Using Microsoft Flow & Azure Cognitive Services to automate sentiment analysis of Yammer posts

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As an Office 365 product manager and corporate evangelist, I’m responsible for engaging users and driving adoption of Microsoft Collaboration tools. Measuring the saturation and use of Office 365 is a key part of my role. Yes, I regularly review Office 365 usage metrics for high-level trending. But metrics alone don’t tell the story of user satisfaction and adoption. In order to build better training and adoption programs, I need to understand why my dedicated users love the tools and why others remain resistant.

Many companies rely on surveys to gather end-user feedback. While surveys are useful for gathering specific types of quantitative data, surveys are one-dimensional. You can’t dynamically ask follow-up questions to learn more about specific survey responses, and you can only capture a limited set of data points. Innovation games enable you to gather a much broader set of quantitative and qualitative user data, but require an investment of time to facilitate games and distill the results. For best results, I recommend a multidisciplinary approach that leverages Office 365 usage statistics, user survey responses, innovation games data, user testimonials, etc. to measure user satisfaction. 

With the release of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning algorithms, we also have the ability to gather user sentiments automatically. If your organization uses Yammer to drive employee engagement and empower open dialogue, you have a wealth of user data that can be analyzed. With Azure Cognitive Services and Microsoft Flow, you can perform automated sentiment analysis of your Yammer group posts. Sentiment scores for each Yammer message can be stored in SharePoint and visualized for trending analysis via Power BI. You can even send push email notifications to your Office 365 administrators or Corporate Communications team when strong positive or negative messages are posted in Yammer.

Chris Bortlik, Principal Technical Architect for Microsoft, recently shared a blog post on Yammer sentiment analysis. I used Chris’ model, with a few modifications, to gather and report on Office 365 user sentiment.

The scenario:
My organization leverages a Microsoft Flow Yammer group to foster employee conversations and questions/answers about flow. We want to monitor the Microsoft Flow Yammer group using sentiment analysis so we can:

  • Identify negative flow Yammer posts that require follow-up
  • Identify positive Yammer posts that can serve as user testimonials or references
  • Define trends in our Microsoft Flow Yammer posts (e.g. daily/weekly/monthly positive and negative trends, overall positive or negative sentiments for flow, etc.)
  • Validate the success of our Microsoft Flow education and adoption program (e.g. confirm we’re seeing growth in the volume of positive flow Yammer posts over time)

The setup:
Follow the steps outlined below to set up automated Yammer sentiment analysis.

Step 1: Confirm you have a Cognitive Services Text Analytics Account. In order to set up this solution, you will need a Cognitive Services account key and a root site URL.

Step 2: Create a SharePoint list to store your Yammer sentiment analysis scores. Flow will create a new item in your list for each Yammer message it analyzes. Here’s a list of the custom columns I added to my list:

  • Score – Number column; stores the sentiment rating for each Yammer message
  • Message link – Hyperlink column; stores a link to the rated Yammer message
  • Posted by – Person/Group column; stores the name of the person that posted the Yammer message
  • Thread ID – Single line of text column; stores the Yammer thread ID for the message. Enables you to sort, filter, and group sentiment scores for a given Yammer thread (including original message and replies).

Azure Cognitive Services will provide a numeric sentiment score between 0 and 1 for each Yammer message it analyzes. The more negative a Yammer message is, the closer to 0 its score will be. More positive messages will receive a rating closer to 1.

Here’s a screen shot of my SharePoint list. Each list item represents a rated Yammer message:
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Step 3: Identify the Yammer group you want to perform sentiment analysis on. You can set up sentiment analysis for multiple Yammer groups, but each will require a separate flow process. I also recommend setting up a different SharePoint list to hold sentiment scores for each of your Yammer groups. (Having different SharePoint lists enables you to set up different trending reports on Yammer group sentiment.)

