my world of work and user experiences

September 30, 2021

IT governance and user adoption need each other

Filed under: Adoption,Governance — frederique @ 21:24

I have said it before: it is not enough to set up an IT solution. You will just end up with a solution that nobody uses and that soon is no longer useful anyway. But then again it is not enough to only organise its governance. Or to only stimulate its user adoption. The IT solution needs both of them. And governance and user adoption also need each other.

The users need to adopt the IT solution for it to be useful

If the users do not adopt it, why did you spend time and money to create and roll it out? For a museum? You will never achieve your business goals if the users do not embrace the solution and use it.

If your project only had technical goals, like migrating from an obsolete platform or updating it, before its end of life: if nobody uses the new version and you are fine with that, why didn’t you just unplug the old one? No need to replace or upgrade it it. And yes, I do see projects where only technical goals are stated, like the migration or update of an obsolete version of SharePoint, for example. And then I also ask what’s in it for the users, would-be users or should-be users.

So you need to be clear on what’s in it for the users and help them adopt the solution to achieve those goals. In other words: you need an adoption plan and you need to implement it.

Governance needs to be in place for the IT solution to stay useful

If there is no governance on the solution, it may soon be obsolete when the environment evolves, the users get swamped in obsolete stuff that is not curated and cannot find the stuff that has become relevant. Security issues appear, as the recent users don’t have the right permissions and old users have permission that they should no longer have. I already talked about this is a previous post, the snags we hit if you don’t have governance in your Microsoft 365 environment.

So you need to determine what the governance should be, so that the organisation and the users can keep achieving the goals you were aiming for. In other words, you need a governance plan and you need to implement it.

Governance also needs user adoption

Even if you have a brilliant governance plan, it won’t help you if the users do not adopt that governance along with the solution. If they haven’t adopted that governance, they won’t know what to do to, and what rules and guidelines to follow. For example, they need to know if and how the can get a Teams environment, if and how they can get access, if and how their document will be archived or deleted.

Of course some of the governance is completely invisible to the end-users. For example, if everyone has the same license, the end-users don’t have to know how you manage those licenses, as long as it all just works. No adoption needed there.

So you need to include the solution’s governance in your adoption plan for the solution. For example, on help pages and in training, teach how users can request a Teams environment, what are the rules, how owners can give colleagues access.

And user adoption needs governance

Even if you have a brilliant adoption plan and made sure that, at the start, all users embrace the solution enthusiastically, it won’t help you in the long run if you haven’t arranged governance for your adoption plan and materials too. For example: when Microsoft adds a new app to the Microsoft 365 toolkit, how do we make sure that users adopt that one as well?. If it turns out that users are having trouble with a particular aspect, how do you solve it?

So you also need to include the solution’s adoption in the governance plan for the solution. For example who will Introduce new apps, explain what’s in it for them, and update the adoption materials to include this new addition? How do you identify gaps in the user adoption and fill them in?

If you fit all of these pieces into the puzzle, you will get a solid and future-proof solution that meets the organisation’s and the users’ goals and keeps meeting them. And that’s what we want.

August 31, 2021

Hybrid discussions

Filed under: New world of work — frederique @ 22:36

We have been working from home for over a year, but soon we will go back to the office. At least, some of us, some of the time. So we will work in a hybrid world: partly online and partly on-site. This is particularly challenging when it comes to meetings. We have been doing meetings in real life meeting rooms for ages. Online meetings using tools like Microsoft Teams are quite straightforward, although they can be tiring and restrictive. But hybrid meetings with a mix of online and on-site participants are even more tricky.

Don’t forget about the few online participants

Back in the days before the pandemic, I often joined meetings online: I just happened to be working at my clients’ offices rather than our own office most of my time. And not always the same client office as the others in the meeting. That usually worked well when at least half of the participants were online and everyone was geared towards a meeting that was at the very least partially online.

But I have also attended meetings where most of the participants were together on-site in a meeting room, and I was one of the few online participants. One of the unhappy few. In those meetings the online option was clearly an afterthought. Often the onliners could not hear or see properly what was happening. And in some cases they even forgot to connect to the online meeting, or the presenter turned out to have a laptop that could not be connected and nobody bothered to even tell the online participants that we had been left behind. Very very frustrating.

For those meetings, my experience actually improved when we were all locked down and the entire meeting moved online. It is much easier to be inclusive when everyone is online, instead of only an invisible minority.

So if you want to do hybrid meetings in which some participants are online while many others are together in a meeting room on-site, make sure that you pay serious attention to the onliners. Make sure that:

  • The online participants can see and hear what is happening: what is being presented, the discussion and interaction in the meeting room, who is talking in the meeting room, the handwaving, drawing, object demonstrations anything relevant in the meeting room
  • The online participants can be seen and be heard when they want to contribute. In such a way that everyone in the meeting room can see and hear it, not just the presenter on her laptop.
  • The online participants get a chance to ask their questions and make their contributions. Have a moderator keep an eye on the online meeting, to see what happens in the chat, if anyone has raised their hand etc.

If you cannot do that, you either have everyone join online or make it very clear that this is an on-site meeting where you can only join online as a last resort workaround without any guarantees. And in that case, plan the meeting to allow everyone to actually travel to the meeting location.

Get audio and video devices that allow for hybrid meetings

Part of the problem with hybrid meetings is caused by the devices we use, especially at the end of the meeting room. You need to be able to actually pick up and display the audio and video of the people talking online and on-site.

  • Ask the online participants to turn on their camera and use a headset or speaker phone.
  • Get an audio device in the meeting room that not only picks up the presenter but also the others in the room, who will probably ask questions and make contributions. So not a microphone pinned to the presenters jacket, but something in the room itself.
    To me, catching the audio from the rest of the meeting room is key. We usually were watching a shared screen with a demo or something and we wanted to discuss that. When the presenter was talking, we usually could hear. But then we got silence or some very faint murmurings when the rest of the people in the room were talking, so we missed that entire interaction.
  • Preferably also get a video device in the meeting room that not only picks up the speaker, but also the others in the room. It does enhance the communication if you can also see the people talking: it makes it easier to follow the discussion, less tiring and more “human”.

