Create an IT change management strategy for Microsoft 365

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Wondering how to develop an IT change management plan? We discuss common challenges and how you can prepare, equip, and support end users to successfully adopt change within your Microsoft 365 environment.

IT managers balance many priorities, ensuring they maintain reliable service and tools users need to be productive and efficient.

And they do all that while navigating a technology landscape where business needs are constantly evolving, and new security threats and updates impose never-ending changes in the systems they manage.

With all these things to keep in mind, it’s little wonder that IT managers find it challenging to roll out changes and help end users get on board.

It’s not just about installing the tools and turning them on. You need to define an IT change management strategy for Microsoft 365 to increase adoption. An often-forgotten tool for success is the post-implementation review. Staying on top of your changing infrastructure is easy with the right tools.

Plan your IT change management process from the start

All IT change management processes should focus on the human side of the technology transition and what we need to do to prepare, equip, and support individuals to adopt change successfully. 

“It’s really about working with change and really understanding what your employees need. It should be part of the cohesive plan all along.”

Liz Sundet, Program Manager, Microsoft

Why is this important? Because when employees affected by the change don’t support it and are not involved in it, you can’t achieve your goal of successfully implementing Microsoft 365.

Incorporating a process into your Microsoft 365 implementation can help you develop a governance plan that’s effective and flexible enough for your users to fully engage with their new environment.

Think of it this way: when you invest in change management, you can more fully realize the benefits of deploying Microsoft 365, including:

  • Higher return on investment (ROI) fasterChange management not only increases overall adoption of Microsoft 365, but it also increases the speed at which it happens to drive a higher ROI.
  • Improved productivity—Microsoft 365 is constantly changing. With an effective change management process, you can provide users with efficient and prompt handling of their asks, as well as enhance the entire process for their workflow.
  • Better collaboration—Microsoft 365 offers powerful collaboration features and configuration management tools to reduce the risk involved in sharing access and data through the platform. Change management can help you understand and control risk throughout your organization and balance security while allowing collaboration to flourish.   
  • Improved security for a modern workforce—Many of the biggest IT security risks come from within, such as inappropriate sharing of data and shadow IT. A change management process provides a framework for ongoing communication and training that can help you improve user awareness of the threats they’re likely to encounter and how to avoid them. 

Typical IT change management problems

IT change management can be challenging on several fronts. Let’s take a look at some of the most common challenges and some ways you can avoid or overcome them. 

User resistance to change

Anytime you introduce any new technology in the workplace, Microsoft 365 included, you’re going to encounter user resistance. End users aren’t always as excited about changing how they do their work, especially if they don’t know why they’re being forced to make those changes. And this can have a detrimental impact on Microsoft 365 adoption.

The key is to understand the nature of the resistance you’re likely to encounter so you can take steps to minimize it.  

“We’re all excited about this technology, but it also creates fear because we’re creatures of habit. So, I think it’s important to communicate clearly and really focus on taking their fears away.”  

Antje Lamartine, Microsoft 365 Adoption and Change Management MVP

Communicating early and often with relevant stakeholders is critical to reducing resistance to the proposed change because it helps establish trust. Your users need to understand not only how the changes will impact them but also why they’re being required to change. Provide context and create a vision for how the proposed changes will help improve their day-to-day work to help reduce fears.​​​​​​​

Security risk management

Every IT organization is concerned about security, especially when introducing new technologies. With a constantly-changing security landscape and the rapid pace of Microsoft 365 development, Microsoft administrators struggle to reduce risk and stay ahead of emerging threats.

The proliferation of hybrid and remote work and the necessary adoption of technologies like Microsoft 365 to facilitate it, add to these challenges and have tested many organizations’ risk tolerance.

In organizations that offer these options, IT teams struggle to balance the governance necessary to protect their environment while providing users the freedom to access functionalities around group/team creation, external sharing, and guest access. While finding this balance can be difficult, there’s a hefty reward in achieving it. Developing a good governance plan, with a framework like Zero Trust security allows IT teams to take full advantage of the self-service options available in Microsoft 365 to eliminate burdensome approval processes that add to their workload.

Whether you’re introducing new technologies or developing a governance plan to facilitate hybrid or remote work, it’s important for your users to understand the risk tolerance of using these technologies. Following a change management process can help you achieve that by providing a framework for understanding risk across the entire organization.

Keeping up with Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 releases a nearly continuous stream of updates to enhance the user experience, mitigate new security threats, and improve regulatory compliance. While beneficial, it’s difficult to keep up with the changes. 

IT managers can use the Microsoft 365 Message center to stay up to date on upcoming changes and find potential solutions to help them prepare for and implement those changes. It also offers support for change management adoption by providing an opportunity to proactively communicate with their users to keep them informed about changes to Microsoft tools, and even excited when those changes will positively impact their work.

Savvy IT managers will look for ways to leverage the Microsoft 365 Message center to not only keep up with Microsoft 365 changes but also to help them build a good working relationship with their users based on collaboration, trust, and understanding.

Inadequate resources 

Implementing Microsoft 365 in your organization involves IT project costs. And there are also costs associated with developing and implementing change management. By understanding these costs upfront, you can make more informed decisions about whether and how to implement changes. So, while you’re planning for change management, develop a clear and accurate cost estimate for your project and a budget that includes the necessary resources to make it successful in the long term. That way, you won’t find yourself overspending on unnecessary changes or under-investing in changes that could bring about significant improvements.

