A business-first approach to rolling out O365… not for techies!


Last Friday saw simplynetwork members head down to Content and Code on Fenchurch Street for a highly interactive, all-day workshop in which we learned about the Step Two methodology for taking a business-first approach to using O365, led by founder and digital workplace thought-leader James Robertson.

We had quite a cross-section of organisations join us on the day, with representation from charities, government departments, educational institutions and global corporations among the network members in attendance.  All had their specific reasons for coming to the workshop, but there was a common thread: many had been thrown into using O365 by IT departments, who assumed that the platform, being a juggernaut of many weird and wonderful facets and capabilities, was a suitable ‘one size fits all’ digital workplace solution – and IC were having to deal with the fallout, pitfalls and dead-ends of such tech-led launches.

James’ practical methodology inversed this, with the approach of identifying your business needs first, and then meeting them with specific O365 tools – essentially ‘embracing the platform, but not leading with it’ – as a way of achieving real, sustainable success.

So this was a day of O365 discussion minus the overwhelming (and downright scary) tech and feature specifics that only begin to be depicted in this wheel and periodic table (phew).

o365 wheel

Periodic table courtesy of Matt Wade

‘It’s not you… it’s Microsoft!’

And that was the first lesson of the day… don’t panic. Because yes, the tech really is that complicated – but thankfully everyone is in the same boat. Most of us are at the beginning of our O365 journey, and hardly anyone’s an expert. Above all, the tech is changing quicker than anyone can keep up with, so it’s not really worth your energy to even try and stay abreast. It’ll just bog you down and prevent you from seeing the bigger picture.

However, to be fair to O365, within its complexity is its real benefit: when it comes to depth and breadth of functionality, and the integration of that functionality, it is truly unrivalled. When it’s tailored properly, it’s totally worth making O365’s powerful tools work for your organisation.

The key to success and meaningful adoption, though, is to take the complexity and make it simple, keeping clear business benefits in mind, and to aim for a user experience that’s as seamless and frictionless as possible. Too often, a tech-driven rollout of O365 fails because it’s not engaging with staff needs or hitting strategic priorities. That’s where you, and the business-first, digital employee experience methodology from Step Two, come in.

Here’s the plan to follow:

Step Two Plan1. Establish the business context

You begin by looking to understand and nail down the business context – from top-level business objectives to the day-to-day needs of staff. And you do this through thorough research.

First of all, identify staff groups. You will be rolling out to one group at a time. Remember  –  whatever IT might try to say – the value of O365 doesn’t come from an all-staff roll-out. Each group is different, and each one has different needs. Examples of key staff groups include remote and field workers, senior leaders and site managers. You also need to decide on the granularity – will you roll-out to all remote workers, or a sub-set of that group?

Then the research begins. Traditional research techniques include surveys and focus groups. These can be useful, but are limited; more modern techniques include one-on-one staff interviews, workplace observation, contextual inquiry and stakeholder discussions.

When questioning, it’s vital you bear in mind that the majority of your staff won’t know much about intranets and digital workplaces. So don’t ask what they want. Instead, look at what they do – and note ‘points of pain’ in the working day that could be relieved. From this data, look for patterns, all the while remembering that mantra to keep things simple; in this context, that means you can’t fix everything for everyone. Rather, you should focus on doing a few things and doing them well.

Once you’ve identified key staff groups and the way they work, you can then list the specific O365 tools that may help them to do their job.

James Robertson, Step Two
James Robertson, Step Two

2. Define your vision

What’s your digital employee experience vision? Where is it you want to get to, and what is your desired future state?

The aim of this exercise is to build a consensus among stakeholders for the business’ direction; a meaningful and tangible description of how it’s hoped staff will be working in the near future. It will encompass clear business objectives that determine priorities and provide a strong business case.

This shouldn’t be a basic statement – vision statements are sometimes just a generic paragraph, but these tend not to be particularly engaging. Think about being more specific, and telling stories using creative narratives, such as ‘day in the life’ descriptions, or storyboarding with inspiring illustrations.

These stories should be focused on groups. At this point, your priority audience will probably be the stakeholders, the ones with the funding – so to make it relevant to them, you may want to think about telling a story about that particular stakeholder’s staff, and how the digital workplace has made their working day more efficient, bringing to life how you see your digital workplace vision once its realised.

3. Determine your strategy

Now for the more practical stuff. When you decide on your strategy, you’ll be outlining a concrete plan of action for delivering desired outcomes, prioritising and sequencing decisions and activities in phases. Your plan should be in three phases, and six-month chunks.

As with the other stages, it’s important to remember here that the groups have been defined for roll-out. Priority wise, you may want to be steered by building your credibility and political capital among your peers, rather than straight-forward problem solving; after all, with recognition, you’ll get the support for further roll-outs down the line.

At the end of this exercise you should have a roadmap of activities and projects that will deliver the new digital workplace.

4. Establish the platform

This is the tech part. Generally, Step Two recommends engaging a specialist to help you with this – they have strong connections with Microsoft and can use the detailed knowledge they’ve gained to ensure the right decisions are made. Content and Code, our hosts for the workshop, are one example of a Microsoft partner – they build and deploy customised intranets that sit inside O365 with their Fresh! product.

5. Launch in ‘waves’

Once you’ve decided on your platforms and tools, we’re onto the roll-out. As you’ve gathered by now, there’s so much offered by O365, it makes no sense to roll it all out at once – this will only lead to confusion among staff and the business as a whole, and make measurement of outcomes a near-impossible job.

The Step Two approach is to launch Office 365 in ‘waves’. They describe two types of waves:

People waves: target the needs of a specific user group (e.g. frontline staff, or the sales force)

Technology waves: the roll out of a specific feature (for example Teams, or Yammer)

By taking these progressive steps, the business will be able to ‘digest’ Office 365 efficiently, and it will be easier to spot and deliver clear business benefits at each step in the process.

People Waves

6. Conduct strategic projects

Once you’ve defined your ‘waves’, you’ll still need to address the wider and more complex needs of the business. This can be done through a programme of strategic projects.

These projects may deliver business solutions that use O365 to resolve larger, more complex needs, such as redeveloping the intranet, or addressing document management requirements. Or perhaps there needs to be a specific focus on frontline staff, releasing a package of improvements that encompasses both hardware and software.

7. Establish governance

Finally, for the long-term sustainability of O365, you need to establish governance. Clear ownership of digital workplace elements needs to be defined. This will provide solid decision-making processes that include both business and technology teams, and make sure both are aligned and educated.

James described Step Two’s Digital Workplace Operating Model for governance – one half outlines decisions and policies, including standards and guidelines. The second covers practical elements of how these are delivered and sustained, with support structures and project management.


Another fabulous smilelab!

As well as being given guidance and an exclusive insight into a tried-and-tested methodology by global digital workplace thought-leader James Robertson, attendees of the workshop had a great opportunity to network among their peers, all of whom are facing similar challenges as they navigate the world of O365. As one simplynetwork member described it, it’s fantastic ‘group therapy’ for the IC community!

This smilelab review was written by Emma Mackie 

Contact Malin to join our simplynetwork and attend our next workshop on June 6: An internal communications ‘health check’ with Liam Fitzpatrick, based on the forthcoming book, Successful Employee Communications. You will be given a model you can use to develop goals, leadership, strategy resources, channels, managers and data. We look forward to seeing you there!