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.

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