These devices do exist, with software to make it work in meeting rooms. Years ago we already used a RoundTable device we put in the middle of the table to hear the on-site half of the department in our knowledge sharing sessions, while the other half of the department was online. Now there are many more option. I don’t know much about that hardware, but Microsoft is rather emphatic about their support of hybrid meetings with Teams Rooms.

Get a hybrid version of a whiteboard

In real-life meetings, we used a flip-over or brown paper and sticky notes to jot down ideas and answers that we came up with in the meeting. When we all moved online, we could no longer use those. If part of the meeting is back on-site, those participants may be tempted to get back to the physical flip-over, but the online participants cannot see that.

So your best bet is to use a digital whiteboard for the hybrid meeting. Microsoft is improving their Whiteboard: designed to hybrid work. I haven’t been able to play with it yet, but it seems promising. Some of my colleagues have used and enjoyed Miro. I was fortunate enough to get away with a very low-tech workaround of a whiteboard in my meetings: just jot down the contributions from the meeting participants in the PowerPoint presentation we were discussing, live on my shared screen…

Learn how the new hybrid meetings work

People won’t just “automagically” know how to conduct hybrid meeting properly. So you’ll need to not only invest in tools in the meeting rooms to support hybrid meetings, but also have foolproof instructions on how to use them and share the rules of engagement.

Today I participated in a hybrid meeting – I was in an office for a change. That meeting started late, because we could not get the spiffy new screens to connect wirelessly to my colleagues laptop. And yes, we should have set that up and tested it before that meeting. Fortunately it was an informal one, so we could chalk it up to learning experience…

When we all were locked down overnight and had to work from home, we were scrambling to get tools like Microsoft Teams to work for us and get the microphones we all suddenly needed. Let’s see if we can be better prepared for our transition to the hybrid world of work, and have the discussion about our hybrid discussions.

July 31, 2021

What about the firstline workers?

Filed under: Digital Workplace,Microsoft 365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:40

These days, we are all doing our best to provide employees with a great digital workplace, so that they can work from anywhere. This has been particularly important during the pandemic, when many of us worked from home. But of course this is only true for the knowledge workers or office employees. Firstline workers or frontline workers do real life jobs, which they cannot do from home. And they hardly get any attention when it comes to the digital transformation.

What do we mean by firstline workers

I am not trying to give a watertight definition of firstline workers, or frontline workers as they are also called. But basically, they are the people who in many organizations do the real work, in the real world. As opposed to the people who work on a computer all day.

Microsoft says: “Frontline workers are employees whose primary function is to work directly with customers or the general public providing services, support, and selling products, or employees directly involved in the manufacturing and distribution of products or services.”

So firstline workers are, for example:

  • In retail, the cashiers and people on the shop floor, whose job it is to help the customers.
  • In hospitals, the nurses who spend most of their days taking care of patients.
  • In a construction company, the carpenters and other people who actually construct the houses.
  • In maintenance organizations, the mechanics who go out and fix machines.

As opposed to the people who mostly work on a computer:

  • Staff in HR, Finance and of course IT who support the business
  • People like managers, project leaders, planners, calculators, coordinators who need to make sure that they firstline workers can do their job helping customers or patients in the real world, or building and maintaining real world things.

Ok, of course in other organizations – like the consultancy company where I work – just about everybody is an office worker. We all work on a computer most of the day. Many of us work with our clients a lot, but as far as I am concerned that does not make use firstline workers. Why do I say that? Because it would confuse the issue.

Why am I talking about the firstline workers now

In domains like retail, manufacturing and construction, about 70-80% of the employees are ‘real life’ firstline workers. And about 70-90% of the digital transformation efforts focus on the few office workers. The firstline workers are left out.

Of course, if your main tool is for instance a hammer, rather than a computer, a digital transformation would impact you less. But if you are passed over entirely, you will miss out. For example:

  • You may miss essential communication and be left out of the loop when the office workers are engaged.
  • You may not get staff support quickly and easily.
  • You may not have the right and up-to-date information at your fingertips, which you need to do your job.

Some lessons I learned

While I was working for a construction and maintenance company, I mostly worked for and interacted with office workers. Of course. But I did talk to some firstline workers and office workers who were the first line behind the firstline workers. So here the firstline workers are not the ones who are in direct contact with the customer, but the people who build the product. Their primary tool is, for example, a hammer. Not a computer, although some had an account and a computer or smartphone.

Here are some things I learned. Of course these also apply to office workers, and there are some very computer savvy hobbyist firstline workers. But nevertheless, you need to introduce new digital offerings even more carefully to your firstline workers.

  • Think carefully what the different groups of firstline workers need
    For example, the carpenters working at the construction site for a new building will get their news in the shed from the bulletin board pinned to the wall and from their foreman, so they may not want a digital news channel. But maintenance engineers who drive all over the country by themselves need to get their news in another way. Some carpenters like to consult the plans on an iPad, because then they can zoom in. But they find it easier to compare plans on paper, because that does not work on the small tablet screen.
    So find out what the firstline workers need and how digital tools could help. If an app can help them, develop it. If the old-school paper & word of mouth solution works best, fine.
  • Don’t offer digital stuff as an added burden. Make it useful for them
    I talked to a carpenter who had a laptop just for his timesheets. He did not want to fill in his timesheets anyway – nobody likes that – and now he got this annoying laptop to make it even worse than it was when he did it on paper. A maintenance engineer was grumbling that he got a new app to administer the work he did for each client. The administration was getting more extensive and complicated and he just wanted to fix the machines he was assigned. Then what’s in it for them?
    So if you give firstline workers digital tools, make sure you are not burdening them with additional administration and complications just to make the lives of others easier. Something needs to be in it for them too.
  • Do not assume that they will understand the digital stuff you offer.
    In that organization, IT decided everybody had to install Office Pro Plus on their computers themselves and activate Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), based on a few instructions. This caused problems for many office workers, but the firstline workers I talked to were completely at a loss. One guy was a great carpenter, but he got stuck when he had to set up MFA and I tried to help him out. First of all, I called him back in the evening, when he could use the computer his wife has for Facetiming with the grandchildren, so that he could see the screen with the settings properly. And then it turned out he did not know his Office 365 password. Oops…
    So if the firstline workers have to do something digital, make sure they get adequate help, as in: help that really helps them and not a document with some complicated instructions.
  • Make the digital stuff as easy as possible
    The firstline workers are outside in the rain at a construction site, in the bowels of some big machine covered in grease, on the shop floor with their hands full. And they want to get on with building the house, fixing the machine or stacking the shelves. Not necessarily optimal circumstances to fiddle with digital tools.  
    So don’t make them install things that can be installed automatically, make apps super user-friendly and optimize them for the devices and network conditions they have at their disposal.

