The Too-Many-Tools Problem


Knowledge workers tend to split into two factions: people who want the latest and greatest software tools to help everyone on their team get the job done efficiently, and those who rail against adopting yet another tool, preferring instead to stick with what they have.

Many productivity enthusiasts beat the new-tool drum. “We need to be open to finding the right tools, even if it seems inconvenient to adopt them now,” they might say. “Productivity in the long run will benefit, even if it’s painful now.”

It’s Always Painful, So Let’s Power Through the Pain

I often subscribe to that theory. Bringing new software to a team is always painful. It always takes time. It’s never “the right time” to introduce new software to a team, so you might as well suck it up and start the process sooner rather than later. If you’ve made an informed decision about your team’s workflow, the work you all manage, and the tool’s purpose, the payoff will be worthwhile.

That said, there are many instances in which taking on new software is bad for a team.

Why Do We Need Yet Another Tool?

If the team is already using software that duplicates much of the functionality of the new proposed tool, some team members may protest. “Why do we need a new company messaging system when we already pay for Google Hangouts as part of our G Suite package?” “Why should do we need to log the status of work in a work-management system if we document and share our status every week during team meetings?”

And my favorite line of protest is, “Why do we need yet another tool?”

I’ve seen and worked on some teams where tool adoption is through the roof. If every tool in your toolbox isn’t being used (or isn’t being used effectively), some team members might start to think that the organization flounders at planning and wastes money.

These naysayers have a point. “We already have a tool for that, and we’re not using it,” could mean that the tool isn’t suitable, or that some other breakdown in the process is preventing people from using the tool. Does everyone on the team known they can use Google Hangouts? Are people not staying signed into that app because they find it distracting?

Also worth asking: Have the decision-makers jumped to the conclusion that new software will solve problems, when in fact whatever problems exist have nothing to do with tools? If people don’t communicate well at work because company culture punishes them for speaking up or not always having the right answer, giving them a new way to communicate isn’t going to solve the true problem.

Furthermore is the issue of buy-in. When a whole team adopts a tool, the majority of team members need to believe that it’s going to be useful, and they need to actively engage in using the tool, even if it doesn’t go smoothly at first. Nearly everyone has to chip in at making it work right. I say “nearly” because you can often coax along a naysayer or two. They’ll come around once they see the tool’s success among their colleagues. But if only one or two people are actively engaged in the trial-and-error process, you don’t have enough buy-in and the tool is likely to flop.

Reaching Consensus

When a team doesn’t have consensus about how to proceed with work or which tools they should be doing to manage it, people feel frustrated. The naysayers don’t feel heard, and in all likelihood, they probably are making at least a few valid points.

Make sure everyone on the team is heard. If someone raises a valid concern, validate it! Adopting new software rarely comes without some problems. Validate those problems and discuss ways to mitigate them, rather than pretending they don’t exist at all.

It’s also a tremendous help to be realistic about the process of adopting new software. Be transparent about the fact that no one expects it to be perfect on the first day, much less in the first month. It takes time for anyone to figure out the best way to use a new tool, and when dealing with groups of people in collaboration, it takes even longer.


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