Create Office365 business value through the power of limitation

Recent consulting engagements have found me helping customers define what Office365 means to them & what value they see in its use. They are lucky to have licenses and are seeking help to understand how they drive value from the investment.

You’ve heard the sales pitches: Office365 – The platform to solve ALL your needs! From meetings, to document management, working with people outside your organisation, social networking, custom applications, business process automation, forms & workflow, analytics, security & compliance, device management…the list goes on and is only getting bigger!

When I hear Office365 described – I often hear attributes religious people give to God.

  • It’s everywhere you go – Omnipresent
  • It knows everything you do – Omniscient
  • It’s so powerful it can do everything you want – Omnipotent
  • It’s unified despite having multiple components – Oneness
  • It can punish you for doing with the wrong thing – Wrathful

It’s taking on a persona – how long before it becomes self-aware!?

If it can really meet ALL your needs, how do we define its use, do we just use it for everything? Where do we start? How do we define what it means if it can do everything?

Enter limitation. Limitation is a powerful idea that brings clarity through constraint. It’s the foundation on which definition is built. Can you really define something that can do anything?

The other side would suggest limiting technology constrains thinking and prevents creativity.  I don’t agree. Limitation begets creativity. It helps zero-in thinking and helps create practical, creative solutions with what you have. Moreover, having modern technology doesn’t make you a creative & innovative organisation. It’s about culture, people & process. As always, technology is a mere enabler.

What can’t we use Office365 for?

Sometimes its easier to start here. Working with Architecture teams to draw boundaries around the system helps provide guidance for appropriate use. They have a good grasp on enterprise architecture and reasons why things are the way they are. It helps clearly narrow use cases & provides a definition that makes sense to people.

  • We don’t use it to share content externally because of..
  • We can’t use it for customer facing staff because of…
  • We don’t use it for Forms & Workflow because we have <insert app name here>
  • We can’t don’t use it as a records management system because we have …

Office365 Use cases – The basis of meaning

Microsoft provide some great material on generic use cases. Document collaboration, secure external sharing, workflow, managing content on-the-go, making meetings more efficient etc.  These represent ideals and are sometimes too far removed from the reality of your organisation. Use them as a basis and further develop them with relevance to your business unit or organisation.

Group ideation workshops, discussions & brainstorming sessions are a great way to help draw out use cases. Make sure you have the right level of people, not too high & not too low. You can then follow-up with each and drill in to the detail and see the value the use case provides.

Get some runs on the board

Once you’ve defined a few use cases, work with the business to start piloting. Prove the use case with real-life scenarios. Build the network of people around the use cases and start to draw out and refine how it solves pain, for here is where true value appears. This can be a good news story that can be told to other parts of the business to build excitement.

Plan for supply & demand

Once you some have runs on the board, if successful, word will quickly get out. People will want it. Learn to harness this excitement and build off the energy created. Be ready to deal with sudden increase in supply.

On the demand side, plan for service management. How do people get support? Who support it?  How do we customise it? What the back-out plan? How do we manage updates? All the typical ITIL components you’d expect should be planned for during your pilots.

Office365 Roadmap to remove limitations & create new use cases

They are a meaningful way to communicate when value will be unlocked. IT should have a clear picture of business value is and how it will work to unlock the capabilities the business needs in order for it to be successful.

Roadmaps do a good at communicating this. Though typically, they are technology focused.  This might be a great way to help unify the IT team, but people on the receiving end wont quiet understand. Communicate using their language in ways they understand i.e. what value it will provide them, when & how it will help them be successful.

Know what you Value and how you Behave

In a previous post I discussed some tips on how to be a better consultant. A few people asked about my last tip – Stay true to your values.  They ask what are they? How do I know what I value? Do they really impact behaviour?  

What are values?

They are deeply held beliefs about behaviours or outcomes we think are important. In their book The Truth About Leadership, Kouzes & Posner do a great job of making them relevant:

Values drive commitment. People want to know what you stand for and believe in. They want to know what you value. And leaders need to know what others value if they are going to be able to forge alignments between personal values and organizational demands.

The Truth About Leadership – Kouzes & Posner

Our behaviours reflect what we value.

The Smartest Guys In the Room, a documentary about the collapse of US energy company Enron. A riveting account on how an organisation employing 29,000 people & bringing in over $100B USD annually can go from incredible success to collapse, overnight. Throughout the movie, various executives are interviewed and it’s clear they highly valued individual financial gain, status, innovation & competition but placed little on honesty, integrity, transparency & social responsibility.  This lead to behaviours like purposely shutting down power plants to inflate power prices, accounting fraud & outright lying to investors.

