Deployment vs. Implementation vs. Adoption vs. Sustainability

This update was made on April 13, 2023.

Since I retired, the Point of Work Assessment (PWA) Workshop series has been discontinued, and the entire contents with worksheets and instructions are now only available in a new book I wrote earlier this year:

Confessions of a Performance Ninja: Optimizing Workforce Performance @ Point-of-Work.”

This book embodies the transformational aspects of change that come with any Deployment – Implementation – Adoption – Sustainability initiative, whether large or small. The confessions offered in this book came from things that worked well and some of my more epic failures over the last 15 years of performance consulting. Feedback tells me the book is on the money, and several wished they had access to a field guide like this years ago.

 Now, back to the post you came here to read…

Short answer? Absolutely! There is a significant difference, even though many in L&D and other business disciplines use the two words interchangeably. The most critical mistake is treating Deployment as the finish line. The difference leaves a gaping hole between a successful launch of anything effective and the full adoption of any solution mix into the flow of work designed to sustain measurable business outcomes.

There Are Five Phases to Successful “Solution Integration”

I highlight solution integrations because they can be as simple as a new product launch or as daunting as an 18+ month Digital Transformation initiative. The point is these five phases serve as a common denominator for any activity that can trigger a change in the heads and hearts of the workforce. If successfully ensuring change to that audience, we must go to where the work – their Points-of-Work

1 – ASSESSMENT – Reaching Deployment [GoLive] – is not the end of the effort, nor is it the beginning phase. Our first challenge is verifying whether we should be deploying anything…something else…or nothing at all. If we have not first completed a holistic assessment of the Points-of-Work (Point-of-Work Assessment – PWA), we have no specificity on what to do or not do, and all too often, we (L&D) receive a well-intended order from an operational stakeholder for training…and then we build it per the request. These sincere requests are a function of a long-held paradigm (I call it a Myth) that Training Drives Performance when all training events can prove is through evaluations at levels one and two. Point-of-Work has not been impacted yet. Point-of-Work is where Performance and outcomes are generated, compromised, and/or lost.

Sadly, if a PWA has yet to be accomplished, there is no validated proof pre-identified that a training solution is all or part of an effective solution. We need validated proof at Levels three & four (observable behavior & financial impact). Since we have yet to return our learners to the field, all we have for proof that we can offer with confidence is based on the Myth, and the only reality that we can rely on and say truthfully is that Training Drives Potential. Indeed, we have butts-in-seat counts, final test scores, and high satisfaction scores, BUT not squat, zip, or nada that prove measurable performance. We’re busy and can prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt, but are we impacting the bottom line?

Whatever solution mix is built for GoLive should be a validated intervention(s) based on identified performance restrainers at the various Points-of-Work that will be involved. At the core, a PWA requires a performance consulting mindset and root cause investigative skills. My experiences have seen these skills lacking in many L&D shops.

2 -DEPLOYMENT – Deployment aligns with a moment in time called GoLive. There is often a big gala GoLive party with clowns, 3-bite shrimp, face-painting, and possibly an open bar if the deployment is large enough…and IT has some budget left over…to celebrate the system going live and delivery to the business. The Training team relaxed because they met the unreasonable deadlines to get everyone through the training gauntlet, and the count of butts-in-seats matched the number of sign-on credentials issued. Too many think about their jobs being well done. They probably were, but this is just the beginning…

Too often, L&D’s role ends after the GoLive launch, and we move on to attack the next order for training. Many of us have plunged down this rabbit hole shortly after successfully reaching the Deployment of a new enterprise business system… a new product launch to the sales force…or releasing a new learning intervention to a targeted workgroup. The GoLive grand opening ribbon gets cut at a new course launch, and the celebration begins. Then somebody with a bullhorn turns toward the Help Desk and screams, “INCOMING!”

This familiar scenario is at the core of why 80% of Digital Transformations fail.

We fail because we stop short!

3 – IMPLEMENTATION – Deployment cannot be our final destination; instead, it should mark the beginning of Implementation. Implementing any solution into the workflow at Points-of-Work represents the only area within our ecosystem where we will find verifiable analytics (measurable proof of impact) at levels three and four.

Reactionary damage control and a mad scramble by support staff, help desk, subject matter experts, emergency consultants, and on the rare occasion, a few EMTs with defibrillators are not sustainable. Included are those in leadership who look back at Training with disgust on their faces inferring we (L&D) did a lousy job of creating a state of readiness in the workforce.

Excessive finger-pointing to place the blame on somebody…anybody else…ensues. With significant post-GoLive errors experienced, mistake isolation delays mounting, and redundant rework occurring, many Implementation shortfalls are addressed at the speed of a freshly planted corn field in a drought, not from neglect but from lack of visibility. If the Point-of-Work has been ignored, there is no road map for follow-up, and the new system has been deployed with only marginal implementation success. The whole GoLive event was a transaction like throwing a switch and calling it done. The workforce learning curve is primarily left to their own devices and defined by trial and error, creating unnecessary business costs.