Step 4: Create your Microsoft Flow. I created my flow from scratch (not using a template). Here’s a quick breakdown of the flow conditions and actions:

  • When there is a new message in a group – Detects when a new Yammer message is posted in my Yammer group
  • Get user details – Pulls Yammer user profile details. (Enables us to capture the full name and email address for the person posting the Yammer message.)
  • Detect Sentiment – Calls the Azure Cognitive Services API so it can calculate a sentiment score for the Yammer message
  • Create item – Creates a SharePoint list item for the Yammer message being analyzed
  • If the comment is negative – Sends an email to my Office 365 admin team if the sentiment score for a Yammer message is ≤0.3.
  • If the comment is positive – Sends an email to my Office 365 admin team if the sentiment score for a Yammer message is ≥0.7.

Step 5: Create Power BI report(s) to visualize your Yammer sentiment scores. Published reports can be rendered in your SharePoint Online Communications or Team sites using the Power BI web part. For help in setting up sentiment analysis slicers, check out this DataChant blog post.

Here’s a sample dashboard that shows Yammer sentiment data for my Microsoft Flow Yammer group:

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Step 6: Distill the results. Once you start calculating Yammer sentiment and have reports to visualize the data, you can analyze the results and follow up where needed. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Break down negative Yammer posts (e.g. posts with a score ≤0.3) by user. Schedule follow-up meetings with Office 365 end-users that consistently post negative messages. The goal is to ask questions and understand the pain points the users are facing. Perhaps they have hardware or network issues that impact their productivity. Or maybe they’re having issues with Microsoft Flow and need a coach/mentor to spur their learning. Having one-on-one dialogues provides the opportunity for candid feedback and enables you to make a difference in the user’s productivity and technology experience.
  • Identify Office 365 enthusiasts. Break down Yammer posts by volume or by high sentiment average in order to find power users across your organization. Set up meetings with these enthusiasts to understand how they leverage Office 365. Incorporate them into your user group or internal community and support them in their growth. These enthusiasts can become your Office 365 evangelists!
  • Monitor the volume of Yammer posts in your group. Build a gauge that shows your number of Yammer messages month-to-date and identifies progress towards your monthly Yammer message goal. Keeping an eye on your total posts month-to-date and year-to-date will help you monitor use over time and highlight areas you may need to invest additional time and adoption efforts in.

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  • Optimize your communications. If one of your Office 365 admin resources has consistent negative Yammer sentiment scores, have them evaluate the verbiage they’re using. Slight wording changes can change the tone of their messages, increasing Yammer sentiment scores and better engaging with end-users.
  • Take a health pulse. Build trending visuals that show average post volumes and sentiment averages by week or month. If you start seeing spikes on volume of posts and/or significant changes in your sentiment averages, it’s time to dig deeper. Perhaps you’re seeing a spike in interest in PowerApps after a compelling user group presentation or have network bandwidth issues that are causing issues. Either way, Yammer sentiment analysis can be your early warning indicator that something has changed.

2018: A blogging year in review

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Late last year, I was challenged to write and blog more frequently on SharePoint/Office 365. It started as a five-week effort: write five new blog posts in five weeks. The writing didn’t concern me (I was an English & Journalism major; writing comes naturally). I was worried about coming up with meaningful topics to write on. I dove in and managed to get five posts written by the five-week deadline. I congratulated myself for the effort, relieved to be done. But after taking a couple of weeks off, I realized I missed it.

This year, I extended the model. I wasn’t sure I could manage a blog post per week, so I set a goal of publishing three blog posts per month. The results exceeded my own expectations! Here’s my 2018 blogging year-in-review:

Total # of blog posts in 2018: 43
Total # of words: 20,629
Average words per post: 480

Just like my five-week challenge, I was certain the biggest obstacle was going to be coming up with topic ideas. But here’s the thing–the more I blogged, the more topic ideas I came up with. There were only a couple of times this year when I was stumped for a new topic to blog about.

One of the biggest surprises this year was popularity of individual blog posts. Turns out I’m often a bad predictor of which posts will resonate with readers. I had to learn to write and publish without pre-judging whether a given post would be deep enough, technical enough, useful enough, etc.. At the end of the day, readers will determine the relative merit of each post. There’s no point in me trying to predict the outcome.

Some blog posts took on a life of their own, generating a great deal of interest. A prime example was my Ignite 2018 post on The importance of Community Managers. I wrote the post in less than 30 minutes (a very quick turnaround by my standards) and wasn’t sure it was deep enough to generate much attention. But the content resonated with the Office 365 community, and it was one of my most-tweeted blog posts of 2018.

I also had to learn to be ready when imagination struck. New blog post ideas can spring up anytime–while driving to work, grocery shopping, talking with other Office 365 practitioners, etc.. I learned to take a few seconds when imagination struck to jot down blog ideas when I had them. I’ve sent myself emails, left myself voice memos, created draft blog posts with a brain dump of ideas, etc. The methodology doesn’t matter–I just need to capture the ideas when I have them.

I’ve also been amazed how quickly (and how slowly) some blog posts come together. My post It’s not about the technology. It’s about the use case was written in 10 minutes after recording REgarding 365 debate #4: Org-wide Microsoft teams. Other posts take an inordinate amount of time and effort. I wrestled with Disruption vs. Value: Keeping your Office 365 Initiative Afloat for 10+ hours before I was happy with the results. While I hate the wrestling process, the outcome is always worth it.

So what am I planning for 2019? I haven’t set a formal goal yet, but want to maintain a frequent pattern of publishing new posts. I love the interaction with readers via Twitter, and have learned to love the writing and review process. Blogging frequently keeps me engaged in learning about Office 365, user adoption, and enterprise governance. It makes me a better employee, a better community contributor, and a better Microsoft MVP.

I’m signing off for 2018 with a summary of my top blog posts (by user views) and my favorite posts of the year. I hope you enjoy them!

Top posts (based on user views):

My favorite posts of 2018:

Participating on episode 21 of Microsoft’s The Intrazone podcast!

I was recently asked to serve on a panel for episode 21 of The Intrazone, Microsoft’s bi-weekly conversation and interview podcast about SharePoint usage and adoption. Hosts Chris McNulty and Mark Kashman recorded the show live at SharePoint Fest Chicago.

The topic for our panel discussion was 2019 predictions for SharePoint. I was asked to represent the user adoption and enterprise governance point of view. Wes Preston outlined his predictions about PowerApps growth, Drew Madelung shared thoughts on OneDrive, and Treb Gatte discussed data visualizations and Power BI.

So what are my top predictions for SharePoint in 2019? Check them out:

  1. User adoption challenges will grow. As organizations realize their users are not homogenous and the traditional methods (e.g. company-wide rollout email communications, “train the trainer” education strategies, instructor-led training classes that focuses on features and not business outcomes) are ineffective, there will be a stronger focus on effective adoption models.
  2. SharePoint hub sites will require enterprise-level governance. Hub sites enable us to bring families of SharePoint sites together with common branding, search, news, and navigation. But hub sites are limited (only 100 hubs allowed per tenant) and site owners may be unsure when and where to use hub sites effectively. I predict many companies will dive headlong into hub sites and later realize that more effective governance of hubs is critical. I recommend creating a hub site governance policy and seeding your organization with strong hub site success stories/examples.

For more on our SharePoint 2019 predictions, check out episode 21 of The Intrazone. And for more on the episode, read Mark Kashman’s blog post.

Thanks to Mark Kashman, Chris McNulty, and their Intrazone team for inviting me to participate. It was a pleasure!

The SharePoint Conference is back in 2019!

SPCNA_2019The SharePoint Conference is coming back to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas May 21-23, 2019! This is THE conference event of the year for SharePoint. I’m honored to be asked back to present, and will have 4 new sessions at the conference:

  • Determining when to use SharePoint hub sites
  • Next-gen user adoption: Leveraging hack-a-thons to drive creative Office 365 business solutions
  • Building a diverse tech community (co-presenting with Wes Preston, MVP)
  • Executive presence and personal branding for women in technology

Why you need to attend:
SharePoint Conference is THE place to learn more about SharePoint and related Microsoft 365 technologies like OneDrive, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Microsoft Stream, Outlook, Office applications, PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, etc. You don’t want to miss your opportunity to:

  • Connect with industry gurus, meet with members of the Microsoft product teams, and connect with Microsoft 365 customers from around the world
  • Learn more by attending one of 200+ educational sessions and workshops
  • Engage with Microsoft partners in the conference exhibit hall
  • Learn about Microsoft’s latest innovations and strategic product investments
  • Get answers to your burning Microsoft 365 questions!

Save money on your registration:
The SharePoint Conference will likely sell out, so don’t miss your chance to register. Use discount code HAASE and you’ll save $50 on registration!

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Want more information on my sessions? Abstracts and video introductions for each session are provided below. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the conference. Hope to see you there!

Determining when to use SharePoint hub sites
Hub sites are fundamentally shifting the information architecture for our intranets. And while site owners are excited about the functionality hubs offer, they’re still unsure when and where to use hubs. This session provides practical guidance on use of SharePoint hub sites, including:
– Determining when hubs are needed
– Building organizational strategies for governing hub sites
– Educating your site owners about hub sites

Next-gen user adoption: Leveraging hack-a-thons to drive creative Office 365 business solutions
This session explores the use of hack-a-thons to drive Office 365 user interest, enthusiasm, and innovation. Hack-a-thons are an immersive and inexpensive learning opportunity. Hack-a-thon participants take part in the entire solution design and build process, from envisioning new business solutions to learning how to build capabilities in Office 365. Come learn how to design and facilitate a hack-a-thon event for your organization or user group.

Building a diverse tech community (co-presenting with Wes Preston, MVP)
User communities play a vital role in the success of SharePoint and Office 365. This session explores methods for welcoming diverse community members. Whether you’re building a SharePoint Saturday event or an organizational or regional user group, you need to attract:
– Citizen developers
– Business users
– Traditional IT staff
– Users of different race, gender, age, and technical proficiency

Executive presence and personal branding for women in technology
This fast-paced diversity session focuses on the unique challenges facing female technology leaders. Personal stories and practical tips for building your personal brand and executive presence communication skills will be shared via a series of short TED-style talks and a Q&A panel. Topics covered include:
– Building a strong leadership personal brand
– Scales of dissimilarity: Why women are often judged differently than men
– Leadership presence, mindfulness, and inclusion

 

The Coffee Chat on 365 Adoption (episode 1)

I have exciting news to share! Daniel Glenn and I are ready to unveil the first episode in our new podcast miniseries “The coffee chat on 365 adoption!” The podcast enables us to drink coffee and talk about the challenge of driving Office 365 adoption at the organizational level. We recorded the first podcast episode several weeks ago at SharePoint Fest Chicago.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Why organizations have difficulty achieving strong adoption
  • Common adoption pitfalls and roadblocks
  • The challenge of scaling adoption initiatives (moving beyond one-on-one initiatives to impact a broader group of users in your organization)
  • Why adoption should be treated as an ongoing service instead of a one-time project

Daniel and I will keep the user adoption conversation going as we record several additional coffee chats in the coming months. Each episode will focus on a different Office 365 adoption topic. We’ll share successful strategies we’ve seen for hosting adoption events and provide practical tips for supporting the rollout and adoption of key Office 365 applications.

We hope you enjoy this episode. And don’t miss the outtake photos from the podcast recording!

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Organizational Culture: Take it or leave it, but it’s yours

Close up of men's rowing teamCan organizational culture predict the success or failure of your Office 365 rollout? Absolutely. The positive (or negative) impact of your organization’s culture has a direct influence on the success of your technology initiatives. After all, your culture defines how easy or difficult it is to do almost everything, from onboarding new employees to openly sharing ideas and driving adoption of new technologies.

Your IT department’s reputation and history of engagement with business teams is a key indicator of its cultural tie-in to your organization. An IT department that fosters open dialogue and has high-trust relationships with business teams has a tremendous advantage in deploying Office 365. Conversely, a tarnished set of relationships with IT can make it virtually impossible to drive successful change management efforts. Users that distrust or have an adversarial relationship with IT may be predisposed to view all IT initiatives in a negative light.

Your organizational culture is a living, breathing organism. It is built over time and is reinforced by operating norms, employee interactions, and executive modeling. Every communication decision your executives make and every unwritten social norm your departments have put in place has driven the design, shape, and usability of your culture. Changing (or rewriting) your organizational culture is a monumental effort that requires diligence, time, and a huge influx of positive energy. And ultimately, your employees will decide if the culture shift has a hope of succeeding.

Many factors can negatively impact your company’s culture: well-regarded executives leaving for new opportunities, founders selling the company or retiring, erosion of employee trust, etc.. Ironically, difficult economic times and business turbulence isn’t always a harbinger of negative culture shifts. Positive cultures can exist and thrive in negative business climates if there is trust, transparency, and a sense of company unity.

So what steps can you take to improve your company culture and support your Office 365 rollout? First, evaluate the current state of your organization’s culture. If you’re concerned your employees can’t evaluate your culture objectively, bring in outside consultants to perform a culture assessment. Next, build a vision for where you want to go. Interview employees, executives, and board members to gather their wish list for culture improvements. If you haven’t done so already, try leveraging innovation games to gather creative ideas for cultural improvements.

Once you’ve documented your current and desired future state, it’s time to build your transition plan. The specifics of your plan will be driven by your specific context, but common themes for cultural improvements include:

  • Aligning strategy & communications. Ensure your organizational goals are clearly defined and openly discussed at all levels. Having everyone on the same page and moving towards the same goal brings a sense of unity and common purpose.
  • Tear down the silos. Ensure your business teams are working together effectively and not competing for attention, funding, or recognition. Actively use the word “we” when referring to company initiatives, tasks, and efforts. Inclusive language fosters a collaborative, engaging atmosphere.
  • Be transparent. Employees can sense inauthenticity. Consistent, strong leadership is critical, and transparency and trust will build bridges and inspire cooperative behaviors.
  • Communicate early and often. Talk about what’s going well and what still needs work. Engage in departmental, cross-departmental, and all-employee meetings and engage everyone in the mission to improve your company culture. A unified strategy will help achieve buy-in and drive adoption.

There’s no wrong time to start your cultural transformation. Yes, it would be ideal if all our organizations had a winning culture before we began rolling out Office 365. This is rarely the case, so don’t sweat it if you’re not in a perfect position. Where you’ve been is less important than where you’re going.

SharePoint Fest Chicago 2018

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It’s almost time for SharePoint Fest Chicago 2018! I’m excited to head back to Chicago next week for this year’s conference, where I’ll be presenting a half-day user adoption workshop along with sessions on designing next-gen user adoption events, reeling in overgrown SharePoint implementations, and governing usage of SharePoint hub sites.

SharePoint Fest Chicago is always a great event. There’s a mix of technical how-to sessions on SharePoint and Office 365 along with conceptual sessions on user adoption, governance, business valuation, search, content management, etc. For more information on the great content being offered, check out the conference agendaStill want to register? Use discount code Haase100 and save $100 on your registration.

Abstracts for my conference workshop and sessions are included below. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the event!

business-commerce-container-379964SharePoint/Office 365 User Adoption Master Class

A smooth deployment isn’t enough. Driving effective utilization of SharePoint and Office 365 is more than building effective migration strategies, training users on key features or sending out marketing emails. This master class provides a deep-dive on the components of user adoption. You’ll learn why user adoption programs succeed and fail, gain practical experience designing adoption strategies and learn how to leverage innovation games to build consensus.

During this workshop, you will:

  • Learn the basic foundations of user adoption, including key intrinsic and extrinsic motivators
  • Understand how different types of users in your organization can make (or break) your chances of user adoption success
  • Understand how innovation games can help drive shared understanding, uncover user requirements and drive engagement/enthusiasm
  • Examine real-world user adoption programs and determine how and why they were successful

brandon-green-321795-unsplashThe Peter Pan complex: Determining when a SharePoint site should grow into a hub site

We’ve been waiting for it….and now SharePoint hub sites are here! Hubs enable us to create a shared experience for a group of related SharePoint sites, including: common navigation, unified branding, aggregated news displays, and multi-site search. But how do you determine which sites should be hubs? And how do you manage the fulfillment of hub site requests?

As SharePoint site owners are educated about the capabilities of hub sites, demand for new hubs will increase. This session outlines key business criteria you’ll want to consider as you start leveraging hub sites. You’ll learn:

  • What hub sites are and how hubs can be leveraged
  • How to determine when a hub site is needed (e.g. should every department have a hub site? What are the criteria for leveraging a hub site?)
  • How to build an organizational strategy for usage and governance of hub sites
  • Practical ideas for managing the provisioning of hub sites

rawpixel-315193-unsplashNext-gen user adoption: Leveraging hack-a-thons to drive creative Office 365 engagement

We want our users to leverage Office 365 to drive productivity and collaboration. But how do we engage our users, spark their creativity, and inspire them to build Office 365 solutions that re-imagine work? Hack-a-thons are an immersive and inexpensive way to build enthusiasm and foster learning. Hack-a-thon participants take part in the entire design and build process, from envisioning new business solutions to learning how to build capabilities in Office 365.

This session explores the use of hack-a-thons to drive user interest, enthusiasm, and innovation. You’ll leave with practical tips on how to design and facilitate a hack-a-thon event for your organization or user group.

An old abandoned house overgrown withReclaiming SharePoint: How to reel in an overgrown implementation

SharePoint is organic. File-based SharePoint sites grow exponentially, consuming more and more storage space and making it difficult for users to find what they need. Governance plans designed to steer SharePoint’s utilization tarnish over time, discouraging users from adopting the platform.

This session outlines the reasons why SharePoint environments become overgrown and under-utilized and provides practical guidance on how you can assess your implementation and create a revitalization plan. We’ll also review several real-world SharePoint turnaround stories, highlighting the challenges faced and the methods taken to revive user adoption. Whether you have a “green-field” implementation with no formal governance in place or have a faded governance model that is no longer working, you’ll leave this session with proven techniques for engaging your key constituents and driving change.

Information architecture in a flat SharePoint world

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There’s a tectonic shift taking place in the world of SharePoint information architecture. The deep nested webs of SharePoint 2007 and 2010 site collections are a thing of the past, as is the exhausting task of combatting site urban sprawl. We’re now being told to rest easy and create a multitude of modern SharePoint sites. And these modern SharePoint sites don’t exist in a hierarchy with many sub-sites. Since each modern site is its own site collection, all modern sites exist in a flat architecture. Managing hordes of these modern SharePoint sites is easier than ever, with stronger built-in management capabilities (e.g. retention policies and labels), meatier reporting, and an advanced Office 365 modern admin center. But why is a flat information architecture better? And how do we help our users connect the dots between our multitude of modern SharePoint sites?

Before we examine why flatter is better, I want to ensure we have a common definition of information architecture. I define SharePoint information architecture as the art and science of organizing, storing, and labeling content (e.g. documents, list data, Office 365 groups, SharePoint sites, etc.) to support content findability and usability. Information architecture helps your users find what they need and ensures your content is stored once and not multiple times.

Now let’s review why a flat SharePoint site architecture is advantageous:

  • Flat = modular. Flat SharePoint sites can be assembled in an endless array of logical families (as opposed to a physical hierarchical architecture of nested site collections). These logically-grouped SharePoint sites support quick navigation and contextual flow without requiring sites to move and data to be migrated anytime an information architecture change is required. Microsoft released SharePoint hub sites in March 2018 to help us manage families of SharePoint sites using these logical links. No physical relocation is required for hub sites–sites are linked together and links can be updated quickly and easily.
  • Adapts to ever-changing organization structures. A flat information architecture eliminates the need to migrate sub-sites to new site collections based on departmental reorganization. Re-orgs may require updates to the navigation links between your site collections (or updates to your hub site’s navigation bar), but it will not require a physical migration of your SharePoint site or result in a site URL change.
  • Supports new Office 365 capabilities. Functionality like Office 365 groups are heavily reliant on a modern information architecture. Office 365 groups serve as the security foundations for a wide array of functionality in Planner, Yammer, Exchange, and Microsoft Teams. New Office 365 groups cannot be nested–each exists at the same layer as all other groups. Quite simply, a hierarchical information architecture cannot be used easily alongside Office 365 group-enabled capabilities.
  • Enables sites to operate independently. As I mentioned previously, every SharePoint site in a flat architecture is its own site collection. This enables each site to operate independently, with custom permissions and unique governance settings. There’s no longer a need for all sub-sites in a site collection to be ruled by the governance requirements of one site. Each modern site has independent settings.
  • Shorter site URLs. When you create a nested series of sub-sites in SharePoint, you end up with long URL addresses for your sites. If you have an Information Technology site collection with a child Help Desk site, your URL would look something like this: https://splibrarian.sharepoint.com/sites/Information%20Technology/Help%20Desk/
    If you create these same sites in a flat information architecture, you will have shorter, easier-to-use URLs:
    https://splibrarian.sharepoint.com/sites/Information%20Technology/
    https://splibrarian.sharepoint.com/sites/Help%20Desk/

