Office 365 and Beyond - True Challenges in Project Management

Posted by Oliver Przybylski on 8/3/17 12:15 PM

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The following narrative is not my first Office 365 migration as a Project Manager. Having been involved in an initiative as complex as moving from on-premise Lotus Notes to Office 365 Exchange online, I thought I was ready for any other type of email migration, however complex. I’ll admit I even thought that moving from on-premise Exchange to Office 365 would be a breeze. But technology is not that straightforward, because it is always dependent on user and stakeholder needs. I knew that, but I got a stern reminder in this recent project.

Office 365 is a suite of products. Most companies make the move to stop managing in-house Exchange and transition to a subscription-based model which is budget friendly. But it also brings a plethora of applications and features, Skype for Business and OneDrive for Business being the most sought after to some lesser known like Yammer, Sway, Teams or Planner.

When Lewis Fowler assigned me to a project in a local government agency, the scope encompassed implementing almost the entire Office 365 suite with an Exchange migration, the Office 2016 suite deployment with Windows 10 and the rollout of OneDrive and Skype for Business. Additionally, if a user need would justify it, we could also introduce other features from the growing list of Office 365 apps.

Seemed straightforward at first, but it sure came with a lot of difficulties…

It’s not only about the technical challenges…

Of course, there are going to be technical challenges. Most of which can be overcome with a sound technical solution, sometimes with a policy or process change. They can be easily identified with good technical resources with knowledge of the existing environment and the target solution. My recommendation is really to build your project team with excellent technical resources that are Subject Matter Experts (SME). Oftentimes you will need external consulting with a Microsoft-certified expert because the Office 365 world is a constantly moving target and you need someone on top of it. But again, these challenges are not the most difficult to deal with.

…Or about the policies and compliance…

This organization, being a local government, is regulated by a lot of policies – HIPAA, PII, Patriot Act to name a few – and must define security rules, data classification rules (record versus non-record) and retention rules. Then they must implement these rules. This would be true for many private sector companies as well.

When migrating to Office 365 you will probably have a requirement to match these rules and policies and it is sometimes not as straightforward as you would think. It is however the best time to fully review them and determine the best way to implement them in the Office 365 environment. Having data retention and protection for email is great, but what happens when you introduce Skype or OneDrive? Suddenly, users have new ways of collaborating and sharing information but you need control over how they do it or you will have issues during your next security and compliance audit. My recommendation here is to have policy conversations with the company’s Legal counsel, executive management and the end users to (re)define the rules, processes and technical aspect of these policies in the Office 365 world.

Which brings me to my last point.

…It’s about the people!

What a surprising twist!

At the end of the day your projects should always be driven by the end-users and the stakeholders: What do they want? Why do they want it? When do they want it? And how do they need it delivered?

This is by far the most complex and overlooked part of any project, let alone an Office 365 project.

As I started this project there was some involvement with the end-users but not nearly as much as I needed and even now it is not up to the level I’d like it to be. Because each organization is different, getting end-user buy-in and stakeholder support can be one of the hardest puzzles to solve, especially in a project that impacts every single one of them. You will encounter different priorities, different needs, different timelines and yet they are all part of the same organization and you must deliver this solution to them in a manner that will accommodate everyone.

There is no magic recipe, but here are a few tips I have used:

  • Gather information: The use of surveys is a great way to gather user inputs: how they do their daily work, what do they need to do it, etc.… It will give you some fantastic insights as to what is important to them. Don’t overuse and keep them short though!
  • Build a user community: Often called “Champions”, they are representatives of your organization and you must involve them regularly in the project. Whether for decision making, for policy creation, for testing or for training, they are your best resources to move your agenda forward. By giving them these “powers” you are making sure that the final delivery will match what the end-users want.
  • Manage upward: Go talk to the heads of the departments. You will need them at some point for decision making and for enforcing new rules and processes, so get them on your side and communicate with them about the project.
  • Communicate: Send emails. Write blogs on the intranet. Pin posters in the break rooms, the corridors and the HR board. Give away some swag. The idea is to generate some buzz around the project so that end-users have it on their radars and get excited for it.

These tips are valid for any project, not only Office 365.

But in a project with the core goal of providing better communication and collaboration tools, it would be tragically ironic not to strongly use them.

Don’t lose sight of the finish line

At Lewis Fowler, we strive to deliver excellence to our customers. In the “Project and Portfolio Management” practice where I am currently assigned it could not be more true. I work to deliver this Office 365 project for my customer and it must be delivered successfully.

Like every other project manager in the field, I must account for the technical challenges, the specificities of their internal rules and policies but above everything is the end goal, the finish line otherwise known as “success criteria”, and that is end-user satisfaction. And to reach that level of expectation I have no choice but to make it about the people.

This project reminded me of this critical concept and I know it will stick with me for a long time.

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Topics: Project Management