4 – ADOPTION – Implementation is not the ultimate destination. We cannot overlook the prized goal and most critical phase, full Adoption. We want users to reach unconscious competency…meaning they willingly use the systems out of familiar routine without threats or bribes of earning blue jean Fridays. Using the system becomes as normal as sending an email…users don’t even think about which application to use; they do it.

Leading Change to full Adoption is a success factor for any solution, whether course-based, technology-oriented, or any other intervention that introduces Change into the flow of work.

5 – SUSTAIN – Steps must be taken to Sustain the state of Adoption. I’m sure you can see how these phases align nicely with a new Enterprise Resource Program – ERP launch… a Client Relationship Management – CRM system…or a new Electronic Health Records – EHR.

BUT…and this is critical…these are all technology systems. What about the workforce user population that is supposed to leverage the power of these systems…after GoLive…and during Implementation and to ensure full Adoption?

L&D Resource assets (including training) should receive the same urgency and attention to established protocols for maintenance and currency as IT showers on system maintenance, updates, upgrades, and post-GoLive tweaks to ensure system optimization. Protocols should exist to maintain visible, accessible lines of ownership to ensure currency of content via technology designed to track content development through the entire 5-phase process from pre-deployment PWA to ongoing sustainability.

The technology that can accelerate and ensure sustainability can be found in Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) technology. The “Confessions of a Performance Ninja” book has a section on DAP that shows how converging support into the Workflow can be accomplished seamlessly, frictionlessly, and ubiquitously.

Closing Thoughts

Yes, some of the definitions above are tongue-in-cheek, but much learning failure only happens after the Deployment gala event has been cleaned up. Even the technology L&D depends on is staged to accommodate everything regarding learning up to the GoLive deployment event. When training completion data is in the bank, the job is done for the most part. Precious little extra effort takes place to shorten the learning curve or divert Help Desk call volumes during Implementation; in fact, L&D does not have an Implementation role short of re-training the problem children and those who had a doctor’s note during the main training event.

L&D should have a role in all five phases starting with assessing performance at Point-of-Work with a PWA. The results will reveal attributes of task-centric, roles-specific performance at Point-of-Work that restrain performance. What better data for designing a training solution could you find?

The PWA is not limited to training needs but includes other non-skill-related performance needs in the workflow. The root cause(s) are sometimes deficient skills or knowledge. But what if they are not, and everyone is under the Myth’s influence and defaults to training? We have to consider broken processes…access to the appropriate systems…the ability to use those systems effectively…access to the right information resources at the moment of need in the workflow… practical leadership skills of the managers and supervisors… legitimate performance metrics, and so on. A PWA road maps all phases.

If L&D spent half the time enabling human performance at Point-of-Work to overcome performance restrainers as IT spends in fine-tuning and optimizing the systems before GoLive, think about how much more productive the workforce would be…with shortened learning curves to overcome…not to mention how the Help Desk would fare better with 40-50% fewer distress calls.

It sounds like I’m dumping on L&D’s failing role in effectively training users before GoLive. Don’t go there. L&D is doing what L&D has done for eons…we Train. In another sense, we DEPLOY learning. Without effective IMPLEMENTATION, there will be decreased ADOPTION, and then…what is there to SUSTAIN if we never implement effectively enough even to reach full adoption?

That is where the Training Paradigm fails…contributing to an epic L&D failure. We live in our traditional paradigm…we receive requests to build training…and then build it.  Done. We DEPLOY, and then we move on to the next training project. We fail our workforce despite doing a fantastic job of building and deploying training. I must also clarify that the training does not fail; the capability and effectiveness to enable and sustain knowledge retention fails. That implies more than training. And as I stated earlier, We fall short because we stop short. And there are Point-of-Work technologies, specifically DAP, for that, but that’s another post.

Where is this failure obvious? Point-of-Work! L&D does not implement beyond the deployment of learning…does not go downstream to the post-training Point-of-Work where knowledge retention loss routinely takes no prisoners.

We cannot stop at the Deployment of learning. We must reinforce learning at Point-of-Work with performance support to ensure successful Implementation. We must ensure full Adoption by intentionally designing assets to address ongoing moments of need as the system and workforce population evolves and matures. And we must build protocols that leverage technology to Sustain moments of need workflow support, content currency, rapid updates, and maintenance of critical information resources.

It sounds like a project that never ends, right? You bet it is!

So where does that leave us? We have the knowledge. The technology exists. What I fear most is that we need to have wisdom. Hang on…calm down…Wisdom is not lacking as a function of insufficient intelligence; blind spots limit wisdom. Status quo paradigms and Myths do that sort of thing. Not the new paradigms like Workflow Learning but the old ones in which we find ourselves trapped by the limits of the Myth.

Thanks for reading; please check out “Confessions of a Performance Ninja” and take good care!


Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Writer of Things, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning