the way as they begin to fear that it will always be all this extra work to make it happen. Your early adopter needs to be invested in your vision of the end of the project. They then become your voice with others when you start pushing the project out to others.
  • Ability to market the project – You are not the best person to sell your project to other end users.  Your early adopter is the best person to sell your project. These early adopters should be able to communicate either verbally or written the positive points of the project. They will tie in the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ vision along with benefits they have found. Your early adopters are going to find benefits that you haven’t even thought of – and they should be able to tell others about it. They need to be able to talk to you, of course – but more importantly, you need them talking to others.
  • Not always tech savvy – While I would want users who are a bit more tech savvy if I was working on a completely mobile solution, I know the big kudos that can be gained if you get that person who isn’t as comfortable with technology involved in your project. Often users don’t believe me when I saw that I’m targeting the project for the non-technical comfortable person more than the ones who may have been out buying an iPhone or an iPad that first day. Truly, projects fail if you aren’t able to address that user who struggles with figuring out the power button. If you can get someone like in as an early adopter, you are tapping into a valuable resource that in the long run will make the project more successful.

Early adopters are so important that I plan on spending more time on this topic. It has been a very vital part of my job of late and I know as a nonprofit techie I cannot always find enough tips on how to find, manage, assist, encourage, develop and maintain these early adopters. They make the projects successful.