ADKAR Framework – Mastering Change in Digitization Projects

A brief introduction to the ADKAR methodology

How can you use the ADKAR framework to better drive the change process? Here is an introduction incl. tips from practice.

People are the most important success factor in digitization projects. Not the technology, not the data used and collected, and not even robots. It is people who decide whether or not software will continue to be used. It is people who program robots, who prepare and analyze data, who develop certain technologies and decide on their use.

So, how can you influence people to decide for or against a change process? This article explores this question and then presents a framework that can support your change processes.

Reasons for the failure of digitization projects

Why do so many digitization projects fail and some seem to just get off the ground?

In my career as a business and digitization consultant, I have often wondered why some projects seemed easier than others. Especially at the beginning of my self-employment, there was an uncertainty factor where I didn’t know exactly whether the project would be successful or not. This uncertainty factor was due to the fact that I often could not predict whether my customers’ employees would accept the new software solution or a new process or not.

It didn’t matter how early I “got” the employees. At some point, I had to present the solution, and while preparing for it, I was increasingly stressed because I didn’t want to do anything wrong and was frantically trying to prepare perfectly.

In most cases it went well and the project was a success. Otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today. But a few projects also went wrong. I have to admit that today, and it’s not easy for me.

During one of my ruthless analyses, I realized that I was also a user. I was also a customer, using new software, new apps, new processes. And I got along with it sometimes better, sometimes not so well. That was because some solutions spoke directly to me and created a good feeling inside me, whether I wanted it or not.

What was the reason?

Then I made it clear to myself that the success of a digitization project did not necessarily lie with me alone. I absolutely had to understand what the users, the employees, the project participants and all other stakeholders wanted and desired. Only then could I be in a position to successfully execute digitization projects on a regular and intentional basis. Since then, I have been intensively engaged in psychological mechanics that explained how people functioned in change processes. (related: Digitalization Project Threatens to Fail? – 5 Simple Steps For A Turnaround)

Along the way, I encountered several frameworks. One of them seemed largely unknown to me, but very interesting: the ADKAR framework by Jeffrey M. Hiatt (link to Google Books) .

The ADKAR framework briefly explained

ADKAR is an acronym that stands for:

  • A = Awareness
  • D = Desire
  • K = Knowledge
  • A = Ability
  • R = Reinforcement

The model aims to enable access to change. In the following, I would like to briefly explain the individual steps that are necessary to explain changes and implement them together with people.

Awareness = Consciousness

The first step aims at creating awareness for the upcoming change. However, this is not the end of this phase. It is not complete until the people involved understand why the change has to happen and what the benefits will be. In addition, it is made understandable what the consequences will be if this change does not take place.


The second step is characterized by addressing a person’s motivation, which in turn determines whether that person will embrace and drive the change. The personal situation of the employee and the personal benefit are the main factors here. Organizational and cultural aspects also play a role, as do the intrinsic motivational factors of the individuals concerned.


Building on the first two steps, this step clarifies the question of “how” the change can be implemented. To do this, it is necessary to understand what skills the people affected by the change bring to the table and what kind of change is taking place at the organizational and process levels. The emerging knowledge gap must be identified and proactively addressed through training and education. The ability to determine how to train employees plays an important role in this process. Once these issues have been addressed, all that remains is to create access to this knowledge.


In order to make the acquired knowledge available in the best possible way, the person or group of people involved, also known as stakeholders, must be enabled. All factors that could prevent changes from being implemented play a role here. These include psychological, physiological and intellectual factors, as well as available resources, especially available time.

Reinforcement = Anchoring

The previous steps have described the factors that are needed to enable people to participate in change processes and not be left behind. But that alone does not help. It’s a bit like riding a bicycle. Just because you know that riding a bike will get you to where you want to go faster, that gravity exists, how to pedal, and so on, doesn’t mean you’ll be riding a bike more often from now on. You also have to take the time to practice and perform the movements over and over again until you no longer remember which mistakes could lead to failure. The last phase thus describes everything that leads to the change process being anchored better and faster. For this, factors such as reward systems, the absence of sanctions, the promotion of prestige and the highlighting of the higher purpose of such a change must be taken into account.

Conclusion on the ADKAR Framework

Of course, ADKAR is not the only model that provides transparency and structure to change processes in complex digitization projects. It can also be combined with other models, such as J. P. Kotter’s 8-step model. And it can be compared with other methods, such as Kurt Lewin’s 3-phase model.

It is always best to include the change manager’s own strengths and preferences. Because only if the tool fits the awareness, the wishes, the previous knowledge and the ability, she or he will continue to use it and thus become so confident in using the tool that the application becomes more and more perfect and the results more and more predictable and better.

Francesco ist seit 2011 Unternehmer und Unternehmensberater und hat schon Prozesse digitalisiert, als die Digitalisierung noch einen Exotenstatus hatte. Für ihn sind die Menschen und die Simplifizierung Erfolgsfaktoren bei der Umsetzung. Seine Spezialität liegt in der Digitalisierung der Auftragsmanagementprozesse für dezentral organisierte Service-Unternehmen.

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