Change Management and SharePoint Online

There is no doubt that SharePoint Online is a powerful productivity platform. Organizations are moving to the cloud to provide users with secure and user-friendly intranet. The cloud creates a more scalable, compliant, and reliable environment. From a cost and maintenance perspective, SharePoint Online can turn unpredictable capital expenditures into predictable operating expenses because the time previously designated to managing hardware, patching, and performing upgrades are now absorbed by Microsoft. This allows organizations to focus on business process improvements and better End User experience.

In order to maximize the benefits of moving SharePoint Online, organizations need to develop a strategy that is not just about deployment and migration, but also focuses on End User adoption. Including Change Management in your SharePoint project plan will enable consistent communication of the goals and objectives in movement to the Cloud.

There are two aspects of Change Management when it comes to SharePoint Online – one is focused on changes Microsoft implements in SharePoint Online and the impact on your SharePoint Online environment, the other centers around the impact on users for any deployment or feature.


Managing Microsoft Changes in SharePoint Online
Microsoft uses the Message Center to communicate changes to a SharePoint Online tenant, however they have had a history of rolling out without notification.

Microsoft typically rolls out new features to Targeted Release customers first. These are customers who have specifically opted to receive new features early. It enables organizations to get a head start on seeing new features in action so that they can prepare for End User rollout. Typically, customers have a separate SharePoint Online tenant that is designated as Targeted Release that is used for testing purposes.

The Microsoft roadmap provides some details on changes to the environment; however, the roadmap does not provide concrete details or dates when items will be launched. It is best to subscribe to the Office 365 roadmap watcher RSS feed or follow some of the SharePoint MVP blogs to keep a pulse on upcoming changes.


Managing the Impact of Changes on Users
Implementing Change Management is key to driving End User adoption of SharePoint Online, since it provides a community experience for Users to collaborate, network, and easily find content. However, just creating a simple portal or a few team sites is not the answer. Organizations need to think about the behavior changes when setting proper expectations for users. This type of change management needs to start from the top of the organization and move down. It should also be measurable to identify bottlenecks and to celebrate success.


Four Phases of Change Management
The Change Management implementation of SharePoint Online can be broken down into four phases:
1. Planning and Champions
2. Communicating Change
3. Training Curriculum
4. Readiness and Adoption


1. Planning and Champions
Buy-in from a group of Champions is critical to the success of any SharePoint Online deployment. This group needs to embrace the change and communicate the value and benefit to the End User community. Focus should be placed on tasks that achieve goals of the features. These goals will also need to include the expected behavior in SharePoint Online. Communication from top stakeholders regarding what is expected of users is critical. Lastly, defining success criteria that is measurable will allow champions to broadcast success, which will enforce positive behavior and increase adoption.

The champion’s role is to drive messages and actively communicate the value and benefit of SharePoint Online throughout the entire rollout. Champions include key stakeholders who have the greatest influence on the organization’s culture. Stakeholders are high level employees who participate in the training, consumption, and adoption of SharePoint Online. These people are responsible for the success of user adoption and consumption plans based on pre-defined measurable goals.

Business Unit/Departmental/Power User Champions are the “go to” people for questions, answers, and helpful tips. These people are the enthusiastic supporters of the project who can quickly grasp the benefits and value propositions.

Define Measurable and Attainable Goals
Prior to rolling out SharePoint Online, compelling core driver use cases need to be developed, which set the tone for the change management initiatives and inspire adoption. These goals should articulate the benefits, identify the pain points that might impact success, and define the success factors. Success factors should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Measuring success will help quantify the time saved in resources and time.


2. Communicating Change
Develop awareness of the change by creating positive and time-sensitive messaging that communicates the goals and expectations. It is important to identify the benefits of the change to the organization and to the individual users. This will help reduce the ambiguity and frustration and hopefully will minimize the end-user learning curve. The goal is to inform, involve, and inspire users.


3. Training Curriculum
Training curriculum needs to accommodate different learning styles, geographic locations, and audiences. Understanding the role of the user in the organization, how often they perform tasks for their role, where they perform the role (virtual employee, desktop), when they perform the role, and how the change affects their day to day activities is vitally important. The training should include the “why”, the “how”, and the “what’s in it for me” components of the change.


4. Readiness and Adoption
Validating readiness and adoption is about reporting back on the success metrics, refining policies and procedures, and continually measuring usage and adoption of SharePoint Online. Monitoring the process and adjusting based on End User feedback will help you assess if the End User community is using SharePoint Online based on the goals laid out by the teams.


SharePoint Online – Evolution vs. Revolution?
The movement to SharePoint Online is a journey with many twists and turns. The role of Change Management in this process is to continually get a pulse on the End User community and communicate changes so that users can embrace the change more effectively.

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