Mind-mapping our SharePoint sites
This new flat architecture requires us to change the way we conceptualize and present our SharePoint sites. Instead of building pyramid-style site hierarchies, we need to build a logical links and connection points based on subject matter, user base, etc. Tying sites together by department or organizational division is no longer enough. We must account for how users will think about the content stored on our sites and the connections they’ll make as they access SharePoint Online.

A good model for this new conceptual model is mind-mapping. Mind-mapping is the visual representation of thoughts, discussions, and ideas. It connects thoughts and ideas together in a documented, visual map (almost like a cognitive diagram). While many strategists and information architecture practitioners have advocated using mind-maps for years to capture group conversations and decision-making processes, the new flat architecture model for SharePoint now requires us to apply this same mind-map thinking to the logical ties between our multitude of modern sites.

The example mind-map below shows how ideas and data points can be connected to a central ideal/theme in a visual way. If we apply this mind-map idea to connecting our SharePoint sites or hub site families together, we’ll be in a better position to build navigation links and “connect” our flat SharePoint sites together in a usable way.

Example mind-map. Illustration credit: Meagan Haase
Sketchnote

 

Disruption vs. Value: Keeping your Office 365 Initiative Afloat

As Office 365 practitioners, we need to consider the speed with which we roll out app capabilities to our organizations. Yes, some of our advanced users can make use of a wide array of Office 365 apps quickly and with relatively little discomfort. But most of our users are disrupted by the rollout and onboarding process for new technologies. The delicate balance of success hinges on generating enough disruption to change user behavior without alienating the very users we’re trying to engage.

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Disruptions are not always a bad thing. Disruptive ideas and events are often credited with bringing about periods of great change and innovation. Office 365 provides an opportunity for your users to rethink the way they work and drive massive gains in their personal productivity. The intelligent form capabilities of PowerApps, the workflow automation of Microsoft Flow, the connected teams communication vehicles in Microsoft Teams, and the mobile capabilities of OneDrive and OneNote can be leveraged to drive a stronger digital workplace.

But how much disruption is too much? And how do you balance the executive “value” question with the impact of disrupting your users? This blog post examines this delicate balance of value versus disruption.

Note: Before you can evaluate how to roll out Office 365, you need to validate WHY Office 365 is right for your business. After all, technology is secondary. Our business drivers and employee needs come first. For more information, check out my blog post It’s not about the technology. It’s about the use case.

Determining your path
Every organization is unique. While there is a plethora of guidance on how to approach your Office 365 rollout, you should not blindly implement a “one-size-fits-most” strategy. Your approach needs to reflect the culture of your organization. If you work for an innovative think tank that prides itself on offering cutting-edge technology, a slow-and-steady Office 365 rollout is ill-advised. On the opposite end of the spectrum, organizations with a high degree of technical debt and a user base that is averse to change should carefully plan and communicate their Office 365 deployment.

I recommend creating formal personas for each of the key user groups that will leverage Office 365 in your organization. Ideally, these personas should be granular enough to account for each of the different Office 365 applications you roll out. You may have a business user persona, for example, that leverages Microsoft Flow to drive departmental process improvements. You may also have a customer service technician persona that leverages Yammer to respond to user questions and drive reductions in support desk calls.

Each user persona should identify:

  • High-level work objectives
  • Technology pain points the user faces
  • The user’s appetite for adapting to change
  • The speed with which the user adopts new technologies
  • Technology learning preferences
  • Preferred training and communication mediums (e.g. brown bags, video-based learning, self-service knowledge base, etc.)

