In a nutshell, a key user is an employee of a company who has extensive knowledge of new processes you plan to implement.
- What a key user is
- What it needs to be a key user
- What the difference is between a key user, power user, end user, consultation user, and an user
So if you want to learn all about key users, then you’re in the right place.
Let’s get started!
What’s the Definition of a Key User?
How many employees jump for joy when management announces a new process or program?
Groans, eye-rolls, and outright rebellion commonly occur because employees dread (and possibly fear) change since it means learning something new.
Change doesn’t have to be painful.
New systems and processes can make life easier and help employees work more effectively.
How do you convince a team that it’s in their best interest when there are sure to be growing pains?
Key users may be the answer to your conundrum.
Are you staring at your screen and wondering what in the world a “key user” is?
Read on as you’ll learn how key users can revolutionize your implementation of new processes.
Key User Definition
If you Google “key user,” you end up with a lengthy list of results.
It’s tough to weed through all of the noise to figure out exactly what a key user is, so let us help you.
The simplest way to define a key user is an employee of your company who has extensive knowledge of new processes you plan to implement.
Is it really that simple? No, of course not.
Key users have lots of expertise, both in their area and in others that the business handles.
They fully understand the impact that the new processes (usually software-related) will have on the company and extensive knowledge of business processes and practices.
For example, a key user is well versed in:
- How and why the company does things, including all processes, routines, and safety measures
- How various departments of the business are integrated
- How to solve unusual issues
- How to interact with and encourage members of the team throughout the implementation process
The key user, then, is someone who has a critical role when it comes to implementing a new business process. Without the key user, integrating the new process would be quite challenging or even impossible.
What Do Key Users Do?
Now that you generally understand what this figure is and the kind of knowledge they have, it’s time to talk about what they do. Keep in mind that a key user’s role changes throughout the implementation process.
Key User Tasks During the Planning Phase
Nobody just drops a new process on their team and hopes to succeed. Whether it’s a new strategy or software program, the implementation of new processes takes time and planning.
Initially, key users represent their team during the planning process. Key users serve as liaisons for their co-workers as the new process takes shape. They leverage their expertise and thorough understanding of the team’s needs to act as a voice for the people who will ultimately use the process.
As part of the planning process, key users may spend days running system tests and attending meetings, training, and workshops. They may not have the time to complete their usual workload and may require some support during this process.
Key users also need to devote time to building competence with the new process. Remember, they will serve as point people and troubleshooters as you roll out the process to your entire company, so you want them to feel comfortable with every aspect.
Hint: to help your key user succeed, you may want to reassign their usual daily workload to others. Allowing your key user to focus on mastering the new process is in the best interest of your entire organization.
Key User Tasks During Implementation
The key user’s tasks before the implementation goes live are arguably the most important. They help the company bring its vision of handling business processes to life.
How do they do this? Key users rely on their experience to support technical requirements, train others, provide support to their team, and facilitate implementation.
They serve as primary contacts for problems, field questions from colleagues, and support everyone involved.
If you thought key users did a lot during the planning process, imagine how much they do during implementation!
Key users play a critical role in training the rest of your team, so they need to be available throughout implementation to answer questions and troubleshoot problems.
Key User Tasks After Implementation
Wait, what? That’s correct; a key user’s work doesn’t stop once the new process is in place.
In fact, when somebody takes on the mantle of a key user, they commit to the process for the long haul.
First, key users provide ongoing support for their teams by way of troubleshooting.
They field questions and solve problems for co-workers. Remember, no system drops in place without glitches, so key users remain important long after a process goes live.
Key user duties don’t stop at support and troubleshooting.
Another critical part of their job description is the optimization of the system. There is always room for improvement with every system, and key users embrace the opportunity to refine and improve.
Expect key users to question co-workers about their experiences and collect data on everything from productivity to quality assurance.
They analyze the information to find potential areas for improvement and suggest ways to refine the process for maximum optimization.
Traits of a Good Key User
You’ve probably guessed by now that not just any person makes a competent key user. An individual in this position must possess specific criteria to ensure the success of the project.
If they fail in one of the areas we’re going to discuss below, the process can be significantly delayed or fail altogether. And since delays can lead to revenue loss, the job must go to the right person.
So, you’re probably wondering how to pick the perfect person to be your key user. You’re in luck; successful key users share some traits that you can use as a checklist to narrow your pool of candidates.