I am glad that we start looking at and talking about the needs of the firstline workers. I am very much a knowledge worker myself – don’t give me a hammer, as I will probably hit my thumb. But talking to firstline workers who got mangled under IT’s rollout of Office 365 made it clear to me that we can’t just ignore their needs. Microsoft has also made this step: see Microsoft 365 for frontline workers. Now let’s see what we can do to make their jobs easier, safer and more pleasant.

June 30, 2021

If you have no governance in your Microsoft 365 environment…

Filed under: Governance — Tags: — frederique @ 23:05

If you have simply switched on Microsoft 365 without arranging for some well-considered governance, things tend to get messy. You could get a major security breach or lose important data. But even if no disaster occurs, you may still get a lot of confusion and unhappy users

Recently I talked about some things you should think about concerning the governance of Microsoft 365. That was inspired by the confusion and unhappiness I see at an organisation where they switched on Microsoft 365 and moved a lot of documents into SharePoint, to rescue them from an old file system that was falling apart.

There had not been time, money or sufficient interest from the business when IT had to take those actions. But then the users had to actually find their information in that new system, and they started to complain. Yes, the system is up and running, but to make it usable, it also needs more governance set up.

Here are 10 snags we hit when we have no proper governance.

1.We don’t know who can decide on the configuration.  

We hear many complaints that the main overview pages in SharePoint are useless. These complainers are perfectly right, because these pages have not been configured in any meaningful way. We want to address that, but we hit a snag: it is unclear who is responsible for these overview pages, so who can decide what should be on them? Just IT? Or people from the business? Some Change Advisory Board? With who in it? Same thing for other elements of the environment.

So you want to be clear on ownership: who should decide and who should you refer to when other users don’t agree.

2.People don’t know how strictly they need to conform and to what.

We have some Site Owners going wild in their sites, while others clamour for more consistency and best practices. It is not necessarily a problem if the department sites are all different and all Site Owners can do their own thing. But if that is how you want to set up (part of) your environment, that has to be clearly explained, so that people know what they can expect. And even then, you may want to put in some restrictions, so that they cannot include anything truly tricky. If you need more uniformity and consistency, what templates and settings do you want? And again: who decides on that?

So be clear about the rules: what templates should people use and what rules should they follow.

3.Important documents are not unique and clearly tagged.

We talked to some users who were getting desperate, because there seemed to be multiple copies of important documents. Which was the right one? Which was the officially published one? And where is it? Some documents are very hard to find, because they lack crucial metadata. For some documents, once they have been found, it is unclear what their status is. Is it a draft? Is it a copy for other purposes? Or is this the official version?

So you need to plan to keep the important data clean & clear. You not only need to explain to the users how important it is that they tag and store their documents properly, and how, but you also need to monitor and curate at least the set of important documentation.

4.Users cannot access information intended for them.

It turns out that important documents are locked up in a department site, while many others also need to consult those documents and are entitled to consult them. Just not permitted in SharePoint.

So you need to determine what kind of information belongs where and who should have access to it. For example, what belongs in a department site (or Team) only accessible to the members of that department, and what should be published to a more general documentation or knowledge site.

5.Users can edit information no longer intended for them.

In several sites, the right people have been given the right permissions. So far so good. But then some of these people got new roles in the organisation and others left. However, nobody changed their permissions in these sites or removed the people who should no longer be included. User management is not a one-off activity…

So you need to make sure access is managed regularly. Usually the Site Owners or Team Owners need to add and remove users to and from the right groups. For that purpose, you need an active Owner, and a deputy if the primary Owner is not available. But not too many Owners, because if everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible…

6.Self-service Team creation led to chaos.

At first, they had self-service Teams creation switched on, like everything had been switched on. That very quickly got out of hand, with all kinds of strange, overlapping and inappropriate Teams being created. So they switched that off. Now they are starting to allow the creation of Teams on request. But it is not clear yet how the Teams should relate to the existing SharePoint sites created from a specific site template.

So you need to determine who can create things like SharePoint sites and Microsoft Teams and how: via a request, based on a template, by adding a Team to a templated SharePoint site?

7.Users cannot get support.

If a user has a question or a request, what should he or she do? Call someone, enter a ticket in some system? The users grumble that they cannot not get any proper help, because the regular helpdesk does not know anything about Microsoft 365 and they do not know who else to contact. Very frustrating.

So you need to set up proper support and make sure that the people providing support are up to the task and stay up-to-speed.

8.The help materials are stranded.

We created and shared some training materials and we started to set up a Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways information portal. But then we had to stop, because it is unclear who is the owner: who decides how we should set up the portal, with information in which language about which elements of Microsoft 365 and with which custom additions about the specifics of the organisation? And who will keep it up-to-date? Could we start something like a ‘tip of the week’ or would it all die out as soon as the consultants left? Providing help materials is not a one-off activity.

So you need to plan how you will keep offering relevant and up-to-date help to your users.

9.We are getting drowned by Microsoft’s changes.

One thing we know for sure: Microsoft 365 keeps evolving, with new apps and improved features. We see that some users start experimenting with new options in ways that turn out to be unsafe. And we see other users get confused because functionality suddenly is different from last week.

So you need to plan how to go with the flow of Microsoft’s changes instead of drowning in them: monitor the changes, determine their impact on your organisation, determine if and how you want to activate and then manage them, communicate about them.  

10.People with good ideas feel like lone voices in the wilderness.

