The Staircase of Notion Adoption

Written by: Matthias Frank
Last edited: June 9, 2024

Adopting Notion as the tool to power your business can be challenging. There are a ton of moving parts and decisions to be made. That’s why it’s so important to know where exactly you are on your “Staircase of Notion Adoption”. Put simply, the Staircase of Notion Adoption is a framework that looks at a typical adoption journey in companies together with the key challenges. That way, you know exactly what to focus on next and what it takes to make it to the next level. Without this knowledge and focus, you’ll waste a lot of resources, hinder adoption and won’t be able to unlock the true benefits Notion has to offer.

So without further ado, here are the three distinct stages most companies go through when adopting Notion:

  • Just give me a system
  • Give me a system that’s truly mine
  • Give me a system that works for me

Each stage comes with unique challenges and requires a different approach.

Let’s take a closer look:

Level 1: Just give me a system

Your company is about to climb the first step if…

  • You have little to no Notion experience across the team (average counts!),
  • You typically have no strong Project Management or Knowledge Management philosophy (yet)

In that situation, you face two distinct problem areas:

  • Technical: Notion has a steep learning curve and while it would be beneficial for the team to adopt it, you need a quick way to train everyone. And since Notion isn’t an out-of-the-box solution, the setup complexity is often overwhelming.
  • Procedural: Adopting Notion early can really empower your team to do their best work. But on the flip side, it’s also very easy to make mistakes at this stage that cost a lot later down the line. If your system doesn’t scale with your business, it starts weighing you down instead of empowering growth.

At this stage, it’s often best to start with a standardised best-practice setup for Project or Knowledge Management (or both).

This ensures that you have a scalable system and adopt proven processes, which will make it much easier to go to stage 2 later down the line.

The main priority here is to get a good system up and running and help every employee understand Notion well enough so that it saves them time every day (instead of becoming a huge time sink).

It’s tempting to jump directly to stage 2, but that can easily backfire.

Ultimately, you only know whether a system works for you if you try it out.

So instead of spending months developing the perfect system in theory only to then see that it doesn’t hold up to day-to-day use, get started with something and then iterate from there.

Level 2: Give me a system that’s truly mine

You are ready to climb the second step if…

  • Your team has average Notion skills across the board and everyone can at least navigate their dashboards, enter information and use the system to get more stuff done
  • People realise that you can adopt Notion to your unique challenges and start to suggest modifications
  • Your Project Management or Knowledge Management philosophy is shaping up. The need for solid processes (and their documentation) becomes apparent because the team needs to be on the same page to scale. Friction in doing things the old way becomes more and more apparent.

This is a great place to be, because it offers a lot of room for improvement. Every bit of friction that you can reduce at this point directly translates to more output.

In terms of problems, here’s what you’ll typically face:

  • Technical: You need a deep understanding of Notion’s features that go beyond merely using it to shape the tool according to your unique workflows. This is Notion’s super power. If you plan to stay in stage 1 forever (just give me a standardised system and let’s call it a day), other tools are easier to implement initially – but they don’t offer the necessary flexibility required for the second stage.
  • Procedural: You need to put in the work to really harness Notion’s unique capabilities. That involves defining your unique approach and making high-impact changes while avoiding bloat & unnecessary complexity. It’s all too easy to fall in a trap of always modifying your setup without really adding anything to the bottom line. It’s easy to confuse busyness with progress.

At this stage, you can really unlock Notion’s (and your team’s) unique strengths. Since you’re already working with a system, you’ll be able to identify friction and bottlenecks. Soon, you can move from a one-size-fits-all solution to a system that fits like a bespoke suit.

Level 3: Give me a system that works for me

Now that you maxed out your possible productivity gains through a better system, it’s time to tackle the last bottleneck: your own time.

To scale further, you can either hire more people (while carefully monitoring your systems to ensure they still work with a larger team) or outsource workflows to automations.

Both ways have their merits (and it often makes sense to combine them), but automations have a distinct advantage: you remain far more flexible and can steer cost more effectively than with new hires.

You’ll typically find yourself in this situation:

  • Solid to great Notion skills & adoption across the team
  • Dialled-in processes and a good understanding of how to deliver your work
  • You’re reaching a natural ceiling because of many time intensive tasks that can seemingly only be solved by hiring more people

And you face these key problems:

  • Technical: Automations require different, often complex-looking tools on top of Notion and you have limited internal resources to learn, build and / or support automations on top of your day-to-day business
  • Procedural: You need a perspective change to realise untapped potential and identify the highest leverage opportunities for automations. We’re so used to doing fairly time intensive “manual” computer work, that we often don’t realise we don’t need to do these things at all. Plus, you will need proper process documentation to avoid shortfalls.

Ultimately, this stage is all about identifying key growth potential and low hanging fruits for automations, implementing the first workflows and show everyone on the team what’s possible.

Once you get a first glimpse of how much time you can save this way, you’ll soon see opportunities everywhere 😎

If implementing Notion was like buying a suit

Another way to think about this would be a suit metaphor.

  • At stage 1, you buy an off-the-rack suit (template) or go made-to-measure (standard system adopted to your situation). That’s great to get started (better than not wearing any clothes at all), but you have to make some trade-offs.
  • At stage 2, you go bespoke. A tailor helps you find your exact measurements and creates a piece just for you.
  • At stage 3, you ditch normal clothes altogether and get a robot body suit from Stark Industries. Now you look like Ironman and everyone wonders how you got these superhero skills.

How to work with the Staircase of Notion Adoption

Once you’ve identified the stage you’re at, there’s only one question left:

How can you tackle it and ascend further up the staircase?

To stick with the tailoring metaphor, you basically have three options:

  • You decide you don’t actually need a proper operating system for your company and rather stay naked.
  • You learn how to become a tailor yourself so that you can create your own garments.
  • You look for an expert that comes in, measures you and creates the perfect garment based on your unique situation

So think about these ideas for a bit.

Do you already have a dialled-in process for project and knowledge management in your company? Or is everyone doing things on their own with little to no oversight? If everyone quit tomorrow and you had to retrain new hires – would you have a clear and concise system or would you be starting from scratch?

This is why most companies are struggle with their day-to-day operations. They’re caught in a whirlwind of inefficient processes and poor documentation, which means you spent far too much time trying to organise your work rather than getting things done.

But of course, it doesn’t have to stay this way.

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