Extensive Technical Knowledge
This trait may seem like a no-brainer, but we’ve got to mention it. A key user must have vast technical knowledge of the matter at hand.
Picture this: does it make sense to ask someone who doesn’t know how to drive to park a car? In the same way, you wouldn’t want someone with superficial knowledge to be your key user.
So they must have a full understanding of all the topics.
The key user should also understand what might happen in various situations when using the new process.
And perhaps most importantly, they need to know how the topics at hand relate to one another.
Thorough Understanding of the Company’s Routines and Processes
The next fundamental trait a key user must have is a full vision of how the company works. They should understand the company’s existing routines and processes, as well as how they affect one another.
For this reason, managers don’t always make the best users because they aren’t in the trenches every day.
You need to select an employee who understands what the team does day in and day out as well as how it fits in the larger scheme of the company.
A key user cannot support their team if they don’t understand how the new process fits within daily activities.
The more knowledge a key user possesses about the day-to-day routines, the better equipped they are to support colleagues and optimize the new process.
Usually, the type of person who’s apt for this role is someone with experience and knowledge, higher-ups are selected most of the time.
The problem with choosing senior employees is that they may not have time for this role, which requires a lot of time and dedication.
Remember, this is a long-term commitment. Being a key user requires you to complete many tasks on a daily basis for an indefinite period, so the person appointed must be available to perform them.
Carefully assessing a potential key user’s time constraints is vital to ensuring that they can carry out the duties of the role.
Since being a key user is such a time-consuming and critical role for the company, the person who ends up in the position must be motivated to do the work. You want somebody who is excited about the opportunity.
They should feel an intrinsic sense of responsibility for the appointment.
Being a key user shouldn’t just be another thing on their to-do list that they might not really want to do.
When selecting someone for this role, it’s vital to assess whether they have the motivation to do it well.
A Positive Attitude
Implementing a new process is usually a massive undertaking. It can cause employees to feel overwhelmed, burdened, or uninterested. They may even feel resistant to the changes taking place.
Because of the potential for negativity, setting an enthusiastic tone around the project is a vital task for the key user.
A positive attitude from this person can go a long way, especially when the implementation is inconvenient for others.
Being positive and helpful can also help shape whether or not employees will be resistant to using the system.
Basically, the key user has the all-important task of using their affirmative attitude to get everyone else to buy in – which is often a tall order.
Not everyone is suitable for this job.
Excellent Communication Skills
Lastly, this individual must be a skilled communicator. As the point person at every level of the process, this skill is non-negotiable.
In terms of key users, “excellent communication skills” isn’t just a buzzword from their resume.
We’re talking about the success of the project, which often depends on how well the key user can communicate with everyone involved.
To that end, a key user needs to communicate effectively in two ways.
They have to help different parties understand each other.
Key users serve their teams and speak on behalf of co-workers who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice at the table.
They also represent the implementation team to their co-workers.
Key users also explain occurrences at each stage of implementation.
They must be able to do this all verbally and in writing to keep the project on track and on time.
Understanding the Difference Between User Types
There is a lot of terminology out there when it comes to users, so we thought it might help to break down the differences for you.
Each user type serves unique functions before, during, and after implementing a new process or system.
Key User vs. User
As you probably surmised, all key users are users.
A user is anybody who utilizes business processes, technology, or activities to further the goals of the organization.
People outside your organization may qualify as users if they use your process to work with you.
The subcategories of users don’t end with key users. Depending on the size of your organization, you may need to tap employees to fill a few different user roles when you implement a new process.
Key User vs. End User
Do you remember how key users support their colleagues during and after implementation?
The colleagues receiving the support are end users.
It’s that simple. End users are the people who ultimately use the new business process or system.
The comparison only muddies when you know that some key users are also end users.
As we discussed, some of the best key users are those who use the process every day because they have a thorough understanding of the day-to-day.
Remember that there is usually only one key user, unless the scope of a system requires more support. However, there are many potential end users.
Key Users, End Users, and CRM
Does your company use a CRM (customer relationship management) system? If so, how many people in your organization use the system?
Think about what would happen if only half of your team used the CRM system.
You probably wouldn’t be effective as an organization.
To function as a useful tool, every member of your team needs to use the CRM. That means that every person in your organization is a CRM end user.
However, the person who helped implement the system would be your CRM key user. The chances are good that they still train new hires on the system.
