A Balanced Approach to Collaboration Planning

In one of my first tech jobs, following a stakeholder meeting with a group of internal customers to discuss the roll-out of several new systems and end-user tools, one of the engineering managers shared some wisdom that has remained (mostly) true: The more user-friendly the front-end of a solution, the more complex the back-end.

Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash

Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash

Thankfully, OEMs and ISVs are proving that the user experience (UX) and administrative controls do not have to be mutually exclusive strategies. You really do need both strategies — and you need to find a balance between them. With all of these new features and an ever-evolving organizational appetite for collaboration, it will become increasingly important to understand what you have, what is available — and adapt quickly.

New options are always exciting, but many teams struggle to develop a collaboration strategy that aligns with their business needs — and they often fail to take into account how different capabilities will impact their organizational standards for security, compliance, and governance. For example, the majority of your organization may collaborate using SharePoint, with IT going to great effort to ensure all of your data is secure, compliant, and well-governed. And then someone in Marketing starts using a web-based project management tool, attaching sensitive company documentation and intellectual property to this untried, untested, unprotected tool.

How do you balance the back-end administrative requirements of your organization with the front-end needs of your employees? Managing SharePoint or any other collaboration platform can be complex, but a healthy back-end ensures a performant and efficient front-end. My advice for customers who are looking for best practices on how to build out a healthy and balanced collaboration platform is fairly straight-forward:

  • Start with a user-centric plan. Every administrative plan should focus first on the needs of the employee. Without them, it doesn’t matter that your system is 100% secure and compliant. From planning through execution and delivery, it’s important to go back to your employees and evaluate any impacts to their experience, using them as a baseline for all decision-making.
  • Clarify and document your system constraints. What are your policies on sharing intellectual property via social or mobile tools? How often are your systems audited and reviewed, and do these audits include scanning all social conversations for sensitive keywords? Before you make future plans, it is important to understand – and document – your system constraints, ensuring that your new collaboration capabilities, while wildly popular with your employees, meets all of your internal (and regulatory) standards.
  • Map out your key workloads, and understand what you’re building before you start building. Employees get excited about new tools, but at the end of the day, we’re still talking about a business platform that needs to deliver business value. Creating a visual diagram of key workflows and business processes is a great way of establishing a baseline around each of your critical workloads, which you can then expand, extend, and improve with social collaboration capabilities. The point here is to think in context of your work activities first, and then discover ways to enhance and improve of them using social tools.
  • Involve your end users early, and often. Hopefully this best practice goes without saying. If you’ve started this planning process as a user-centric activity, it makes sense that you are regularly checking in on the decisions being made with key stakeholders, including your employees. The more you involve the people who will use the platform each day, the more likely you will deliver a platform that meets their needs. Your employees will not only validate your workload assumptions, but they’ll find the loopholes in your administrative strategy and help harden the system against any future intentional breach or unintentional errors.
  • Pilot first, test, and iterate. No successful collaboration platform was ever designed and launched using the “big bang” method — the idea that you can design, build, and deploy and then just push it out there for end users to “experience” all at once. It never ends well. A better strategy is to map out each workload, working with your end users and adding social collaboration capabilities that extend and improve upon each business activity, and then run a series of user acceptance tests (UAT) — both on the front-end user experience, and on the back-end management experience. As you test, you’ll refine both your requirements and your user expectations about how each workload will work in the real world. Some business activities will require multiple pilots, refining as you go, until all key stakeholders sign off on the solution.
  • Refine your operational improvement model. As you test and iterate on each workload, it is equally important to review and iterate on your change management processes, as well. If your change management is transparent and communication is frequent, employees generally understand when there are limitations to a technology, or funding issues that preclude the business from providing everything they’re asking for. But when the problem is bureaucracy, or the inability to respond in a timely manner due to a dysfunctional change process, they are not so understanding. How you manage change is yet another facet of your user-centric planning efforts.
  • Monitor and measure. When you’re ready to deploy your new system, with all of its new social collaboration features, it’s time to create a new baseline around each business workload — and to put in place key performance indicators (KPIs) and the necessary monitoring tools to ensure that you are proactively measuring the performance (and therefore, the business value) of what you have delivered, feeding back what you learn into the operational improvement model. Demonstrate your commitment by listening to your end users, and continually analyze how SharePoint is being utilized — using that learning to continue to iterate on the platform.

Just as there is no single deployment model that will meet every customer scenario, there is no simple answer to how to prioritize the security, compliance, and governance needs of your organization. Every organization will have different standards, and different requirements. As you start to develop your collaboration strategy, make sure that your efforts to get your employees to adopt and engage on the platform are done within the purview of these system constraints. Always begin with solutions that run natively, allowing you to leverage all of the security and administration capabilities of the platform rather than require you to invest in additional monitoring and management tools.

Christian Buckley

Christian is the Brand Alliance Director for AvePoint Inc., and a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He hosts the AvePoint Office 365 Hours (#O365hours) and #P2Pnow series, the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.

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  1. November 1, 2022

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