Office 365 Phased Release by product is a mistake

Worst Practices: Underutilization by Design!

In my opinion this is the worst Worst Practice. The full list is available here. Here I will discuss why phased release is bad and provide a better approach. The primary objective is to increase efficiency across the organization rapidly using the integrated Office 365 platform. Your inputs are most welcome.

This article is for IT Pros and teams who are involved in migration, deployment and release of Office 365 across their organization.
Please read the related articles to understand the background.
Introducing new concept: Worst Practices
Office 365 Worst Practices – Part 1

What is Phased Release?

Office 365 contains many components. At a bare minimum, we have Office client, Lync, Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint sites and Yammer. When you sign up for Office 365, all the components are fully deployed and integrated at the server level. However, releasing these components to end users usually takes a slow and winding path.

Usually mail (Exchange) is integrated first. Followed by various tools – one by one. Typically each phase lasts for 3 to 6 months, depending upon the size of the organization and the operational complexity. Usually, this process takes anywhere between 1 to 2 years. In many cases , some tools are never released to the end users.

With each “phase” some amount of internal marketing is done to create awareness about the new tool / technology being introduced.  Few training programs may be conducted and some kind of mailers are sent with links to online learning resources.

Why is it the wrong approach?

Many reasons:

  1. From a financial point of view, you are paying for all tools for all users.
    Therefore, if some of these tools are not even known to users for a long period, the Return on Investment is dismal.
  2. The platform is designed to be an integrated system. It is not just a collection of randomly created tools packaged under a brand name.
    Therefore, unless the entire platform is available for business use, the real benefits never accrue at end user level.
    This leads to what I call “Underutilization by Design!”
  3. Users are not eagerly awaiting for various product launches from the IT team. They have a very short attention span, severe resistance to change and unwillingness to come out of their “comfort zone”. Therefore, they may not even notice multiple, time-separated product launch announcements. This way, in spite of having the entire platform at their disposal, they end up using just email (misusing actually!). This defeats the purpose of providing such a powerful and integrated platform.

Why does this happen?

In one word – CONVENIENCE. Whose convenience? Obviously the IT team’s convenience!

I fully understand and appreciate the complexities involved in planning, migration, rollout and concerns about not disturbing the regular business activities. But that still does not justify this phased approach.

To make matters worse, choosing Office 365 is often considered to be just an operational cost reduction exercise. While this is true, it is by no means the PRIMARY purpose of using Office 365.

The primary purpose is to relook at all existing business activities and recast them in the context of the new-found capabilities provided by the platform.

This is almost never done in a planned and comprehensive manner.

In short, IT decides what needs to be released and in what order. This is absolutely wrong. Business needs should decide the rollout plan.

What is the right method?

The right approach is quite simple. You must provide the ENTIRE platform to people.

Not in bits and pieces. And mind you, it should include the not-so-mainstream components like Delve, Groups, Boards and so on.

Is that operationally difficult? It definitely sounds like a complex task. But think again.

Other than Exchange – which requires migration of existing workload, other components are usually fairly new additions. Yes, you may have OCS / Lync / SharePoint on-premise. But usually, that migration / coexistence is not insurmountable.

Once mail flow is established – which should be done for the entire organization, you can then implement the rollout in using a different kind of phased approach.

I do agree that giving all products to all users is impossible. We have to break it down into pieces. But those pieces should not be technology pieces. Those should be groups of people.

In short, release ALL products to people in segments. This segmentation could be by seniority, role, department, location, subsidiary, project specific teams and so on. You choose the segmentation which suits your organizational structure and business imperatives.

The bottom-line is that once a user gets the new platform they get EVERYTHING in it.

Benefits of this approach

  1. Even this approach will require time to release everything to every user. However, each phase will lead to a more appropriate and effective utilization of the platform components – thereby increasing the ROI and efficiency gains.
  2. You can learn from the rollout for the first group of users and then refine and package that approach for remaining groups. That way, the rollout process becomes smoother and more repeatable as we go along.
  3. The amount of marketing, awareness creation, training delivery, change management which needs to be done is also more relevant, more manageable and can be customized to the target audience. For example, the content for PowerView can be different for the finance team in comparison to the procurement team.
  4. During the first phase, you can also enlist common benefits which can cut across roles / locations or seniority. You can then use these as internal case studies to create a more appealing and compelling campaign for the upcoming phases.
    This way, each phase is rolled out in a more customized and predictable manner.
    If users like something, the news spreads. Therefore, further phases will require lesser and lesser change management effort because the original resistance is now converted to excitement. We are changing from PUSH to PULL.
  5. User adoption is best achieved if users convince other users. This is easily possible using the new approach. Savvy, enthusiastic and proactive users from phase 1 can become advocates for the next phase. Put them on stage, give them some appreciation and visibility – they will be more than happy to evangelize specific and tangible benefits of the new platform.

Customizing the approach

What I have mentioned above is more of a thought process change rather than a hard-coded approach. Depending upon the challenges, bottlenecks, politics, partner capability, hardware and network constraints, business priorities and resource availability, you can customize this approach.

For example, if you have a non-Microsoft email and all other components are not available in your environment, it may make sense to at least release Lync, OneDrive, Yammer and Team sites. The mail migration can happen in parallel. As long as authentication is integrated, the order does not really matter.

Another aspect of customization is what to lead the rollout with. Given that we are releasing ALL products to users, we can now CHOOSE the product to highlight first.

Telling them that they are getting 50 GB mailboxes is usually a disaster. Read this article for details: Are you misusing the 50 GB Inbox?

Instead, lead with Yammer if your organization can benefit from the loosely coupled collaboration. Lead with Lync if the business processes require fast decisions and existing red-tape is slowing down this process. Lead with OneDrive if people are confusing themselves with too many copies and versions of the same documents. Leading with Team Site and OneNote combination is another smart move in organizations where work happens across multiple parallel projects.

Related Articles

Office 365 Worst Practices – Part 1
Office 365 Worst Practices – Part 2 – Phased Release: Underutilization by Design! (this article)
Office 365 Worst Practices – Part 3 – Nobody is officially responsible for effective utilization
Office 365 Worst Practices – Part 4 – CXOs don’t understand its benefits

What next

This is a Worst Practice series for Office 365 adoption. I will discuss more worst practices in the upcoming articles.

In the mean time, do post your comments, suggestions and experiences. This will help other readers get a more holistic view.

2 Responses

Queries | Comments | Suggestions | Wish list