Microsoft Ignite 2021 – Battling fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the workplace

I believe #SharingIsCaring. The more we share about ourselves (our perspective, our ideas, and our unique stories), the stronger we become. I’m thrilled to share my ideas on battling fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the workplace at a Microsoft Ignite Humans of IT session this November.

Why this topic? Workplace fears and feelings of uncertainty, doubt, and imposter syndrome are endemic in the IT industry. These doubts and fears hold us back, keep us on mute during critical meetings & discussions, and lead to negative self-dialogue. During this 30-minute Ignite session, I’ll share:

  • Why empathy is important
  • How we get stuck in a loop of uncertainty and doubt
  • Why so many of us experience imposter syndrome
  • What practical tools we can use to overcome our fears
  • How we can build a community of support

What is Humans of IT? Microsoft created the Humans of IT community to engage and empower technologists to find their tech superpowers through mentoring, shared stories of struggle and growth, and testimonials. If you’re not already a member of the community, I encourage you to learn more. And if you haven’t attended a Humans of IT session at Microsoft Ignite before, it’s time to jump in. The sessions provide an inspiring look at the people in our IT community and the real-life opportunities and challenges they have.

Join me. Microsoft Ignite is being held virtually November 2-4, 2021. Space for this session is limited, so reserve your seat now.

Tips, best practices & clarity on using the Microsoft stack for meeting notes

In Episode 61 of the Microsoft 365 Voice, we answer a listener question about how to effectively take and share meeting notes using the Microsoft stack of products. We know everyone has their own style and preferences for meeting notes. While there’s no right answer, we share a few ideas and meeting note processes we’ve seen work well.

Using OneNote

We usually use our personal OneNote notebooks for capturing meeting notes. If we want to share those notes after the meeting, we’ll use the OneNote “Email page” option, move the page to a shared OneNote notebook, or copy/paste the meeting notes into a Teams channel conversation.

Using Outlook

When work is exceptionally busy, we’ve been known to use Outlook emails to capture meeting notes and action items. This is the least effective means of capturing meeting details – the email notes generally look like hieroglyphics. But when you have no time between meetings and need the shortest possible path to type up shorthand notes, an email works. We do recommend circling back to these meeting summary emails quickly (preferably same-day). There’s a good chance I won’t be able to understand my own meeting hieroglyphics after a day or two…

Capturing tasks discussed in meetings

I still love using Outlook tasks to manage my day-to-day action items. If I’m capturing meeting action items for my own benefit, I’ll often type the notes directly into an Outlook task. As we discussed in our A conversation about Planner episode, I regularly use Planner to facilitate daily or weekly stand-up’s for projects and small workgroups. When I’m capturing group action items during project calls, I’ll often type those actions directly into new Planner tasks.

Using paper

No matter how many tools we have, we still use notebooks and scrap pieces of paper to jot down ideas or action items during meetings. This option becomes more prevalent the busier we are. (If we’re running from one virtual meeting to another, it can be faster to jot down notes on paper and then move them to OneNote at the end of the day.) This isn’t an optimal process, but busy is sometimes the enemy of good practice.

Targeting meeting notes to the audience

When you’re delivering meeting notes to key audiences (e.g. executive sponsors, IT leadership, Human Resources), you should consider how those audiences want to see the meeting notes. In some cases, an email summary of the email notes may be preferred. In other cases, you may need a formal meeting notes template in Microsoft Word.

Listen in for more tips, ideas, and best practices for meeting notes. We hope you enjoy this episode!

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Dealing with difficult IT projects or IT projects that go off the rails

In Episode 60 of the Microsoft 365 Voice, we discuss how to handle difficult or broken IT projects.

Many of us have worked on projects with unclear (or unachievable) expectations, staffing/resource challenges, budget/delivery delays, or technical issues. Dealing with these difficult projects requires authenticity, strong communications, and the ability to remain calm in stressful circumstances. Listen in as Mike Maadarani, Antonio Maio, and I share our suggestions for dealing with IT projects gone wrong.

Key topics covered in this episode:

Being realistic

  • Assess how serious the issue is. Will it throw the entire project into a tailspin? Is it a showstopper?
  • Come up with steps to mitigate the issue. What should be done first? What can be pushed off until later?
  • Determine which issue(s) are the highest priority and tackle those first. What items are low on the priority/impact list? Determining a prioritized list of must-do’s versus nice-to-have’s will help you narrow your scope.
  • Identify your target audience & determine what’s most important for them. For some projects, timeline and delivery date is the highest priority. In other cases, you may be on a tight budget that cannot move. Determining who your key decision makers/customers are and focusing your efforts on their needs will help you deliver stronger results.

Keeping (or regaining your balance)

  • Take deep breaths. Frustration can come out in your voice during project meetings. If you’re feeling stressed, frustrated, or angry, take deep breaths to regain your footing.
  • Encourage others to stay calm. If you’re on a project meeting and you see others getting upset or frazzled, send them an instant message and ask if they’re OK. Be a coach and a cheerleader.