These user personas should inform your Office 365 rollout strategy and form the basis for your user adoption campaign. The personas can also be used to build adoption targets for each of your Office 365 applications. Adoption targets estimate the rate at which users will leverage your new Office 365 capability. If you have 1,000 Office 365 users, for example, you may target having 10% of your users adopt Microsoft Flow within the first 12 months. Your Microsoft Flow rollout plan should account for driving this user growth, and monthly checks should be performed to measure your adoption efforts against your defined goals.

You must also determine what criteria your executive leadership team will use in determining the success or failure of your Office 365 implementation. Start by assessing the key business drivers for your organization and industry. Are your executives driven by financial metrics like margin, lower operating expenses, and total cost of ownership? Or are they swayed by productivity optimization (e.g. shortened business processes, workforce innovations, etc.)? The goal is to clearly articulate the value Office 365 is providing to your organization. Substantiating these value claims with appropriate supporting evidence (e.g. usage statistics, Office 365 success stories, user testimonials, etc.) is important. Executives are discerning, especially when it comes to business value claims. Your success depends on your ability to thoroughly back up your Office 365 value assessment.

An interesting debate
At Microsoft Ignite 2018, a set of REgarding 365 experts debated whether organizations should turn on all the Office 365 apps at once or take a slower rollout approach. The debate commentary brilliantly summarizes the disruption challenges organizations face. Take a look at these quotes from the debate:

“Not everybody needs everything…think about what you’re doing, what business challenges you’re trying to address” – Loryan Strant

“Experimentation is the lifeblood for innovation…I have to have all the availability of the things I want to use to be able to create solutions. I don’t want to be halfway down a path of a solution and then fall into some type of a trap that I can’t complete the solution based on the fact that I don’t have access to a certain tool” – Liz Sundet

“Are you operational-ready? Are you able to support all of the requests that are going to come at you all at once when you turn everything on?” – Daniel Glenn

“Office 365 is a suite. It’s not really individual products…so you’ve really got to go for it and turn everything on” – Steve Collier

“The company does not have (an) appetite for that which it does not understand” – session attendee

“We were challenged by our boss to get it (Office 365) out in 90 days. So we basically turned everything on, got it all out there, and then realized we have no governance whatsoever in place. And it was a disaster. We have group names, we have 5,000 SharePoint sites that nobody ever uses. And it’s just out of control. That’s one of the problems with turning it on without having the governance. Once you get the governance and all your framework in place, turn it on. Let people innovate. But make sure you’re there before you turn it on” – session attendee

You can watch this session in its entirety at Turn it all on in Office 365 – RE365 Debate (BRK1092).

The bottom line
Office 365 implementations are disruptive, and that’s OK. Success isn’t about avoiding disruption. Success hinges on driving business outcomes that outweigh and outlast user disruption. How much time you have to drive those business outcomes and how much allowance you have for causing disruption is going to be unique to your situation. The key is determining what business value looks like at your organization and building user personas that can help you limit the disruptive force of your rollout.

You also need to ensure your executives understand your approach and expected adoption of Office 365. If you have aligned your Office 365 rollout strategy with your business goals and clearly understand the value your executives want to see from your implementation, you’re on a solid path to success. Misalignment of expectations will fracture and limit the efficacy of your results.

As you roll out Office 365, keep your executives apprised of unexpected delays or changes in your forecasted adoption rates. Any gaps between your executive’s expectations and your project’s realities should be identified and communicated quickly.

SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities: Fall 2018 Edition

SPSTC_logo_smallSharePoint Saturday Twin Cities is coming up fast! Our Fall 2018 event will be held November 17, 2018 at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota. We’ll have 40 sessions from an impressive set of nationally-recognized Office 365 and SharePoint speakers. Sessions will be focused on several tracks, including:

  • Office 365
  • PowerApps & Microsoft Flow
  • Microsoft Office
  • Information Workers
  • Developers
  • IT Pros/Admins

We have 600+ attendees registered so far, but there’s still time (and space) to sign up! Register now. Or check out our website for information on the day’s schedule, sessions, and speakers.

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