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Got confused Office 365're not alone !!!

The title of this blog may lead you to believe that this post is going to be an Office 365 bashing. If that's what you're looking for, you can stop at this point; if however, you are looking for some insight as to why this is the case and how to avoid it, read on.

On an almost daily basis, managers of Office 365 tenants get email updates (Digests) as to (among other things) what is new on the platform. Delivering on their promise to continually enhance the platform, Microsoft is indeed delivering. The changes are not just visible when you’ve enrolled to get the heads up, they are visible day today as you use both the deployed and online tools. Even as someone who loves to play with the new features as they arrive, I find myself unable to keep up with all the new features and months down the track need a bit of catch-up to feel like I'm somewhat back in the know.

So, if someone committed as I am to "playing" and taking charge in my stride is feeling swamped, what about your run of the mill user just looking to get their work done? Unfortunately, this is not pretty and over the past 12months I've been directly and indirectly involved in three projects that in essence have been put in place to work throughout how to deal with the following emerging issues related to Office 365:

  1. Groups/Sections/Individuals of users within an enterprise that whilst using the applications, are using them differently

  2. Users "losing" or having issues "finding stuff"

  3. Users completely lost in the change

User feedback around Office from a decade ago which consisted primarily of issues around services being "slow" or not having the latest versions have now transitioned into usability and a desire from users on how to get the best out of what they realise is a powerful set of tools.

Whilst enterprises have embraced the technology and quickly moved to rollout faster than ever a set of tools requiring less time to deployment than older desktop solution, users (and therefore the organisation) are often left unable to realise the benefits.

Whilst 3 projects in 12months may not seem a huge number, I have been approached about several similar projects and given that the symptoms are the same, I don't see this abating. It's not so much that a new industry is emerging, but certainly to ensure success a focus on strategy and change management is emerging.

By design, Office 365 can really be "everything to everyone"; but this does not mean it should be a free for all. As with all open platforms where everything is provided, the onus is too often on the user to figure out the best way to use the platform. Just because SharePoint is available does not mean you have to use it. Sure you're paying for it, but what does it really do for your business and are you really ready to make that commitment, particularly without planning what it will actually deliver,

Most take the approach of quickly testing each and every available too, picking the one's they like and rolling forward. Sure their experience is good as they build their little corner of the enterprise, but now we've returned to working in silos the opposite of the benefits we want from a unified collaboration platform.

In helping my client out, I've taken an approach of focused on pre-planning out the best approach with Office 365 by first returning to the base question of "what is it you need". In general, my approach is as follows:

  1. Define the business needs related to productivity tooling: This does not have to be exhaustive, however, at least a general set of items to consider may be:

  2. The ability to collaborate on documents from common well-known locations

  3. Instant Messaging

  4. Audio/Video Conferencing

  5. Managing Projects and related artefacts and tasks in a single location (related to 1)

  6. Identify current issues that may be able to be resolved

  7. Work through a matrix of which Office 365 components may address the needs to issues. Note that you may find that certain problems can be addressed through multiple solutions eg. Planner vs ToDo. In this case, go a bit deeper to try and settle on one solution only

  8. Test the approach with a rollout to a small engaged group and document the feedback/experience of those involved so you can refine/reconsider what you thought would work

  9. Document a basic set of "How to guides" around those areas where you want/need users to work in a similar way eg. Do you use Teams or SharePoint for team projects? When do you use OneDrive vs SharePoint

  10. Train the users. The level of training required will vary based on a number of factors including budget, workforce location etc. but come a level of the consistent rollout of training if for no other reason than setting the organisations expectations is critical

  11. Deploy

  12. Follow Up at regular intervals. Don't assume that either a) you got it right and or b) that you can't improve on what you've done. Given the fact that the platform is evolving reviewing at regular intervals will also allow you to see where emerging tools may create new opportunities for improvement

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