Now that people are starting to use SharePoint and Microsoft 365, some of them have interesting ideas for improvements. But how can they make themselves heard? How can these great suggestions be implemented? When we started to talk to people in the business, we not only got swamped in complaints, but also in ideas. However, I could only take note of them, because it still is unclear who can decide on the environment. This of course brings us back to point 1, that you really need to have clear ownership.

So you need clear ownership and a process for improvements. For example, people can request changes, discuss changes with key users, ask a change advisory board to decide on bigger changes, get budget and set up projects to realise big changes…

Fortunately, in this organisation the users and the business discovered that some governance had to be set up and improvements had to be made to the first set-up of Microsoft 365. Unfortunately, they discovered it by getting stuck in their daily work and then getting frustrated. But at least, they started the ball rolling…

May 31, 2021

Governance in Microsoft 365: what should we think about and why?

Filed under: Governance — Tags: — frederique @ 23:08

So you have Microsoft 365 up and running in your organisation. But have you also thought about its governance? The word Governance often conjures up visions of big, stuffy documents. But the point of governance is not to generate such documents, but to keep your environment up and running smoothly. So you need to ask yourself and answer some questions, as to how you want to do that. This is not a complete checklist, but rather a high-level sketch of the sort of things you should consider.

Your goals

You are rolling out or have rolled out Microsoft 365 for a reason. For example, you want to empower your employees, to collaborate, communicate and share knowledge effectively, efficiently and safely, offering them a smooth and convenient experience. To reach your goals, you not only need to set up your environment properly, but you also need to make sure that it keeps working properly.

So first of all, it it important to be aware of the reasons why you are using Microsoft 365. What are you trying to achieve?

Things keep changing

Things change, so need to keep up-to-speed and keep the environment up-to-date. This is the case for every system, but it is even more pressing for systems that live in the cloud, like Microsoft 365. How do you keep meeting your goals when everything keeps changing?

  • The user population changes: new colleagues arrives, others leave or get different roles.
    • How will you make sure the right people can do the right things, at all times?
    • And how do you deal with externals/guests who are not a member of your organisation?
  • The content changes: People are collaborating and communicating in the environment, that is the whole point. They keep adding, editing and deleting content.
    • How will you make sure that the users don’t get swamped in obsolete old content?
    • How do you strongly protect confidential information, while keeping keep less sensitive content easy to use?
    • And what actually is your confidential information, which “informational crown jewels” do you absolutely need to protect?
  • The application landscape changes: Microsoft adds applications to Microsoft 365 and improves existing applications. All the time.
    • How will you stay up-to-speed with what’s new & what’s hot in Microsoft 365?
    • And how do you determine which standard applications the end-users can use, now and in the near future? What should their default settings be?
    • What are your rules for custom applications?  In particular: who is allowed to create what kind of no-code/low-code solutions using Microsoft’s Power Platform?
  • Insights and needs change: When you started with Microsoft 365, you decided what goals you wanted to achieve and how you had to set up the environment to meet those goals. But once you start using the environment, you may get new insights. And even if you interpreted everything perfectly in the beginning, the actual needs may have changed. An obvious example was the massive need for online collaboration and communication that surged when the pandemic hit.
    • How do you gather feedback on how users like and use the environment, and what they are missing?
    • What’s the procedure for changing the environment? Who decides what to change? And how do you test what it will be like, before you launch it to everyone?
    • How do you make sure that the end-users know about, understand and adopt the evolving applications that are most relevant for them at this time?
    • How do you monitor what’s going on in your environment, so that you can take action when you are moving away from your goals?

These are some things you should consider. And while you are at it, write down what you decided. Not in a stuffy document, but in a Communication Site on the intranet, that users can easily check if they want to know how their environment is governed.

April 30, 2021

Teams Meetings are getting more and more user friendly

Filed under: Microsoft 365,New world of work — Tags: , — frederique @ 15:37

Nowadays, I spend a a large fraction of my week in Teams Meetings. I am meeting online with colleagues, clients and even fellow enthusiasts in non-work seminars. The meetings can be one-on-one, in small groups or in large groups. So I am happy that the tools to conduct such meetings keep improving, even though we all have to live through glitches sometimes.

Recently, Microsoft has added some options to Teams that I like: live reactions, dynamic view and PowerPoint live. Let’s take a look.

Live reactions

Especially in large meetings, with many people, live reactions are a nice way to give feedback in a compact but very visible way.

  • As an attendee, I like the way I can express my admiration, for example, without cluttering up the chat conversation.
  • And as a presenter, I like getting immediate feedback, even though I cannot keep an eye on the details of the chat. Then at least I know that my attendees haven’t all fallen asleep or left to grab some coffee.

Interestingly, the live reaction options only include positive sentiments. There is no button to shout “Boo!” Maybe Microsoft assumes that only great presenters will present in Teams, or that only charitable people attend them…

On the other hand, Microsoft used a different tool than Teams for the recent Ignite conference. There we did have a thumbs down icon for live reactions. Unfortunately, that button was placed right next to the switch for closed captioning. So in the discussion we saw a lot of questions why there were so many thumbs-down, and apologies from people who accidentally pressed that button. So maybe it is safer not to have a thumbs down option in Teams.

Dynamic view

In an online meeting, we often try to keep an eye on several things at once, including:

  • The information that is being presented. In my case, this is usually the desktop I share to show functionality, or a PowerPoint slide deck.
  • The video feed of the presenter. I am by no means a movie star, but I always switch on my webcam when I am presenting, because that makes my presentation more personal and easier to follow for the attendees.
  • Video feeds of other participants. When we attend a big meeting, we usually switch off all video feeds except the presenter’s, to avoid overloading the network and the tool. But in small-scale interactive meetings, seeing each other in the video feeds does make the discussion more lively and clear.
  • The chat, especially if it is not possible for (some of) the attendees to unmute their microphone and contribute directly. This is the case in large meetings, where this would result in a mess, but also in meetings with people that are in a very noisy room or – on the contrary – in a room where they are not allowed to make any noise speaking.

So it is important that all of the relevant elements are combined efficiently within the Teams meeting screen.

The Dynamic View that recently appeared in our tenant does just that, in a clearer and smarter way than before. For example, it displays the video feeds on the right hand side of the screen. Until you open the chat pane in that location, and then the video feeds move to the top of the screen.