Being truthful

  • Be transparent and honest. If human error has impacted your project’s delivery, don’t try to hide it. Being honest about what’s gone right (and wrong) builds credibility and gives you a solid foundation of trust. Hiding the truth is incredibly hard to do (and will often blow up in your face).
  • Be pragmatic. Don’t inflate the impact of an issue. But also be realistic when issues are a big deal.
  • Focus on your credibility. Build goodwill with your project team, customers, and executive sponsors by being a truth-teller.

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

A conversation about Planner

Episode 59 of the Microsoft 365 Voice is all about Planner. Mike, Antonio, and I provide suggestions on how to position Planner for organizational & project use and give examples of how we’ve seen it used successfully.

Where we love it

Planner works best as a lightweight planning and project management tool. You can use Planner individually to manage personal tasks related to a given project, but it’s ideal for groups of 4-8 people working together on a small project or as part of a working group.

We love the Kanban-style view of tasks in Planner. Organizing tasks in buckets works well, particularly if you have 10 or fewer buckets and 100 or fewer open tasks.

We’ve also used Planner to facilitate daily or weekly stand-up’s for projects and small workgroups. You can use the Kanban-style board to see and review upcoming tasks for the day or week.

The functional limits

If you’re managing a large project or doing extensive resource tracking, Planner can quickly become unwieldy. Several of our projects have pushed Planner beyond its limits (having more than 250 unassigned tasks or more than 1,500 tasks in a given plan). If you’re using Planner for a large project (e.g. DevOps, major client implementation, large upgrade, etc.) or to manage development stories, you’ll quickly hit the functional limits of the app.

What we’d love to see

We’d like to see a better integration between Planner and Outlook. The default emails Planner sends for assigned or overdue tasks aren’t rich enough. You also can’t delineate key tasks versus routine ones (e.g. flagging key tasks for follow-up email notifications while leaving routine or less-important tasks out of the messaging queue).

As someone who still uses Outlook tasks extensively to manage my work, I’d love to have a way to flag Planner tasks so they appear inline alongside my Outlook calendar. Today I have to manually replicate vital Planner tasks in my Outlook tasks so I can see them alongside my other work.

I love the new color-coded labels we have in Planner, but would like to cascade or extend labels from one Planner plan to another. Driving label consistency across projects is entirely manual today, leaving a big opportunity for label standardization and re-use.

And much more…

Listen in to Episode 59 for additional thoughts and questions about Planner. We hope you enjoy the episode!

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

A conversation about OneDrive

In Episode 58 of the Microsoft 365 Voice, Antonio, Mike, and I discuss how we use OneDrive to create, share, and manage files. Listen in to see if your use of OneDrive mirrors #TeamMike, #TeamSarah, or #TeamAntonio.

Topics covered in this episode:

  • Using OneDrive consumer for personal content
    • Backing up household and family files
    • Syncing photos from mobile phones to OneDrive
    • Using Personal Vault to store passport information, vaccine information, travel ID numbers, etc.
  • Using OneDrive at work
    • Storing & sharing work files with clients or co-workers. We all have different methods for creating and sharing files – Antonio creates files locally when traveling and then uploads to Teams and SharePoint when he’s ready to share. Mike and Sarah create files in OneDrive by default and then upload files to Teams for collaboration.
    • Using the OneDrive Sync Client to save files locally (especially when you’re working across multiple devices)
    • Hydrating files for offline access. (Mike does a great job explaining how file hydration & dehydration works)
    • Syncing local folders to SharePoint and OneDrive for Business
  • Organizational considerations
    • Known Folder Move & automatic backup (backing up pictures, My Documents, etc. to OneDrive)
    • OneDrive silent sign-in (GPO setting that automatically signs users into their OneDrive Sync Client)
    • Disabling the sync to OneDrive consumer accounts (protects companies from having company data synced to consumer OneDrive accounts)

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

A conversation about OneNote

In Episode 57 of the Microsoft 365 Voice, Antonio, Mike, and I discuss (and debate) how we use and organize our OneNote notebooks. This was an interesting conversation…and it came with clear differences in how #TeamMike, #TeamSarah, and #TeamAntonio work.

Topics covered in this episode:

  • Methods for organizing OneNote notebooks:
    • Using a single shared notebook for each client or project we’re engaged in
    • Moving older notes to an “archive” notebook
    • Using OneNote sections, pages, and notebooks to sort & distinguish content
  • Methods for finding content in our OneNote notebooks:
    • Building out an information architecture & organizational system (#TeamMike)
    • Using search to find content across our notebooks (#TeamSarah)
  • Trends we see:
    • Each of us have 15-20 work notebooks we access regularly
    • We all have different methodologies for creating and storing shared OneNote notebooks
    • We regularly see users bypass email retention limits by saving emails to OneNote
    • We use OneNote differently at home than at work…

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Microsoft 365 Information Architecture governance

How does your organization manage the creation of new SharePoint sites, Microsoft Teams teams, Yammer communities, etc. in Microsoft 365?

Is it better to centrally control the creation of new sites, teams, and communities or should you enable your users to create new groups themselves?

