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PHOTO: John Henderson

Microsoft 365 continues to gain momentum around the globe. It’s clearly the option that many businesses will pursue, but there are challenges to overcome in order to make the most of the platform.

A number of “widely known secrets” have become apparent about Microsoft 365, including:

  • It’s powerful but tremendously complex, with far too much functionality for normal people to understand.
  • It’s changing faster than anyone can keep up with, regardless of whether you’re an expert, an IT pro or a business user.
  • Business value doesn’t come in an all-staff rollout, because it’s impossible to train every employee to use all of Microsoft 365’s many tools.

While businesses should jump in with both feet, they need to have a concrete, business-oriented approach to adopting Microsoft 365 and getting value out of it. I would like to offer a new methodology that takes a strategic view of how to tackle the opportunities (and challenges) of Microsoft 365, which includes Office 365, Windows 10 and enterprise mobility and security features.

Avoid Common Microsoft 365 Traps

Unfortunately, we’re already seeing organizations struggle with Microsoft 365 in several common ways, including these:

  • Getting the technical work done to the point of deploying the platform and then “launching and leaving,” providing no support for staff and no resources for change management.
  • Getting caught up in poorly-constructed pilots that don’t help to advance wider usage and value.
  • Only focusing on “adoption” at a very granular level — an approach that requires huge amounts of effort but doesn’t necessarily deliver business value.
  • Taking tactical approaches to Microsoft 365 that are driven by narrow concerns, such as addressing “shadow IT” without a broader strategy in place.

The net result is that organizations are finding themselves six or even 12 months into Microsoft 365 deployments without a clear overall approach, and with few concrete business benefits.

Related Article: Microsoft Combines Office and Windows for the 'New Culture of Work'

A Business-First Methodology

I’ve been shepherding organizations on their journeys to great intranets and robust digital workplaces for more than 20 years. Drawing on my experiences, I would like to put forward the following practical methodology, which can be used by business and/or IT teams:

microsoft 365

This methodology works as follows:

  1. Understand the business context, using field research and stakeholder engagement to uncover opportunities and needs.
  2. Describe the desired digital employee experience (DEX), painting a future-oriented vision of future working practices.
  3. Determine a digital workplace strategy that outlines “how to get there from here” in terms of actions and priorities.
  4. Establish the technology platform, conducting the behind-the-scenes work to bring Microsoft 365 into the business.
  5. Launch Microsoft 365 capabilities in waves — both people- and technology-focused waves that target adoption and use.
  6. Conduct strategic projects to deliver new business products or to update existing business solutions.
  7. Progressively establish governance, putting shape around ownership and management to ensure a sustainable outcome.

It’s true that many organizations are already taking or considering steps like those, so what makes this approach different?

Related Article: Office 365: Applying Inner Loop – Outer Loop Thinking to Ownership

Driving From the Top Down

A lot of effort and money will be devoted to Microsoft 365 by organizations of all shapes and sizes, but the basic question remains: Why?

The answer might be that you want to move infrastructure to the cloud — migrate to Exchange Online, for example. Or the answer might be that employees are using “shadow IT” systems, so the corporate IT department better deploy new tools quickly or risk being left in the dust. The answer might even be that there is a need for the staff to work more closely together, and therefore you need to give them new collaboration tools.

Those answers are too narrow! They are focused on tactical needs that — while valid — don’t give a clear picture of the business drivers.

The business-first methodology I’m outlining starts by using a deep understanding of the business context to establish a powerful and engaging vision and the strategy for delivering it. In the process, senior leaders all the way up to the executives in the C-suite are engaged and brought on board.

This positions the “why” in business terms and provides the basis for the business case(s) required to sufficiently fund a successful deployment of Microsoft 365.

Related Article: Microsoft Is Sending Collaboration Loopy

Delivering in Waves and Strategic Projects

The use of Microsoft 365 will be a lifetime endeavor for organizations, beyond just a single “launch” or “deployment.” But it must also have some structure beyond ad hoc training or organic use.

This is where the business-first methodology’s recommendation that Microsoft 365 should be rolled out in waves (a topic I explored in an earlier CMSWire piece) comes into play. 

These might be “people waves” that target a specific department or team, such as front-line workers. By focusing on a single group’s needs, you can take a more holistic approach to fostering and supporting successful use of Microsoft 365 for a clear business purpose.

The waves could also be “technology waves,” in which you introduce just specific capabilities, such as team collaboration tools or enhanced agile development practices. Technology waves also package the required communication and change management components alongside the technology components.

In addition to rolling out Microsoft 365 in waves, you will still need to engage in strategic projects. These are likely to be the types of projects we’re all familiar with, such as an intranet redevelopment, a wholesale migration of collaboration spaces, document and records management initiatives, or business solution development.

The business-first methodology puts projects like those inside the frame of broader vision and strategy, which helps to align multiple or parallel projects. It also underpins the establishment of meaningful governance (which is a topic for a future article).

Lead With the Business Need, Deliver a Solution That Works

The world of Microsoft 365 is moving fast, and organizations are racing to keep up. More than just running a series of tactical projects, companies need to take a strategic approach.

I put forward this business-first approach to Microsoft 365 deployment as a way of pulling all the pieces together, to ensure that organizations get the most out of their technology investments. In the coming years, my consulting firm will be using this approach with clients, and I’d love to hear what strategic approaches you’re taking to the big beast known as Microsoft 365.