The information that I want to share – the PowerPoint presentation or the demo – stays at the center of the stage. When I open the meeting up for discussion, I usually stop sharing, so that the video feeds take center stage and we can see each other more clearly during the discussion.

PowerPoint Live

In some meetings, I do most or all of my presentation with a PowerPoint slide deck. The interface for sharing a PowerPoint presentation in a Teams Meeting has been improved recently as well. It is called PowerPoint Live.

When I explicitly share a PowerPoint presentation in the Teams Meeting, the attendees see the slide I am talking about. But as the presenter, I also see my notes about that slide to the side, and thumbnails of the neighbouring slides at the bottom. And the thumbnails of the video feeds at the top. It is clear to me what is shared (namely: that slide), because it has the same red line around it as my screen has, when I share that.

One thing that does not work yet, in PowerPoint Live: animations to transition between slides and build up the elements on the slides. Sometimes the animations work, but most of the time everything gets dropped on the page all at once. When you backtrack, using the back button, the elements do disappear one by one, but I wanted them to appear one by one when I move forward. Oh well, it will be fixed soon, probably.


So the experience in our online meetings is improving all the time. Partly because we are getting better at them, but also because the tooling is getting better. We haven’t seen all of the improvements announced by Microsoft at Ignite in March yet, but we are seeing more and more of them. Hopefully more if the goodies will arrive soon, from What’s New in Microsoft Teams | Microsoft Ignite 2021.

March 31, 2021

Is it about the new tool?

Filed under: Adoption — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:42

In Microsoft 365 for example, we get new tools and new improvements regularly. Some people immediately get excited and start using them. But when we try to help innocent users to adopt the tools, we sometimes see challenges and obstacles that have nothing to do with the tool as such. So we will not overcome them by fixing the tool, and we need to stay aware of that. Here are some examples I encountered recently, when we organized a series of training sessions to introduce a new tool.

“Why didn’t we hear anything about this sooner?”

The IT department had set up SharePoint, to replace an old document management system that was falling apart. They did try to get buy-in from the main stakeholders in the business, but it was difficult to get any traction. So IT went ahead and implemented the new toolkit, before the old one died…

But most people in the organization did not know what was happening, why it was happening, what it would mean for them, how they would benefit et cetera. And when we started talking to them in the context of the training sessions that had been initiated, we got a lot of disgruntled response along the line of “why didn’t we know about this?”

So it is important to communicate early and often about developments. Not everyone will be interested, but they people who are interested will at least know about it. And then maybe you can get them onboard as key users or champions.

This is not about the tool, but about communication and engagement.

“You can’t ask us to join a training session when you haven’t finished the new environment”

The timing of when you communicate what, and when you train who, is delicate. One the one hand, you have people who want to learn soon what’s new and what’s hot. But on the other hand, you have plenty of people who do not want to be bothered by new stuff until it works perfectly and is completely finished.

The problem with waiting with your training initiatives until everything is finished, is that nowadays we have a continuously evolving environment. It is never finished. And it if you want to switch off the old system, the people have at least to be empowered to actually get their jobs done using the new system.

So it is key that you explain that they can already get serious benefits from the new system, even if it is not “finished”. And that they can really learn something useful in the training that you propose. They won’t learn everything in that session, but they will learn something worth their time.

This is not about the tool, but about encouraging people to be flexible and accept ongoing change. And about showing respect for the value of their time: don’t waste it.

“You did not involve me, so I won’t cooperate”

One of the teams was experiencing issues: they could not find files that were migrated from the old system into SharePoint. So they told IT about their problem and gave some nicely specific examples. Then IT started to investigate the problem and look for a solution: improving the search center, maybe the metadata need to be migrated in a different way. But they did not keep in touch with the team lead who provided the feedback about their progress and how to deal with the fact that some of the issues are .

As a result, when that team was scheduled to get some SharePoint training, they assumed that all of their problems would be addressed and solved in that session. Because otherwise, why invite them for training now? Unfortunately, that was not the case. The team lead did not actually say “you did not involve me, so I won’t cooperate”, but you could almost hear him think it… He wanted to cancel the training and stop everything. Fortunately, when we had a meeting with him and discussed with him what would be best for that team at this time, we determined together that it would be best to do the training session about the aspects that did already work.

So: go for the personal touch. Talk to people. Get them involved at an early stage or at least offer them the opportunity to get involved. Don’t just push a schedule at them. And don’t hide in your tech cave when you investigate someone’s issue, but keep in touch. Personal touch.

This is not about the tool, but about conversations.

“That is not applicable to us at all!”

We proposed training sessions to all teams in a certain business unit. We had created demo scenarios and exercises using examples from the main field that the business unit is working in. So we optimistically asked the team lead from the ‘minority domain’, if it would be ok to use those existing examples for their training too. The explanation would basically be the same after all. But it was absolutely out of the question to use the examples from the other domain! We saw a similar reaction from other departments: “we are different and the stuff that you did with the others does not apply to us”.

So: you do need to make communication and training as specific as you can. The people need see how it applies to their situation, or they will assume it is not applicable for them and stop paying attention. It does take more time to find examples and tips for every team, but it improves the adoption.

This is not about the tool, but about approaching people in their world. It is also about politics, and respecting the sense of ‘self’ of business units and departments that don’t want to be seen as just part of the ‘One Company’.

“Who will answer our questions after this session? I never get answers!”

People will have questions about any system, especially a new one. And they need to be able to get answers to those questions. They need to know who or how to ask their questions, and then there has to be someone who is actually willing and able to answer them. In most organization, this does not just “happen”. And unfortunately, in too many organizations I’ve seen that the follow-up after implementation of a new system is lacking.

So: make sure you have a proper support system in place. For example, key users in the business, and an accessible and competent helpdesk. Plus clear procedures and “buttons” to contact them. You really cannot skip this.

This is not about the tool, but about your support organization.

So yes, the tool should work properly of course. And preferably it should work excellently for the users. But it is not enough to offer a great tool. You really also need the rest.