Key User vs. Super User
Another term you’re apt to hear is super user. Don’t confuse a key user with a super user because their roles in implementing new processes differ.
Super users have extensive knowledge of their department, primarily the daily routines and activities, staff, and role within the company.
They learn the new processes and support their team throughout implementation. Though super users provide a lot of support, they focus on serving their team members.
Key users focus on the company as a whole.
Essentially, key users look at the big picture while super users focus on a clearly defined portion of the big picture.
Qualities of a Super User
You would expect super users to possess some of the same traits as key users, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
There is some overlap, but as you’ll see, super users may not need quite as much expertise in some areas.
- While they require a thorough knowledge of team processes, routines, and needs, super users require a narrower scope of knowledge than key users.
- Super users should be self-motivated and positive about the changes or updates. They need to ease their team through the process.
- Look for people with impressive interpersonal skills. They need to relate well with team members and relay information to each person.
Key User vs. Power User
Some people use power user and super user interchangeably, but that’s not necessarily accurate. Power user generally applies to technological elements like computers and electronic devices.
Power users leverage the advanced features of the technology they work with. They possess exceptional technological skills that may or may not include programming capabilities.
Obviously, if the business processes you plan to implement don’t involve much, if any technology, a power user doesn’t even enter the discussion.
On the other hand, if you want to implement new software or devices, power users can help facilitate the process because of their thorough technological knowledge.
Should You Select a Power User as a Key User?
Nobody can decide for you when it comes to choosing a key user. You may be tempted to choose a power user in certain situations, and we can think of one case in particular.
An example of tapping a power user to be your key user is when you choose to implement an ERP system.
ERP, or enterprise resource planning, is a system of software that streamlines business processes throughout a company.
Since they possess a thorough understanding of software, power users often make excellent choices for ERP key users.
They tend to learn new systems quickly and identify potential conflicts quickly. Just be sure your power user has the requisite interpersonal skills to handle the key user role.
Key Users vs. Consultation Users
Consultation user is another term you may hear. It sounds similar to a key user, but there are a few fundamental differences.
First, companies usually only use consultation users when implementing processes that people outside the organization use in some capacity.
The other difference is that consultation users don’t enter the scene until after the company implements the process.
Since the consultation user is for outside individuals, they don’t need to participate in the planning or implementation of the process.
They can be trained with the rest of the organization and assist with training the external individuals who will use the process.
Consultations users support people outside the company. They may offer feedback about challenges and ways to streamline the experience for outsiders.
This role may be especially important if your clients use the system because you don’t want to lose customers due to a system change.
Practical Application: Demonstrating the Roles of Different Users
Are you confused yet? We get it, this is a lot of information to process, and everything sounds similar.
Let’s approach this from a different angle and review the various user roles in terms of a lifelike situation.
John runs a fitness training facility for high school and college athletes. He needs a way to streamline his process, including managing staff, payroll, and clients.
John cannot run the business and find the right software, so he turns to his team.
Alana, a senior team member, has been with John since he opened. She is well-liked by the staff and clients, thoroughly understands how the facility operates, and frequently suggests ideas to improve their processes.
The Key User
Alana agrees to step into the role of Key User.
She researches options, interviews potential candidates, and decides on a winner. As Key User, Alana handles all of the questions, consults with John about their needs, and works with the contractor to prepare the software.
The Key User’s work doesn’t end there.
Alana tests the software and attends meetings and training to learn the ins and outs of the program.
She trains two other team members, Ben and Chris, to use the new system.
Since Ben works with the college trainers and Chris works with the high school trainers, they make excellent Super Users.
As Super Users, they learn how to use the software in terms of how their teams use it.
Though there may be some overlap, each focuses on how the program affects their team.
Every other staff member is an End User.
They learn the system from Alana and Ben or Chris. As End Users, the team relies on the expertise of their Key User and Super Users.
Users and Consultation Users
Finally, John wanted clients to access the software for some things, like scheduling sessions and paying fees. That means every customer is a user.
To make things easier for everyone, John teaches clients how to use the software and fields all of their questions and concerns. He is the Consultation User for the company.
What About the Power Users?
Even though we’re dealing with software in this scenario, power users don’t really fit into the equation because it is a fitness facility.
Arguably, they could have an IT member or contractor, but a power user doesn’t make sense for John’s software implementation.