​​​​​​​Change process fatigue

Too many organizational changes can leave people feeling overwhelmed. In the workplace, change fatigue can manifest in a variety of ways, including higher stress levels, lower productivity, distracted employees, and greater resistance to change. No matter how it shows up, change fatigue can threaten the success of your Microsoft 365 rollout and represents a very real risk to adoption. 

Change management provides a framework for communication, which can help you proactively address change fatigue. Communicating with those affected by the change during the planning process will create more buy-in from the start. Engaging them throughout the rollout and creating a feedback loop can help to lessen fears about how the change might impact their day-to-day work. 

IT change management types 

The information technology infrastructure library (ITIL) offers a useful framework of best practices for delivering IT services, including change management.

ITIL change management recommends that strategies identify different roles in the organization responsible for evaluating and responding to changes as they’re needed. For example, changes needed in response to a major incident or an emergency might need to be assessed and approved prior to their implementation by an emergency change advisory board (CAB) while other types of changes might only require approval by a change manager. 

How to categorize changes

The ITIL describes three different types of change:

  • Standard changes—Low-risk changes that are planned in advance and follow established procedures that don’t typically require approvals. 
  • Normal changes—Non-emergency changes that require a formal change evaluation, usually by a change manager first. Note that normal changes can include minor changes and major changes. Major changes may need CAB approval before implementing them.  
  • Emergency changes—Changes that must be made as soon as possible, usually in response to a major issue such as a network failure or the need to apply a critical security patch. These types of changes usually require CAB approval.

Microsoft 365 adoption and change management process 

The journey to Microsoft 365 adoption is ongoing and cyclical. As you work with your change management team, the implementation process should mirror the following.

  • Planning—This is the stage in which you prepare for migration, identifying all your content, the amount of time and effort migration will require, and risk assessment
  • Migration—During migration, you’re working toward a smooth transition and fixing emergent issues as quickly as possible. 
  • Modernization—At this stage, you’re adapting your architecture to leverage the full potential of Microsoft 365. 
  • Administration—Microsoft 365 administration is an ongoing process in which you’re monitoring usage, managing permissions, and running reports.  
  • Team creation—Administrators must constantly balance security with Microsoft Teams’ self-service capabilities by ensuring the right settings are applied as users create new teams.   
  • Lifecycle management—As with many of the other stages in the journey with Microsoft 365, lifecycle management means keeping your environment uncluttered with your groups and teams organized.   
  • Security and compliance—Setting up guardrails, configuring access settings for new users, monitoring, and regularly reviewing usage analytics are critical to ensuring security and compliance in your environment. Minimizing high-risk situations is easy when you’re prepared from the start.
  • Mergers and acquisitions—At times, you may be required to adapt your environment for a merger or acquisition. When you find yourself in this stage, you’ll need to prepare your environment to ensure nothing gets left behind. 

With such a circuitous path to get to your desired state of Microsoft 365 adoption, it can help to use a tool like ShareGate to reduce the burden at every stage of your Microsoft 365 journey.  

Think about reducing the strain on IT service desk

It can be stressful to develop change management processes and coordinate change implementation to achieve a successful Microsoft 365 deployment.

Security is always a top concern due to the inherent risks in cloud computing. With Microsoft 365, sharing is a big one. However, setting up cloud security guardrails for Microsoft 365 can help you build a strong barrier against many of the risks associated with sharing.  

Automation can help, too.

Choosing a tool that offers continuous monitoring and other types of automation not only reduces the strain on your IT team but frees you up to focus more time driving adoption, which is critical to the success of any Microsoft 365 initiative. 

By leveraging automation, IT managers can also begin to shift from a primarily reactive management system to a proactive one. This is especially valuable with regard to security where IT managers can put policies in place to alert them of potential risks instead of having to figure out where the next one might emerge.

Microsoft adoption and change management software that works

Introducing new technologies into the workplace is never easy, which is what makes change management so important to the success of your Microsoft 365 rollout. 

So, what does an effective IT change management framework look like? At a high level, your change management plan should have clear goals and permanence targets against which you can measure adoption over time. Here are a few additional factors that can impact the success of your change management effort: 

  • Motivating teams
  • Maximizing the usage and adoption of new technologies for end users
  • Minimizing the risk of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands
  • Maximizing the understanding of Teams and its usage within your organization

It’s tempting to think the job is done once the migration is complete and the system configured. But, change management is an ongoing process. There are always new users to onboard along with mergers, acquisitions, and other changes within your Microsoft 365 environment that users will need to navigate.

While this may seem like bad news, rest assured it isn’t. Monitoring adoption and usage is critical to ensuring the security of your environment and realizing its full benefit to your organization.  

Microsoft 365 offers built-in tools to give you cross-product visibility into user adoption and usage analytics. While monitoring usage can give you insights into the adoption and how effective your change management efforts are across your organization, it doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.

ShareGate simplifies management with features such as:  

And of course, any tool you choose to help you manage Microsoft 365 should easily adapt to your architecture and offer simple administration through a single unified interface.

“We have saved at least hundreds of hours by using ShareGate for both SharePoint migrations (using PowerShell) and Teams management. It has smoothed our recent transition to Teams and helped me wrangle in some of the sprawl.”

Beckie White, Microsoft Teams SharePoint Lead Engineer

As your go-to Microsoft 365 management solution, ShareGate is with you all the way. Don’t be shy. Request a live 1-on-1 demo with our expert team to learn more about how ShareGate can help!

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