February 28, 2021

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways: some lessons learned

Filed under: Adoption,Microsoft 365 — frederique @ 23:59

Microsoft 365 offers a lot of applications that can help our users get their jobs done. But in order to take full advantage of the tooling, they need to understand what the possibilities are and how it all works. So we want to provide our users with an information portal, where they can find that out. But Microsoft 365 evolves all the time: new applications are added, existing applications are improved and expanded, new connections are added, tying these applications together. So how do we keep that information up-to-date?

We used to set up information portals and fill them with relevant content, but it is rather time-consuming to keep those up-to-date. It usually came down to one person managing the site. And when that one person leaves the company or gets another role, the information portal starts to fossilize…

Microsoft Learning Pathways helps us to outsource a lot of that work to Microsoft: they update the toolkit, and they update the information about the toolkit. See also Microsoft’s documentation Microsoft 365 learning pathways. I’m setting up Microsoft Learning Pathways for some clients, so let’s take a look at some lessons I learned when I got down it.

1.It is an information portal, rather than Learning Management System

When I started talking about Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways with HR people who are really in the learning business, they had expectations based in the name, that it would be a full Learning Management System, with courses, testing, tracking, certification and everything. It’s not.

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is more like an information portal, where you can find information about the applications and instructions on how to use them. Users consult the portal when they want to learn something.

So it went down a lot better when I called it an information portal. It actually is based on the Communication Site template, so it looks like the other information portals that we had in our environment.

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways home page

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways home page

2.The learning content is hierarchically structured with reusable assets

The content is organised in a structure that is mostly hierarchical, though the actual content can be used in different branches of that topic tree. The high-level structure is fixed, but we can add lower levels ourselves. 

The M365 Learning Pathways structure of Categories, Subcategories and Playlists

The M365 Learning Pathways structure of Categories, Subcategories and Playlists

  1. All of the information offered in Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is organised in three main Categories for the end-usersGet started, Scenarios, ProductsPlus a category Adoption tools that is more geared towards Owners.
    We cannot add our own category.
  2. Within those Categories, we have Subcategories: the different scenarios and different products, like SharePoint.
    We can add our own Subcategories
    This hierarchy is strict: each Subcategory belongs to only one Category. 
  3. Within the Subcategories, we have Playlists. For example: Intro to SharePoint OnlineShare and sync with SharePoint. 
    We can add our own Playlists
    This hierarchy is strict: each Playlist belongs to only one Subcategory. We can create a copy of a Playlist to include it in another Subcategory though. 
  4. Within the Playlists, we have Assets. For example: What is SharePointFind and follow sites and news. The Assets contain the actual content
    We can add our own Assets.
    We can re-use an Asset in as many Playlists as we want.

The M365 Learning Pathways structure: the Playlists contain Assets.

The M365 Learning Pathways structure: the Playlists contain Assets.

3.The M365 Learning Pathways web part displays the content

What makes it the Learning Pathways instead of just a regular Communication site is the Learning Pathways web part that displays the actual learning content to the users.

As a user, you an browse the playlists: click on a playlist to open it and then browse the asset using the Next button or the pulldown menu.
Please note: we’ve experienced that not all users see that they can navigate through the playlist. So we have added a line of instruction at the top of the web part.

Browse the Assets in the Playlist using the Next button or the menu.

Browse the Assets in the Playlist using the Next button or the menu.

As the owner, you configure what you want to display on a particular page: the top level allowing the users to drill down the categories, subcategories and playlists. Or maybe a particular Playlist or even one Asset.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display the top level.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display the top level.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display a particular Playlist.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display a particular Playlist.

4.The Assets are bite-sized pieces of content stored elsewhere 

The Assets with the actual content consist of introductory videos and instruction videos of maximum a few minutes each, plus a short text version of the instructions. Some Assets are text only. By the way, the videos do not all have the same style: some have a voice-over, others do not talk but give their explanation in written text labels.  

Each Asset is a URL in the catalogue. Either in the portal, elsewhere in your Microsoft 365 environment or elsewhere on the internet. The standard content provided by Microsoft all lives on the internet, at 

5.The content gets updated quarterly by Microsoft 

Microsoft updates the content four times a year; they don’t have fixed dates. For example, they will announce a list of content updates next week during Ignite (March 4th 2021) via Driving Adoption – Microsoft Tech CommunitySo the information about new features does not become immediately available in Learning Pathways. We have to wait for the next update. 

When the content is updated, it gets streamed to our Learning Pathways automatically. Not need to pull it in, because the Microsoft’s content lives on their site. 

6.Standard Playlists don’t work for us, so we use custom Playlists 

You can use the standard Microsoft Playlists offers in the catalogue. However, we found that they did not work for us. Usually we want to add something, remove something, change the sort order, change a title. And you cannot change anything in a standard Playlist. 

So we create custom playlists, often starting from a copy of a standard Playlist. In a custom Playlist, you determine the details of the Playlist as a whole, like the title, the summary and the image. Please note: you can select the level and audience, but you cannot add any choices. That is a pity, because most audiences don’t make sense to innocent users. 

A custom Playlist, with some standard Assets and custom Assets.

A custom Playlist, with some standard Assets and custom Assets.

In the custom Playlist, you can search for and add existing Assets.  

Add existing Assets to the custom Playlist: standard Assets and custom Assets.

Add existing Assets to the custom Playlist: standard Assets and custom Assets.

Or you can add your own Assets: add a title and a URL, for example of a page created in the portal. The custom Assets are indicated with the people icon in the Playlist.

A custom Asset: a page created in the same portal.

A custom Asset: a page created in the same portal.

7.Microsoft has more Assets than you can find in the catalog 

I could not find everything I needed in the catalogue. Fortunately, Microsoft has more Assets online, so I did not have to create the content myself. 

So, yes: Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is very helpful. But is not “automagically” providing us a learning portal that meet our needs with one push of the button. We still have to do some manual work. 

January 31, 2021

You can use breakout rooms in Teams Meetings. If you are careful

Filed under: Digital Workplace — Tags: — frederique @ 22:48

By the end of 2020, many of us were looking forward to the new option in Microsoft Teams Meetings, to split a large meeting into smaller breakout rooms. For brainstorming in small groups in online workshops, for deep-diving with subgroups, for doing joint exercises in an online training. We wanted the option and we got it! But we do need to be careful when we use breakout rooms, to avoid breaking our meeting experience. Let us take a look at the seven main steps of organising and managing a Teams Meeting with breakout rooms, and what you should be careful of.