What (if any) governance controls do you need to put in place? How much control should you give your end-users?

How do you balance governance versus usability?

Do you have enough staff to support a centralized model for creation of new Microsoft 365 groups?

Episode 56 of the Microsoft 365 Voice focuses on Microsoft 365 governance and information architecture. We discuss the continuum of self-service versus centralized group creation and highlight key drivers companies should consider when defining their governance controls. Key themes we discuss in this episode:

  • Finding the balance between user enablement and governance controls
  • Defining the legal and regulatory requirements that drive your governance policies
  • Determining the level of trust you have in your end-users
  • Balancing the desire for centralized group creation against the staffing needs this type of policy requires
  • Determining how and when to govern group creation (e.g. requiring pre-approval before group creation versus requiring registration after group creation)
  • Understanding why you want (or need) governance controls

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Understanding self-service licensing in Microsoft 365

We discuss one of my favorite soapbox topics in Episode 55 of the Microsoft 365 Voice – how to plan for, manage, and control self-service licensing in Microsoft 365.

What is self-service licensing?

Microsoft announced self-service licensing in late 2019 and rolled it out in January 2020. Self-service licensing enables individual M365 users to purchase product licenses directly from Microsoft without tenant administrator approval. This means your users can purchase a product license, pay for it with a credit card, and use it in your tenant without asking you first.

Which products offer self-service licensing?

As of July 2021, self-service licensing is available for Power Platform (including Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate), Microsoft Project, Visio, and Windows 365.

What types of controls can you put in place to manage self-service licensing?

Reporting is available in the M365 Admin Center to see who has purchased and/or deployed self-service licenses in your tenant. If you want to prevent users from purchasing self-service licenses entirely, you’ll need to block self-service licensing via PowerShell. Unfortunately, Microsoft requires you to block self-service licensing for each individual product. This means you’ll need to monitor the Message Center and hope to see announcements when new products are enabled for self-service licensing. If you don’t prevent self-service licensing for each new product, your company may be left exposed.

Listen in for our thoughts on self-service licensing and the practical steps you need to take to manage your tenant. And check out Microsoft’s self-service purchase FAQ page for additional details.

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Business processes vs. automated activities

We’re thrilled to welcome Mike Fitzmaurice, Chief Evangelist for WEBCON, to Episode 53 of the Microsoft 365 Voice. The focus of this episode is the difference between automations and business processes.

In simple terms, an automation is a ‘widget’ or task you optimize (e.g. building a macro or automating an email to be sent automatically by Salesforce). A business process is broader and deeper with a formally scoped business need and a series of automated steps that connect to form a complete cycle. Business processes are formally managed, supported, and adapted over time to meet emergent business needs.

Here’s a few of the topics discussed in this episode:

  • Supportability is key. A spelling error shouldn’t break a business process. Nor should your business processes require reverse engineering to determine WHAT the process is doing and WHY it is doing it. Processes should be built to withstand or prevent errors, should be fully documented, and should be supportable over time.
  • Processes need to be managed. New employees need to be educated on your business processes so they can do their jobs effectively. Evolving goals and customer needs need to be accounted for. If your business processes don’t evolve, they will become less effective over time.
  • Automate what you can, but don’t forget to turn widgets into formal business processes. End-users can drive improvements by automating individual tasks. But make sure you’re evaluating the need for larger business processes that can drive deeper value to your organization.
  • Business processes ensure accuracy. If you have a series of steps that must be performed correctly 99.9% of the time, you need a formal business process that is measurable, managed, supported, and adapted to changing needs.

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Pro tips: What to do when you don’t feel heard at work

All of us have felt it. What should we do when don’t feel seen or heard at work? How do we regain our footing if we’ve lost control of a meeting?

On Episode 52 of the Microsoft 365 Voice, we share our experiences and share practical tips for being “seen.”

  • If you’re leading a meeting, be proactive. You’re responsible for meeting cadence and timing. Lean in and ensure important voices are heard.
  • If you hear someone being cut off in a meeting, create space for them to speak. Say “I’m interested in what Mike has to say…” and give him the floor to share.
  • Take the high road when you can. Don’t assume bad intent if you’re interrupted.
  • Be resilient (and persistent). If you have key content to share, don’t censor yourself. Keep trying to break into the meeting dialogue. If you can’t get a footing to speak, send an instant message to someone else on the meeting and ask them to be an ally for you and give you an entry point.
  • Pave the way for others to share. Be a champion and an advocate for others on the meeting. Give them the floor and show interest in their perspective and ideas.
  • Encourage others. Be a mentor for someone who doesn’t like to speak up in meetings. Ask them how you can support their ideas.
  • Deal with meeting regret. Often we regret the things we didn’t say–the answer we didn’t give and the details we didn’t provide. Our fear of saying the wrong thing leads us to say nothing at all.
  • Learn how to deal with ‘interrupters.’ We’ve all seen meetings and presentations derailed by someone who consistently interrupts. Learn how to effectively handle these interrupters and retain (or gain) control of a meeting.

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.