Adopt vs Adapt – successful IT leaders know the difference


A few weeks ago a I was speaking to an acquaintance of mine in the industry. He was flustered by the endemic nature and mediocre results of adopting new technologies within his company; citing examples of success stories in the IT industry where other companies deployed complex solutions in record time. Then he asked me…

You’ve worked on many complex solution sets over your career with clients, what differentiates those that successfully adopt solutions, products, and services from the ones that don’t? 

 I replied…

They know the difference between adopt and adapt, and they employ both.

In my experience there is one pattern I’ve observed where adept IT team leaders consistently deploy solutions, products, and services successfully. The pattern is contrary to the citation on Wikipedia for Adoption (software implementation); in my observations, their definition conjoins the two and I don’t see where a software implementation should be addressed any different from other IT projects.

To ADOPT, is to take as one’s own. It’s a ‘go, no-go’ decision which is typically supported, and/or driven, by one or more of the following:

  • Return On Investment (ROI)
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • External pressure; ex. compliance & regulatory requirements

To ADAPT, is to make suitable to requirements and necessitates much more analysis, preparation, work and planning. Critical to success includes the following:

  • Complete understanding of the current (state) workflow process
    • requirements
    • constraints
    • impediments
  • Level of Effort (LOE) to integrate/replace the current state with a future state
    • labor
    • time
    • cost
    • risk
  • Success Criteria and clear metrics which support the expected ROI, TCO, or external pressure demands

In projects where the IT leader only focused on adoption has led to deployment times which far exceeded their target completion date.

On the flip side, those IT leaders who only focused on adapting to a technology had a difficult time measuring and justifying the realized business value back to the organization.

In my experience, the IT leaders that employed both were consistently more successful, on time, and on budget.