Understanding the Adoption Curve


What is the technology adoption curve? Essentially, it’s a sociological model describing the adoption or acceptance of a new product, or innovative idea introduced into a market, which usually takes a number of years to penetrate.  The sociological model is described in a bell curve that breaks down behaviors into five segments: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Understanding the adoption curve can help you better prepare your team and/or clients on what to expect when change is inevitable and hits during busy peaks.  Furthermore, knowing where your audience falls within the five segments, will help better gauge the type of efforts needed upfront to get the wheels in motion on the path to adopting a new technology or idea, while aiming to reduce preventable challenges that can slow down the process to greater productivity.


In most cases, legacy systems and manual work processes fail to deliver comparable capabilities offered in new technology, so excitement and energy is often experienced once the right technology solution is found and a decision is made to implement.  A decision that will help your team and Company dramatically improve productivity and performance, save resource time, increase resource bandwidth, reduce operating cost, help increase revenue by automating transactional work processes, and freeing time to close business faster.  So, why the dip in the bell curve you may ask?  Well, most employees run near or at capacity with their daily responsibilities of executing and managing their workload.  Therefore, time and attention dedicated to adoption becomes the greatest limitation.

5 Segments of adoption curve

 Innovators typically represent 2.5% of target population, and are the first to adopt new products and services. They strive on technology advances, and enjoy experimenting on the latest and greatest technology to find out what they can do with their new toys.  Innovators typically represent a few percent of the target user base.

Early adopters also invest early on in new technologies, not as technologists, but as solutions to address their concrete problems.

  • They typically represent about 10% of the target population.
  • In companies, early adopters are opinion influencers. Often, they will not be the main decision maker themselves, but are key to persuading others. Early adopters are usually at the center of extensive communication networks, for instance internal management circles, industry fora, or are very sociable individuals in their private sphere.
  • When a critical mass of early adopters has developed, the process of technology diffusion becomes self-sustaining and eventually spills over to the early majority. On the other hand, competing and incompatible standards slow down the rate of adoption and the transition from early adopters to the early majority.

 The early majority is content to wait and see until a main stream of users and technical standards have formed under the influence of the early adopters. Only then are they ready to invest in innovation as a solution for their concrete needs.

  • They typically represent 40% of the target market. In the corporate world, these are decision makers who need to be convinced by references before they allocate budget.
  • The early adopters and early majority usually have higher socioeconomic status than later adopters. Usually, being financially better-off than late adopters makes buying pricey technology earlier on less risky to them. Studies have also shown that the early adoption of innovation tends to strengthen their economic position and widen the gaps between the earlier and later adopters in a system. Paradoxically, the individuals who adopt first generally need the benefits of the innovation comparatively less than later adopters.

The late majority is similar in characteristics and expectations as the early majority, except that they are risk averse and uncertain about their ability to master innovation.

  • The late majority is made of adoption followers and represents 40% of the target market.
  • They typically prefer to wait until products are further developed and designed for the mass market, and provide an increased level of user-friendliness compared to previous product generations.

Laggards are technology averse and resistant to change. They typically represent 10% of the target market. If they decide to buy technology at all, it is because the technology has become so pervasive that they have little choice not to use it.  Laggards are more interested in traditions, and don’t value technology benefits. As a market, they would expect low price from technology companies, and a great deal of support.

 Tips on managing the curve

  1. Executive Sponsorship and Buy-in
  • Put together a leadership team with enough power to lead the change process.
  • Ensure the sponsorship group is aligned on common objectives for adoption.
  • Encourage and bolster adoption by showing support for the new solution by dedicating budget to training and resource development.
  • Lead with demonstrating buy-in with using the technology or requiring its use.
  1. Create Ownership
  • Include users who will use the solution in their day-to-day.
  • Form a cross-functional team of users from all tiers of the organizational hierarchy to contribute on developing user requirements, selection, and producing a deployment plan.
  1. Create Urgency
  • Identify user needs and how you help them do their job faster, easier, better
  • Understand competing pressures area


  • Dismissing the approach because, “we tried it before and it didn’t work”
  • Organizational arrogance
  • Complacency due to lack of visible crisis, low performance standards and insufficient feedback perpetuates clinging to the status quo
  • Thinking steps in this process can be skipped
  • Not clarifying how the tool solves the problem and improves results
  1. Communicate Deployment Objectives
  • Set expectations for the deployment process up front, and communicate milestones accomplished throughout the plan to boost and maintain user adoption.
  • Measure and communicate performance before, during, and after deployment.
  • Ensure sponsors and managers lead by example with communicating deployment objectives and expectations, which will empower users.
  • Visibly reward people who achieved performance “wins”.
  1. Call to Action
  • Identify and empower “system champions” across teams to further support and drive adoption.
  • Require people to use the new tool(s).
  • Don’t allow productivity to take a big hit. Require users to integrate tool within their process up front. Don’t fall prey to the switching back and forth between old way and new way of doing things, which only creates complexity, drains time, and gets you further away from adoption success.
  • Identity obstacles and then remove those that undermine adoption. Monitor progress and act quickly to improve adoption.
  • Provide needed support and promote learning

Obstacles to address proactively:

  • Allowing barriers and breakdowns to block use of new methods and tools
  • Failure to examine existing systems and create new ones that support the vision and eliminate those that don’t
  • Insufficient leadership engagement to generate broad based action
  • Resistance to change and fear of undesirable consequences



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