How to master Office 365 Change Management Part 1

In this post, you will learn how to master Office 365 change management.  Be better prepared for new features and changes in Office 365, with the resources I'll show you how.

Office 365 change management can be difficult at times.  You probably want to be the authority on Office 365 and be able to advise peers and stakeholders.  The last thing you want is new features suddenly appearing, without being ready.

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Office 365 Change Management

To start, you can trace most new features several months before they are generally available, you just need to know where to look.  New features and Office 365 changes rarely come out of nowhere.  

The Tools of the Trade

There are several resources where you can track and follow the progress of new features.  Here are some of them.  We will cover many of these in greater detail later on:

  • Message Center
  • Office blogs
  • Office 365 roadmap
  • Technet
  • First release
  • Microsoft Mechanics
  • Microsoft Tech Community previously known as the Office 365 Network

Office 365 isn't a platform you can just sit back, the pace of change and rapid releases are frenetic.  While this adds a lot of value, you need to know how to manage it. Let's see what you can do about this.

Office 365 Change Advisory Board​

It's all very well keeping up with Office 365 new features and changes but what do you do with this information? The next step is forming an Office 365 change management team, commonly called a change advisory board but it may go by different names. Here you decide on areas like:

  • limitations or caveats 
  • manageability and support
  • timing and schedules
  • security and governance 

​Outcomes could include

  • ​disabling or deferring a new service
  • documenting best practices for end-users and service desk staff
  • internal communications notifying changes to users
  • deploying updated software or making a configuration change

This is a good start but how can we identify new features and actionable information exactly? That's what we will discuss in the next several sections, so keeping reading.

This is rather simplified and will vary greatly for each organisation.  You may already have an existing function that closely manages change.  For some, you may need to double down and firmly establish new policies or procedures. 

Office 365 Resources

These are the resources you need to be using regularly to stay ahead of Office 365, be informed and be better able to prepare your organisation for change.

Message Center

The Message Center is your go-to resource, something the should be checked weekly if not daily. Everything listed here should be usually a topic in the change advisory board.  Entries tagged as Plan for change or Prevent or fix issues in particularly need attention.

Things to look out for in the Message Center are dates, when is something changing.  Microsoft rarely gives exact timings but the Message Center is meant to be personalised to the tenant.  The information here should be more specific than may appear elsewhere.

Office 365 Change Management

It worth remembering as Microsoft roll out new features it can take weeks if not months for them to appear.  It's even possible your users in the same tenant may get new features at different times.  Yammer, for example, have been known to do A/B testing, which can give different users in the same tenant a different experience.

Microsoft has improved the Message Center over the last 18 months.  It's more timely and covers more changes than ever before.  What you won't find on the Message Center is a log of every single change made.  Microsoft strives to for a balance of getting relevant information out while not bombarding you with unnecessary details.

Microsoft does get it right a lot of the time but you need to look further afield to get a better picture of upcoming changes in Office 365.

Office Blogs

The Office Blogs at https://blogs.office.com/ is a great resource for Office 365 change management.  Significant new features, product launches or updates, along with best practices and guidance are regularly covered.

From the main Office Blogs landing page, you can apply filters.  If you are looking for just recent news around OneDrive for Business, for example, you can choose that filter. You even create an RSS feed based on a filter. 

Office 365 Change Management

Taking about RSS, who has time to visit web pages, to stay informed you have to be using RSS. With RSS, you just add all your favourite feeds and read them in one place. That's why I created the Microsoft IT Pro Bundle, using the awesome Inoreader. Just click here to get started and if you want to know more about Inoreader, why not read my Inoreader review.

If using Inoreader to track Office 365 news, using the star and tagging features to curate contents. This makes it easy to flag topics for discussion in the Change Advisory Board.

Office 365 Roadmap

The Office 365 Roadmap is available here - https://fasttrack.microsoft.com/roadmap.  This is a useful service to track new features.  The site splits updates into categories - In development, Rolling out, Launched as well as the rarely used 'Cancelled'.

In theory, you should be able to follow particular updates and new features as they start in development, begin rolling out and then finally are fully launched.  Similar to the Office Blogs, you can apply a filter to narrow down results. The Only show features added or updated within 30 days options are particularly useful.  

This again, gives you items of interest to take to the change advisory board for discussion.

