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I like to watch a series called Silicon Valley. You may say “And so what?“. Well, in the last episode of season three (ep. #9) they gave a very accurate example of how ignoring the people side of change can lead to poor results when implementing a very powerful and apparently revolutionary platform.

The Silicon Valley TV series revolves around the story of a group of inventive engineers that created a new generation compression platform, a tool that is like no other on the market. The company is a start up and is called Pied Piper. In the previous seasons the show focused on the tribulations of getting the fundings, the supporters and basically the company off the ground. Finally the platform is ready and it is launched to the market.

The number of downloads is astonishing: +500,000 people in just a few days. But the number of users is abysmal (a very bleak 19,000).

This is the first problem: just because you have an audience of +500,000 people interested in your product it does not mean that they will actually use it. What you want to focus on is adoption and usage, basically the heart of change management.


In episode 9, in  an attempt to understand the reasons for such poor performance, it turns out the the CEO (a super techie guy called Richard) and his team have tested the platform with other engineers or, in the words of the main characters “with people that would get it and knows what we are doing“. Such a shame the average user (and the target of the platform) cannot get it at all as most of them are not engineers or coders!

The average user, after having downloaded the platform, find themselves in a completely new environment that has a lot of potential (or so it seems), but where nothing is familiar as no one explained them how to use it. The interface looks horrid, it is not easy to identify the familiar buttons like the “download” and files get uploaded, but don’t show up anywhere on the memory of the iPhone!

Result: the average users give up and keep on using the old platforms. Sound familiar? I am sure it does.

In an effort to correct the situation Richard starts some focus groups (a little bit too late!). The aim is to identify issues from the side of the users.These problems are clearly outlined by the test users: “there is not even a download button!“. In an attempt to explain what the platform is capable of doing Richard steps into the focus group and starts to address the users’ questions from an engineer/coder point of view: “What can you find in an egg? Electrons!“. He does not speak the language of his target audience.

He also starts making extremely complex diagrams on a white board. Needless to say that the users are even more confused and end up thinking that the platform is a mess and too complicated. They dub it as “Terminator”, a popular movie with Schwarzenegger (not a good thing!). Other attempts to train users in other settings end up with people leaving due to the jargon and unsuitable explanations given. Result? The number of the platform users’ plummet.


What should Richard and his team have done instead?

Focus on change management! In fact getting a new platform on the market with new and revolutionary  features is a challenge as you have to explain to the users the features to get them on board (why should they use it instead of the old platform and what are the benefits for the users), and also provide a user friendly explanation/training on how to use it in order to reap the benefits:

  1. Identify your target audience (those impacted by the use of the new platform) and segment them.
  2. Determine the metrics that you will track in order to assess if you are achieving the company’s objectives. Just because the platform is “cool” it does not mean that it is going to add to the bottom line of the company. If no one uses it, it is a failure regardless how advanced it is.
  3. Involve several focus groups of users from the outset, asking them what they want from the platform and what they don’t want. A product is built starting from the target market’s needs. You can add new features they are not familiar with and test them before you launch the product on the market.
  4. Provide them with prototypes of the platform to test how it works and explain the functionality in plain terms – no engineer/techie wording unless that’s your target market.
  5. Take into account the feedback that you receive from the test users: it’s not personal. If you think that the download button does not have to be there but they want it, explain why it is not required and what to do instead. Make the interface user friendly.
  6. Train the users on how to use the platform. Again, training does not mean getting a white board and write tons of complex graphs. Your aim is to make the platform user friendly and easy to adopt and use.
  7. Use forms of gamification to make the training more engaging and effective.
  8. Keep on tracking whether the users are actually using the new platform (adoption) and if they are proficient at using it (usage).
  9. Make the necessary changes to improve areas that are not up to the results you need to achieve in order to get the product to the market successfully.
  10. Don’t make the mistake to think that you know better than your users as you are “cleverer”. This is not a contest. Think about the bottom line: you want people to enjoy using your platform, be proficient at it and being advocates for it. This means having a loyal following and adding to the growth of the company.

What will happen to Pied Piper in the Silicon Valley series? We will have to watch the next episodes!


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