1.Have the key organiser schedule the Teams Meeting

As always, we want to schedule all our Meeting meticulously: early to avoid calendar clashes, with a clear agenda explaining what we will do and why, invite the right people. By the way, you can invite external participants from outside your organisation to join a Teams Meeting with breakout rooms – nice! But we often determine the exact roles of the various presenters and moderators later. Not when you want to include breakout rooms!

Be careful: Only the organiser can set up and manage the breakout rooms, i.e. the person who scheduled the meeting. Being a presenter is not enough to see the breakout rooms option. So think carefully who should schedule the meeting…

I’ve had situation where a high-level manager scheduled the meeting, because that emphasised how important the meeting was. But then that high-level manager would have to create the breakout rooms and be present during the meeting, to assign participants to their rooms. Not good… So make sure that the person who will actually be in charge of the session schedules the session: the main moderator for example.

Be careful: I’m not entirely sure about breakout rooms in Channel Meetings. I like to organise meetings in a Teams Channel, to embed them within a Team that can provide more context. Especially for ongoing meetings for which we also share files and other information, and for big events that require a lot of work before and after the meeting. It looks like you can create breakout rooms in channel meetings at this time, but I have heard that there were problems with it and I haven’t tried this for real lately.

2.Create the rooms beforehand

Of course you’ll want to set up your breakout rooms beforehand, so that you don’t have to worry about that when your participants are requiring your attention after the meeting has started.

You cannot include the breakout rooms when you schedule the meeting. But you can open the Teams Meeting days before the event takes place and create the breakouts rooms early. And rename them, to make sense to your participants. These rooms and their new names stay available when you close the meeting and re-open it.

Be careful: You need to use the Teams app on your computer for this. The breakout rooms option is not available in the Teams Online version yet. Fortunately, I prefer the Windows app version of Teams anyway. But you do need to pay attention as a consultant, that you cannot run a breakout meeting for a client in a browser, while you have Teams conversations with colleagues of your own organisation in the Teams app on your computer.

Be careful: You may give the participants a pop-up to trigger them to enter the meeting early too, if you have already invited the participants. So consider setting up the breakout rooms first, and then invite the participants afterwards. And again: you can only do this, if you scheduled the Teams Meeting in the first place.

Teams-BreakoutRooms-Add and rename-ann

Open the Breakout Rooms from the main Meeting toolbar as the organiser. Add rooms and rename them via the usual ‘…’ ellipsis.

3.Assign participants

So who should participate in which breakout room? When you start setting up the breakout rooms, you can choose whether you want to assign the people automatically or manually to the rooms.

  • You can let Teams decide and assign them automatically to a random room.
  • Or assign the participants manually, to select the right mix of participants for each groups. For example, do you want to respect existing teams or mix them up and have a representative of each team in every breakout room? Mix experienced participants with newbies? Mix enthusiasts with seriously critical people? I usually like to select my groups manually. Ok, maybe that means I am a control freak… 🙂


Choose if you want to assign people automatically or manually to the breakout rooms, when you create the rooms.

Be careful: The choice between automatic or manual assignment to the rooms only appears in the beginning, when you start setting up the breakout rooms. At least, at this time there does not seem to be a way to change it. So think about it before you start creating your rooms. Made a mistake? You can delete the rooms and start again via the ‘…’ ellipsis of the breakout rooms > Recreate rooms.

Be careful: You can only assign participants who are the your Teams Meeting to a breakout room. So you cannot assign them beforehand, from the invitation. If you value the participants input, you can do it together: assign them on your shared screen  – as the organiser, because that is the only one who can assign anyone to a room. If you want to avoid that discussion, ask the organiser to assign the people to their rooms, while the presenter explains what we will do.


Assign selected participants to a selected breakout room.

4.Start the rooms

When you assign people to their breakout rooms, nothing happens yet. But as soon as you start the rooms, the participants move to their assigned room.

Open a specific breakout room or start all of your rooms.

Open a specific breakout room or start all of your rooms.

Be careful: Warn the participants before you open the breakout rooms, because less Teams-savvy users might freak out instead of break out… How do they get into the breakout room and what happens to the original meeting? Will there be a host to help them there or how can they get help? How will they get back? The default setting is that the participants are automatically moved to their rooms in 10 seconds. They get a message to that effect in the blue bar that appears at the top, but they need to understand what is happening before they get confronted by this automated move.

The participant gets a message that the breakout has started and she will be moved in 10 seconds.

The participant gets a message that the breakout has started and she will be moved in 10 seconds.

Be careful: There is a toggle settings to enable and disable the automatic transition of the participants to their breakout rooms. If it is switched off, they themselves will need to click a button to move to their room. I prefer the automatic move, especially in these early days when people are still unfamiliar with this functioanality. People may get left behind… So please check if the setting is correct, before you open the breakout rooms in an important meeting.

Change the settng to automatically move the participants to their rooms, or not.

Change the settng to automatically move the participants to their rooms, or not.

If the participants do not get moved into their rooms automatically, they need to click a button to join.

If the participants do not get moved into their rooms automatically, they need to click a button to join.

5.As the organiser, manage the breakout sessions

As the organiser, you are responsible for keeping the Teams Meeting as a whole, with its breakout rooms, on track. You may want to moderate one particular breakout room, and ask other presenters to moderate other rooms. Or you can leave the participants to it and take charge of their own breakout sessions. Because once everyone is in their breakout room, they have presenter premissions, so they can interact freely.

But from time to time, they may need your help. As the organiser, you can join any breakout room in your Meeting. Click in the ‘…’ ellipsis for that room and then select Join room.

As the organiser, you can join any of the breakout rooms.

As the organiser, you can join any of the breakout rooms.

Be careful: Make sure the participants know how to ask for your help. Asking the question in the chat of their breakout room will work nicely, but only if they remember to @-mention you, so that you are notified.