Office 365 Change Management

The Office 365 Roadmap has limitations or caveats 

  • There are no dates attached to any items when an item was created, updated or change category for example
  • The roadmap isn't personalised to you tenant, this means the information is very general.  The roadmap doesn't specifically relate to the state of your tenant.
  • The roadmap may be misleading at times, it doesn't show all significant changes
  • There are no notifcations options 

It's not possible to subscribe to the Roadmap but there are third party services that help with this.  Office 365 Roadmap Watch is one such service, which also has an RSS feed.

First Release

It's not enough to read about Office 365 updates or changes, you need to test them as well. First Release allows you to receive updates and new features before they are generally available. This is meant to give you enough time to prepare your organisation for these changes.

Office 365 Change Management

First Release can be enabled either selectively on nominated user accounts or on the entire tenant. Selective First Release isn't as good compared to when it's applied to the whole tenant. Selective First Release doesn't apply to all areas of Office 365, so it will only surface certain new features. Microsoft has been improving this, so there may be fewer differences going forward.

​First Release can be configured in the Admin portal, under Settings and Organization profile

Office 365 Change Management

It's advisable, where practical to have a dedicated tenant with First Release enabled at the tenant level. Bigger organaztions may have several tenants like test, development or for training purposes.

Microsoft Tech Community

The official Microsoft Tech Community is an essential resource, here is the web address https://techcommunity.microsoft.com. The site started on Yammer as an external network, where IT Pros could discuss different aspects of Office 365, split across several groups.

Microsoft has recently decided to move the Office 365 Network away from Yammer on to a different platform. Incidentally,  the new platform is based on the Lithium Online Communities offering that Microsoft has bought in.  Some observers interpreted this as another sign of the end of Yammer.  Microsoft has assured customers there support for Yammer is unwavering

Here is what Microsoft is aiming for with the new Microsoft Tech Community with Office 365:

​The mission of this online community is to provide a platform for IT Pros, Developers, Office 365 Users, fans and Microsoft to interact. It is a central destination for education and thought leadership on best practices, product news, live events, and roadmap

The changeover, I think it’s fair to say, wasn’t handled as smooth as it could have been. Nevertheless, the new Office 365 Network is up and running and is rapidly evolving.

Office 365 Change Management

The new site now hosts other Microsoft communities .  This includes Azure, Windows Server and SQL Server communities.  

Two resources you’re going to want to check out straight away is the Weekly Roundup and Change Alerts groups. Microsoft post summaries of recent changes in the Weekly Roundup group, as the name suggests. This comes either as a Sway presentation or as a Word document, great for emailing around. The Change Alerts group is a place to discuss recent changes or if you have spotted something new that has come out of the blue, post your findings.

Office 365 Change Management

Subscribe to groups when you want to be notified of new posts via email. You can control the frequency of emails in the Subscriptions & Notifications area in Settings. You can also subscribe to groups via a RSS feed.

Office 365 Change Management

Office 365 Change Management Action Plan

Now let’s bring it all together in a summarised list, excuse the occasional self-promotion

  • Have some establishment to discuss Office 365 changes regularly with actionable outcomes
  • Check the Message Center, Office blogs and Office 365 Roadmap often, looking out for timelines and dates
  • Curate and track Office 365 news, changes and new features. Inoreader is a great system for this, you might even want to subscribe to my Microsoft IT Pro Bundle
  • Join the Microsoft Tech Community, be an active member of the community and subscribe to the Change Alerts and Weekly Roundup groups
  • Have dedicated resources for Office 365 Change Management, it’s time consuming to stay ahead of Office 365
  • Align new features and other Office 365 changes with governance, compliance and other regulatory constraints

Here are some additional ideas to kick-start your Office 365 change management:

  • Review how best to communicate new Office 365 features and changes to end users
  • Establish channels of communication, places where users can go to get the latest information e.g. intranet, a Yammer group, email comms etc.
  • Don’t forget Servicedesk/helpdesk staff, they need timely guidance on how best to support staff with changes in Office 365
  • Documenting Office 365 is difficult, don’t go overboard with screenshots, they will become out-of-date quickly
  • Don’t hide the evergreen nature of Office 365 from end users, you can’t treat Office 365 as an on-prem system

Office 365 Change Management Closing Thoughts

That’s it for part one, as much as I wanted to get everything into one post there is just too much ground to cover.

In Part 2 you can read about how to manage Office 365 ProPlus updates with best practices, guidance and tips.  Part 2 is available hereOffice 365 ProPlus Channels – Office 365 Change Management.

​I hope this post was of use, stay tuned for further Office 365 articles. Check me out on Twitter @CianAllner or for non-stop Office 365 coverage @Office365Ninjas. Thanks for reading.