How Office 365 has changed my job as a Change Manager

I have been working in Change Management for Office 365 since 2012. During this time I have worked with 3 separate Microsoft partners focused on ensuring technical projects have increased success due to the end-user experience and adoption activities to drive usage and satisfaction.

Spending time with users across the suite of tools for almost a decade really has made it an interesting journey. When thinking about this recently, something that stood out to me is that I chose a path and have stayed in relatively the same role and space over time, however the technology has shifted so greatly. The way my role in Office 365 projects has shifted along the way I felt was worth reflecting on.

Cloud bound

In the early days there was a big learning curve. What does migration mean? What is “Exchange”? What is a “tenant”?

After jumping into these projects as a PM, I quickly shifted focus to the experience of the person on the other side. The end-user. Who was this person and how could we make their experience in this project happier? It began with a ‘Getting Started with Office365’ guide. Then a few videos. The offering grew rapidly from there.

The period of focus on Exchange migrations was widespread change but relatively low impact. There were many projects with thousands of users. At times it came down to Monday morning pop-up ‘your administrator has made a change…’ and a quick restart.

Some projects were much more complex. We had organisations moving from Gmail or Lotus Notes to Outlook which was a nightmare at times. There’s only a certain amount you can do for such a big technical change and it is destined to be a massive impact on people. There was also the phase of many projects in the education sector with a user group of thousands made up of corporate, teaching staff, and students. These projects had the added complication of sessional staff and students who were very tricky to communicate with. We needed to urgently get ‘in their face’ and had to devise creative ways to grab attention to avoid the major impacts of being locked out of email and files post migration.

Even if an organisation made it through an Exchange migration unscathed, then came the shift from “Wave 14” to “Wave 15”. This move from a cloud backend of Exchange Server 2010 to 2013 was relatively behind the scenes however the resulting interface update caused a painful major impact. Being the one to develop and spread the messaging for this impact was tough and supporting users even tougher. We rapidly noticed organisations that didn’t include Change Management activities in a technical project struggled and regretted this choice during project closure. It was so hard for a technical team to have this impact land well without the right skillset involved.

What is interesting here is that users suffered greatly because of buttons shifting in the application and the colours changing from orange to blue. This now happens more regularly and we all cope. Our ability to be agile and absorb change has transitioned with the way technology enhances.

The challenge for me was to take something very technical and humanise. I was a bridge between super technical work and the layman.

This phase had its challenges. Mostly it was trying to sell this ‘change management thing’ to the IT Manager who was in control at the client side and signing off. They often didn’t see value and I had to win them over. At times even just a half day of my time was included to draft some quick communication and rebrand a guide. Over time we made 2 days compulsory. We believed so strongly that without this consulting time, a project would be less successful and stood by it. It ended up making the client stakeholders receive praise from their management and over time we were winning projects above other competitors because of this offering. It wasn’t an easy road though, pushing for Change Management in Office 365 projects, and took a while to drive the inclusion of this consulting in our proposals.

The Focus on Product

Once an organisation was in the Cloud, more and more were game to give staff access to services available within their licence model. At the time this was commonly OneDrive for Business and Skype for Business. Boy oh boy have I completed my share of projects which were an Exchange migration with those 2 products coupled together. We commonly did either a combined launch, or staggered. If there was enough time, after we got through the migration impact, we would then have a month focus on SfB followed with OfB, moving their personal work files to the cloud.

Essentially, these projects were product launches. The activities were lead up communication, training, tips and tricks, floor walking, and whatever activities we could do to drive user experience and support them through the changes.

To be honest a lot of Microsoft partners are still in this space. And there are times when a product launch suits. A launch is fun. We can cover the office with ‘Skype blue’ balloons, ramp up with some gamification and make it all very visual. It just must be considered if the focus on product tells the right story.

The challenge of working this way is that it treats the products as silos and loses the great value in scenario-based campaigns that drive much more context and deep use cases.

The WOW Factor

By WOW I mean ‘Ways of Working’. There has been an explosion of this term in the last couple of years, along with Transformation, and Adoption. Many organisations have shifted focus from a technical implementation with a single product focus, to the scenarios that move uses across the suite. This may be that for running an effective meeting you don’t just train people to use Skype for Business, you show then the value and interaction between the applications from Outlook to schedule the meeting, the connection between Outlook and OneNote, and then actually using Skype for Business (or more recently Microsoft Teams) to launch the meeting. Then afterwards sharing your notes in OneNote and so on. This connection between applications in the Office 365 suite paves the way for users to develop scenarios and ways to work for themselves. Finding what use case or scenario is valuable in their role can increase their efficiency and satisfaction of the suite, increasing usage and in the long run greater ROI on license spend for the organisation.

From a Change Management perspective, it’s more complex than before. It’s not a product that is turned on and a launch with training and communication. It’s now much more into cultural change.

Back in the phase of Exchange migrations and product launches, I met with a specialist Change Management placement firm and when discussing my experience, they pointed out that all my work to date was heavily tied to technical project delivery, and I lacked experienced in broader cultural change programs. What is interesting is that I haven’t left the Office 365 space, but it has shifted. The last couple of years the focus is very much on the WOW. It’s workshopping deep use cases and finding the value of the scenarios across user groups. We run sessions now to focus on the very tailored Office 365 experience, rather than launch, train and do some activities to make it stick.

The work now is much more powerful and complex, with greater longer-term value and much longer ongoing engagements. Organisations are reaching out to us, rather than us pushing for them to understand the value of, and be willing to allocate budget, to Change Management activities. However, I do understand there are many out there that still need to get on board!

Turning more on

In the last year there has been a discussion, and at times debate, over the decision to ‘turn it all on’. It’s a key decision and can really impact the user journey. (The REgarding 365 team held a debate on this topic at Microsoft Ignite 2018, you can read the summary and watch the recording here.)

We have moved well beyond the days of email to the cloud. Or a single product launch.

It is possible for an organisation to enable all services in the Office 365 suite (for that licence) for users. Some have the learning content available, offer ‘lunch and learns’ or ‘pop-ups’ and allow users on their merry way.

It’s a contentious topic and to be honest I am still working out which side of the fence I am on. It would really depend on the journey to date for the organisation, their user capability, the change fatigue, along with multiple other factors. I would advise to treat this on a case-by-case basis. Sure, some users will go for it, self-learn and really enjoy finding new ways to use the tool and enhance their day. Others though will get left behind. User adoption can be so heavily impacted by low confidence, confusion, then not speaking up. This sours their experience of the suite and really impacts the longer-term value of Office 365.

As you can see the big world of Microsoft has changed a great deal. Seeing the challenges for staff is always interesting with new surprises along the journey. I am constantly blown away with how little some groups know about Outlook and how all they want is some pain points reduced, yet others want to dive into Microsoft Flow and take off rapidly.

Know your user groups. Understand what will add value to their role and organisation. Take the time to develop the story — is it just a small launch or a major new way of working? This is key.

And remember, is an ongoing journey. Allow space to absorb new enhancements and knowledge. We no longer attend product training and then its set and forget for 10 years. Hand holding is important in this every changing space.

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