When the participants need attention in a breakout room, they can draw your attention by @-mentioning you in their chat. You will see it in your Teams.

When the participants need attention in a breakout room, they can draw your attention by @-mentioning you in their chat. You will see it in your Teams.

And as the organiser, you can post announcement to all of the breakout rooms at the same time, from the central settings of your breakout rooms panel: click the ‘…’ ellipsis and then select Make an announcement.

Be careful: You only have room for a single line of text in the announcement, so make it snappy! Don’t start explaining things in announcements, or provide detailed information. Aim for concise, practical reminders like “If you have a question, @-mention me in the chat”. Might be useful if they do know about @-mentioning but they forget to actually do it… Or: “You only have 5 minutes left!”. Because someone needs to keep an eye on the clock. Of course you should also tell everyone how much time they have before they dive into their breakout rooms, but that is just the same as in real-life breakout sessions.

Make an announcement to all breakout rooms. It will appear in their chat as an important message.

Make an announcement to all breakout rooms. It will appear in their chat as an important message.

6.Switch between the main meeting and the breakout rooms

When you enter a breakout room, you open a separate Teams Meeting, which is connected to the main Team Meeting you scheduled. When you open that breakout room meeting, you put your original main meeting On Hold. When you resume the main meeting, you put the breakout on hold for you.

When I joined the breakout called 'Test Room 1', I put the main meeting called 'Breaking out Test' on hold.

When I joined the breakout called ‘Test Room 1’, I put the main meeting called ‘Breaking out Test’ on hold.

Be careful: In the online version of Teams, the meetings are not clearly labelled. In the Teams client, your meetings are clearly labelled with the name of the original meeting. But the participants who join online need to be careful of where they are.

Be careful: Either avoid using the lobby or avoid the option to manually return to the main meeting. You can allow the participants to return from their breakout room back to the main meeting manually. This is not the default settings, but you can select it via the ‘…’ ellipsis of the breakout rooms in general > Rooms settings > Participants can return to the main meeting. But if you allow your participants to return to the main meeting from their breakout rooms, the people who had to be admitted from the lobby when you got started need to be readmitted from the lobby when they return using the Return button. And I have seen examples where the wires got crossed somehow: the external participant was stuck in the lobby and meeting pane of the organiser did not that participant in the lobby, so they had no way to let her in… Fortunately, you don’t have this problem when you don’t allow them to return manually – when you pull them back automatically when you close the breakout rooms, they don’t get stuck in the lobby.

Be careful: Avoid leaving and rejoining the meeting as the organiser. The participants may be able to continue in their breakout rooms after you have left. But when you rejoin and then close the rooms, the participants do not get back automatically. And when you try to reopen the rooms for the next round, the assignments have disappeared. At least, that’s what I experienced recently. So try to make it work by leaving the meeting with the breakouts on hold, while you join another meeting. Or even better: just stick with the meeting you organised for these breakouts and don’t try to multitask…

7.Get everyone back to the main meeting

When you want everyone to come back from their breakout rooms to the main meeting, for example because you want to get started with the next topic, you can close the breakout rooms: just click Close rooms in the breakout panel.

Close all breakout rooms with one button

Close all breakout rooms with one button

When you close the breakout rooms, the participants again get a message in the blue bar at the top: “This room will close in 10 seconds. You will be automatically moved back to the main meeting”. They also see in the chat that the organiser has removed them from the breakout meeting. And yes indeed, they do automatically get back to the main meeting, This even works for external participants joining in the online version of Teams.

The participant of the breakout room gets a message that this room with close in 10 seconds and that she will be moved back to the main meeting.

The participant of the breakout room gets a message that this room with close in 10 seconds and that she will be moved back to the main meeting.

And when you want everyone to move into their breakout rooms again for Round 2, just open the rooms again. This will transfer the participants back to their own breakout rooms, where they will find the chat that they had in the first round. It is like going back to the room where the blackboard is still filled with your scribblings…

So breakout rooms are not fully mature yet in Microsoft Teams. But we can already take advantage of the new functionality. If we are careful.
See also Microsoft’s announcement Breakout rooms generally available today in Microsoft Teams (december 2020) and instructions Use breakout rooms in Teams meetings.

December 31, 2020

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year 2021

Filed under: Digital Workplace — frederique @ 18:25

I wish you all the very best for the new year: happiness, health, conviviality and whatever else you may need. I hope that we all will be able to travel again and meet face to face. And that we can keep the good things we learnt this year.

This year was quite strange, for me and for most of us, I think. Working from home not sporadically but systematically. Being locked down, which is similar to locked up but not quite the same fortunately. Meeting virtually instead of face-to-face.

I feel privileged, most of all because my nearest and dearest are doing fine.
And I have an apartment with sufficient space, peace & quiet and a nice view, so my home office is not bad at all. It complements my digital workspace nicely.
Also, in my consultancy job I can work remotely. Of course, it is better to discuss things face to face, for example in workshops, training sessions, and deep dive conversations. But for me, it is definitely possible to work online.

The funny thing is that when this all started, spring 2020 in my neighbourhood, I was involved in an adoption programme to help end users make the Microsoft 365 toolkit their own. These users all had Microsoft 365 at their disposal, but they were not really using the tools, like Microsoft Teams. In some of the training sessions, participants told me that they were always working together in the same office or at the same constructions site. So why was I going on about remote collaboration?

Well, that certainly changed! All of the sudden, everyone was working remotely. Or at least, everyone who was working primarily on a computer rather than actually laying the bricks at the construction site for example.

From that point onwards, the question no longer was why you would use tools like Microsoft Teams, but how to use them. If I were a cynic, I’d say a global pandemic is the best way to make people adopt the tools for working remotely…

Yes, people still prefer face to face meetings. But I hear quite often that they do see the advantages of, for example, online meetings. For a short meeting, you can save travel time by doing it online. The chat functionality and Yammer do allow you to ask a question without interrupting your colleagues quite a much as a phone call does, or you standing at their desk. When many or even some of us work from home, there are less traffic jams, and the air gets cleaner.

So it is good to know that there are online alternatives to face to face collaboration. Now we hope that we can soon get face to face alternatives to all of this online collaboration…


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

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