Change Management in an Evergreen World

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The only constant in life is change – and if you are a customer of Office 365, then you know all about change, and have likely had to adjust some internal practices to handle the almost constant stream of enhancements, UX tweaks, and adjustments within the platform. My company Beezy has had some lessons in change from working with Office 365 – as have all ISVs in the space – and the new “evergreen” release cadence, sometimes hearing about changes to the platform from our customers when something stops working. Of course, many of those experiences working with O365 and Microsoft in this new world of change has greatly improved. And honestly, during the Collab365 Summit panel discussion on change management, we didn’t even spend much time going down this path. Instead, we talked about internal change management as a customer organization.

I was invited to participate in this discussion by Owen Allen (Microsoft) and Adam Levithan (Metalogix) because of my background running product and operations teams, my experience working with 4 SharePoint ISVs (echoTechnology, Axceler, Metalogix, and now Beezy), and a lengthy writing career on the topic of governance. Rather than recap everything discussed, I encourage you to watch the recording below. But here are some of the ideas we discussed which you should consider within your own change management planning:

  • Keep up with the product roadmap. For those of us using Office 365, there are a number of sites and resources which we should all be using, such as the Office Blogs, the Office 365 Roadmap site, the Office 365 Network on Yammer, User Voice for product feedback, SharePoint-Community.net, and many of the popular MVP and community expert blogs that are out there (many of which you can find through PlanetSharePoint.org)
  • Understand your internal change management model and SLAs. I love the saying “Governance consists of rules to live by, not rules to die by” because it’s a reminder that change management and governance are there to  help us better serve our customer needs, not to limit the usefulness of the platforms we provide. Think of them as tools to help guide end users along the path, not get in the way of their productivity.
  • Balance your system between what users want, and your system/governance constraints. Many organization focus so much on what should be controlled, that they forget about the needs of their end users. As I always say – the more controls you put on a system, the less likely people are to use that system. End users want to get their work done, and they generally want to achieve that goal in the most productive way.
  • Support your internal communities. I’ve always been passionate about building and supporting internal communities, because it’s the way that I best stay informed – and help inform others. Of course, there are all sorts of learning styles, and therefore your support strategy should be multi-faceted. Start a user group, offer in-person and online training, and most importantly – seek out and support your power users, because if they are not supported, you’ll never get the rest of your organization onboard.
  • Open up a dialog. Social collaboration can be very powerful – and you should definitely make it part of your internal culture. Every other day I see another example of someone asking a question within our intranet (which is built on SharePoint) and posing it to the entire company, and people responding quickly. Many of these questions would have traditionally gone to the Help Desk, or would have been routed through email with limited success. Instead, we are tapping into the wisdom of the crowd through social, leveraging the collective knowledge of the team. In this day and age of rapid change, we need more of this kind of internal dialog.

I love this panel format, which allows us to just sit and have a conversation. So much great information comes out of this format – and it often continues after the camera stops. Case in point, Owen and I were out in the hall afterward, talking about the power of social collaboration to help improve/extend the change management dialog within an organization, helping to democratize the conversation, making these things much more transparent and allowing everyone to get involved and share their input and concerns. Owen added:

“I believe that social platforms and communities are a valuable resource to reduce the disruptive effects of change within an organization. These provide a two-way channel for communications between I.T. and employees, as well as a way for end users to share their experiences and share new approaches to sharing benefits, tips and tricks, and workarounds with each other.”

In my experience, having built and run project management organizations and having run governance bodies for a number of different companies and industries, the #1 problem for organizations struggling with change management is a lack of communication. As I stated during the session, I do believe that companies that make social collaboration a priority are better able to handle the higher rate of change that comes from moving to cloud services.

You can watch the entire session via the Collab365 Summit blog, which you can reach by clicking on the image below:

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Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.