This article discusses ways of keeping up to date with Office 365 changes and some suggested actions. The pace of change with Office 365 is phenomenal, this benefits customers immensely with frequent new and improved features but it presents issues with managing all these changes.  End-user impact, documentation, support, configuration, security etc. are all topics that can intersect with this process.



What are the different types of changes in Office 365? Here are some key categories along with a few examples:

  • Strategic changes through acquisitions, such as Sunrise, Wunderlist & Acompli
  • New products or services like Microsoft Teams or Microsoft Forms as well as licencing changes
  • Significant enhancement or refinement like Focused Inbox replacing Clutter
  • Ongoing changes, such as user interface updates to the Office home page, some of which might not even be that noticeable to most people  
  • New requirements including depreciated features like the end of life for OneNote 2016 for Windows, unsupported clients, network or infrastructure changes
  • Bespoke and partial changes that only certain users may see at any one time, Yammer A/B testing, incomplete or selective rollout etc.
  • Apps and clients that are updated regularly, mobile apps, desktop programs as well as the Office client, Office 365 ProPlus
The impact of some of these changes will be different depending on how each customer uses certain features, how they integrate with different systems etc. and won't always be easy to predict. 

This is a checklist of suggested actions for staying on top of Office 365 changes. It’s simplified, as every organisation is different, with different cultures and aptitude for embracing or simply being ready for the evergreen nature of Office 365.  

Don't underestimate the work involved but once the basics are covered, focus more on realizing the benefits that Office 365 provides.

Office 365 Change Management Process

One of the most important things an organization can do is to have dedicated resources for managing change.  There may already be a formalized structure, where Office 365 change management can slot into but don’t skimp on people.  People, staff in other words that will have the time to truly do justice to the complexities of getting the most from Office 365, as well as related technologies like Azure Active Directory, Enterprise Mobility and Microsoft 365.  

Office 365 change management is cross-organization function and needs to be well joined up. From internal communications, training, compliance, IT, champions, there are many different aspects that must come together to succeed.

Office 365 changes are all very well but it requires a process to manage them.  Often it could be a group or function such as change advisory board.  This board would meet regularly to discuss notable events and propose outcomes, also identifying risks and opportunities. Have this process well-established, with clearly defined roles and a structure that supports this function

The Microsoft 365 End User Adoption Guide is a superb resource for adopting Office 365, as well as Microsoft 365 with best practices and recommendations.

1) Minimise surprises

The immediate task is staying ahead of Office 365 changes.  This is a very manageable process but does take some work.  The Message center is the primary resource, it’s personalised to each tenant and provides a constant stream of updates and informational messages.

  • Check the Message center regularly
  • Track Major updates which are significant and impactful changes to an organization, that are communicated at least 30 days in advance when an action is required
  • The Message Center reader role can allow chosen users to monitor changes and view posts in the Message center and share Message center posts with others through email
  • Use the weekly digest emails, which recap recent changes 
  • Triage message center posts, flag the most important or relevant messages that require more attention
  • Make use of other resources such as the Office 365 Weekly Digest Blog Series and monthly Office 365 Update video or transcripts (check the see also section for links and other resources) 
Check the following article for all the options in the Message center and how to make the most of them like the weekly email digest and major updates:

Message center in Office 365

If customers aren't properly making use of the Message center, checking it regularly, triaging, escalating accordingly, they are putting themselves at a disadvantage. 

2) Horizon scanning

The Microsoft 365 roadmap is a heads up on upcoming changes that can be used to anticipate changes before they happen. While it’s going to be difficult to track the Microsoft 365 roadmap in its entirety, using it as a resource to check areas of interest is important. It's also possible to download the roadmap into an Excel spreadsheet for sorting and further analysis.

Targeted release is another resource to use, to receive updates sooner and having an opportunity to test them in advance.

  • Use the Microsoft 365 roadmap to zero in on what’s most important
  • Refine the results with the filters option or use the download option and finesse the results in Excel for example
  • Use the RSS option on the Microsoft 365 roadmap to bring updates into a content reader, Outlook, Teams etc. making updates easier to track 
  • Make use of Targeted release, nominate select people to receive updates sooner, not just IT Pros but a mix of staff that represent the business, power users for example 
  • Use the different Office 365 ProPlus channels to receive client updates in advance of general release, again not just IT Pros but representative users across the business 
  • Have another tenant ideally to test features away from a live environment, this can be a free dev tenant (check see also section), one that comes with Visual Studio Enterprise or is bought especially for test, development or training
As well as the above, have a system, where users can give feedback regarding new features or product changes and this can be promoted accordingly.

3) Release and reiterate 


Have some different ways to communicate with staff, to prepare them for changes and updates.  This could take many forms, here are a few suggestions:
  • Monthly newsletter with practical guidance
  • SharePoint Communication Site for Microsoft 365 adoption showcasing new features, tip and tricks
  • Employ champions who can pass along knowledge to peers, advocating new features and how to be more productive.  Support champions and bring them together via Teams or Yammer to foster and promote best practices
  • Webinars, town hall or smaller events that relay notable updates
  • Ongoing training and adoption planning exercises

4) Participate and Encourage

Office 365 rewards active interest and development from customers.  Microsoft is constantly improving Office 365 and relies on the feedback it gets from customers, power-users, enthusiasts etc.

  • Sign up to the Microsoft Tech Community
  • Subscribe to the different communities of interest for the different aspects of Office 365
  • Attend events, AMA’s, webinars, on-demand presentations
  • Make use of Customer Feedback for Microsoft Office 365 (UserVoice) and Feedback options in Office 365 
  • Encourage staff to develop skills and give them the confidence to make the most of Office 365
  • Use Activity Reports in the Office 365 admin center to benchmark usage along with Power BI-based Microsoft 365 usage analytics to identify any patterns or trends

Summary


Every organization is different, with its own priorities and ethos, adopting Office 365 should be exciting, helping staff unlock greater productivity but don't skimp on change management.  Cover some of the basics discussed here and start building processes around Office 365 change management.  While we wouldn't recommend trying to micromanage Office 365, which may stifle adoption, getting a good balance, with promoting new features and new ways of working is important.

See Also