How do you use Microsoft 365?

A couple of weeks ago, Antonio Maio, Mike Maadarani, and I recorded two live episodes of the M365 Voice while in Las Vegas for the Microsoft 365 Collaboration Conference. We brought in a series of friends and fellow speakers to guest-star, focusing each of the episodes on a single question.

Question 1: What is your opinion of Inbox Zero? Is it achievable or just a load of bunk?

Question 2: Which M365 app do you start your workday in?

Here’s how it worked
Antonio, Mike, and I tackled each question first. Then we brought in fellow speakers one at a time, asking them the question and getting their thoughts.

There are always “teams”

If you’ve watched some of our previous episodes, you know we love to team up and compete to see which podcaster wins. As you listen in on these episodes, let us know if you’re aligned with #TeamMike, #TeamSarah, or #TeamAntonio.

A big THANK YOU to our special guests

These episodes wouldn’t have been possible without David Drever, Heidi Jordan, Drew Madelung, Daniel Glenn, and Pete Simpkins. Thank you for taking the journey with us!

What it means to be a Microsoft MVP

This week Microsoft hosted the 2022 Microsoft MVP Summit. In honor of the event, our Microsoft 365 Voice team discussed our journey to become MVPs.

Unique MVP stories

Antonio Maio, Mike Maadarani, and I had different experiences on our paths to being recognized as MVPs. We share our journeys on this episode, including details on how we got started giving back to the Microsoft 365 community and why we wanted to be MVPs.

It’s all about service – and there are so many paths to take

Being an MVP is all about giving back. Whether your passion and talents lie in public speaking, coordinating events, or answering technical questions, there’s a way for you to engage and share what you know. We highlight many different ways we’ve seen MVPs share their time and talents with others:

  • Speaking at user groups/conferences
  • Blogging
  • Podcasting
  • Hosting virtual or in-person coffee chats
  • Hosting ‘clubhouse’ sessions to answer technical M365 questions
  • Answering questions on the Microsoft tech forums
  • Organizing virtual or local user groups
  • Organizing SharePoint Saturdays or other community-run events
  • Engaging with Microsoft product teams to provide feedback on strategy and features

Finding your path

If you’re interested in becoming a Microsoft MVP, listen in for our ideas on building relationships and tracking your community activities.

Real-world Planner use cases

Several months ago, Antonio Maio, Mike Maadarani and I took a look at Planner in Episode 59 of the Microsoft 365 Voice. Now we’re back in Episode 71 with a more detailed look at how we use Planner for small agile workstreams and projects.

Why we (still) love Planner

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.

You can leverage Planner in your web browser or via Microsoft Teams for easy viewing and task management.

Running daily or weekly project stand-up meetings with Planner

During this episode I highlight how I leverage Planner to facilitate daily or weekly project stand-ups. I share how I limit the number of Planner buckets per project, how I build my task list, and how I leverage the Schedule view in Planner to define task start and due dates. Watch Episode 71 to see the live demo!

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

Join my virtual session – “Building your organizational home site & hubs strategy”

On March 17, 2022 I’ll be presenting a free virtual session for the Tampa Bay Microsoft 365 User Group. I’ll be talking about how the landscape of SharePoint information architecture has changed over the past 5 years, from deep nested site collections to flat modern sites. I’ll also share ideas on how you can use mind-maps to design your information architecture.

We’ll take a detailed look at what home sites and hubs are (from concept to design & organizational planning). You’ll learn how your home site and hubs can work together, how to build and manage home site associations, and how to get started with deploying Viva Connections in your organization.

We’ll close out the session with a hub site governance discussion (how to set up a request/approval process, how to manage your volume of hubs, key governance questions to ask, etc.). If you’re looking for a detailed introduction to SharePoint home sites and hubs, you won’t want to miss it!

Register now

Managing certifications of your Microsoft 365 groups

Governing and securing your Microsoft 365 content can be difficult, particularly when it comes to maintaining and tracking ownership and permissions for your M365 groups, sites, teams, and communities. In Episode 68 of the Microsoft 365 Voice, Mike, Antonio, and I discuss methodologies we’ve seen for certifying M365 groups.

What are certifications?
Certifications are formal attestations (or evidence) that Microsoft 365 groups, SharePoint Online sites, Microsoft Teams, and Yammer communities have been reviewed. Organizations may require certifications for various reasons, including regulatory requirements, audit needs, security protocols, etc.

What do certifications cover?

Certification requirements vary based on an organization’s industry, security needs, and regulatory requirements. As we discuss in this episode, organizations may require M365 re-certifications at specific intervals (annually, semi-annually, etc.). The contents of certifications differ, but often include a review of M365 group permissions, a validation of who owns/manages the groups, etc.

What should organizations consider when implementing a certification process?

You should start with a review of your organization’s security requirements. Certifications can be expensive and time-consuming to conduct, so it’s important to understand why you need to complete certifications and what the outputs of the process should be. Key questions to consider:

  • What evidence should be gathered and stored as part of your certifications?
  • How often do you need to certify your groups?
  • What defines success? Do you need to have 100% of your groups certified during each cycle or will a lesser percentage (e.g. 95% of groups certified) meet the objective?
  • Who will oversee the certification process?
  • How will you facilitate and support the certification reviews?
  • What tool(s) will you use to gather evidence? Will you survey M365 group owners or have them fill out a PowerApps form to “sign off” on their certification?
  • How will you maintain certification records?
  • Will you retain a master list of M365 group owners?
  • Who is responsible for completing M365 group certifications? Will you require a high-level business officer to complete each review or will the person who grants access to your M365 groups be required to complete the certification?

We hope you find this episode helpful as you consider your M365 certification needs.

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

Where to share important corporate documents

In Episode 67 of the Microsoft 365 Voice, we discuss whether OneDrive, Teams, or SharePoint should be used to share key work documents.

This episode was inspired from a listener’s question: We’re just beginning to use Office 365 and have our important documents in OneDrive. We want to share these files with others. Should we jump to Teams or should we use SharePoint?

We approached this question from a variety of angles:

  • How do you manage corporate records? Do you require official records to be stored in SharePoint or Microsoft Teams? And what types of content do you recommend storing (or not storing) in OneDrive?
  • What granularity level do you want to use for sharing? If you share files from OneDrive, you’ll be sharing at the file or folder level. If you share documents via SharePoint or Microsoft Teams, you’ll have a broader set of sharing protocols in place (e.g. for a department or team).
  • How do you manage retention? You can apply multiple retention policies across SharePoint sites. This may present significant benefits in storing files in SharePoint versus OneDrive.
  • What’s the quickest way to share a file with one (or a few) people? We all appreciate how quick and easy it is to attach (aka share) a OneDrive file to a Teams chat.
  • What happens to OneDrive files when you leave an organization? OneDrive files are tied to a specific user. If that user leaves the organization, additional work will be required to maintain those files. And if the user had their OneDrive files shared broadly with other co-workers, that sharing will need to be set up again once the files are moved from the departed employee’s OneDrive.
  • Ensure you don’t lose document versions. If you change the locations where your documents are stored, you need to ensure you’re not losing access to previous document versions. If your employees download OneDrive files to their PC and re-upload the files to Teams or SharePoint, they will lose access to prior file versions.

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

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.