While this is an extreme example, it’s a demonstration of the link between values & behaviours.

My Values & My Team/Organisation

You often see companies talk about values on their website, during employee inductions or during strategy presentations. Some companies have awards aligned to values, which is great.  They do this because of the link between values & behaviour. They want employees to behave in certain ways. Alignment between organisation & your own values is key, as Peter Drucker the Godfather of management says:

 …to work in an organization whose value system is unacceptable or incompatible with one’s own condemns a person both to frustration and to non-performance.

Peter Drucker

This is ever so relevant on a team level. Imagine, you are someone who values quality above anything else. A project manager is demanding a quick turn around on a task. It’s going to frustrate you. You may not realise; this is a value conflict. You are being asked to comprise what you value i.e. quality. Often you won’t compromise, you’ll end up working after hours to ensure you stay true to what you value. If these requests continue, you’ll likely leave and find somewhere that values what you do.

There’s complexity in the workplace, you’ll undoubtedly be confronted with value conflicts.  For me, one hallmark of a great leader is when they can see a value conflict in what they ask and communicate in such a way that makes you understand you aren’t compromising. If you enjoy philosophy, there’s value in exploring the ethical side of behaviours. Notably – Consequentialism, Deontology & Virtue Ethics

Which one best describes you?

Working out what you value.

I find answering questions & surveys quite useful. Below is a useful template, one I’ve taken a few people through and had some good feedback.

It might be difficult to answer the questions first up, so have read, think about the questions & then have an honest go at answering.

Hopefully you’ll have greater awareness of what you value & how they impact your behaviours.

The struggle for meaning – Is the Intranet dead?

People struggle to find meaning in life. Our place in the world. The value we provide. Our political persuasions allow us to either rethink definitions or preserve our traditions & institutions. Funnily enough, this philosophical divide plays out in technology all the time.

The morbid question – Is the intranet dead? – seems to be popping its head up recently. I get it, the world is evolving, our expectations of ‘digital’ has changed and technology is at a point where it’s no longer a barrier to seizing opportunity.

Socialists would argue the traditional Intranet is dead or at least facing an identity crisis. The word shouldn’t be used or should significantly be redefined to reflect modern times.

Conservatives would argue there is no crisis, the Intranet is fine as is and should not change its definition. Doing so will shake the digital foundations of any modern enterprise.

It all comes back to meaning; what do we mean when we say Intranet?

The Google Definition:
“a local or restricted communications network, especially a private network created using World Wide Web software.”

Definition sets the baseline. It helps us see understand if any change is required. Here are some insights from the definition. 

Local or restricted

The core here is identity. Identity brings utility. Identity powers relevance. Who should have access? What content should they see? Access is historically defined by organisational boundaries i.e. All staff should have access, but not contractors or service providers.

Gone are the days when the intranet didn’t know who you are.

Communication + Network

The foundations of an intranet.  Communication is arguably the most important aspect. It’s evidenced by Corporate Communications teams having ownership and being influential when it comes to decision making. It’s viewed as the primary communications network as it’s available to everyone. It’s there when you login. It’s there when you open your browser.

Metcalf’s law is relevant here. The value of the system is proportional to the square-root of connections. Meaning – the more systems, people & content a person is connected to, the higher the value. Pre API-Revolution, meaningful integration was but a dream. We are now seeing the value of APIs – Data is the digital currency which flows through APIs.

Intranets need to become more networked. More connected. More relevant.

Others insights

  • It does not limit how it’s consumed –  It doesn’t specify browser, device, time or even place.
  • It limits how its created – Only World Wide Web software? So 2000. Conceptually this type of software is used, but its not limited to it.
  • It doesn’t limit evolution: My favourite. It shouldn’t be left to deteriorate whilst others evolve.
  • It doesn’t encapsulate trends: These days we hear about intelligence, digital workplace, responsive, <insert buzz word here> 
  • It doesn’t limit ownership; What are the roles & responsibilities of each group involved? What’s the hierarchy & decision-making process?


I favour evolution, not revolution. Definitions need to strike the right balance between ambiguity and being too explicit.  We can’t lose sight of the core – Communications, Network & Identity.  I do think we should drop the WWW part. Here’s the new definition: 

“a local or restricted communications network, especially a private network”

Beyond the Intranet? 

You may think it’s a boring adjustment. To me it provides the right amount of ambiguity that allows companies to give meaning to their intranet, keep a close eye on trends and deliver something that helps people be a valued part of the network. 

At its core the intranet is not dead. We have evolved the meaning as technology has enabled different opportunities. These trends are just ways of delivering the core definition in more eccentric ways.

Perhaps a new label is required? Digital Workplace? Digital Front door? Modern Workplace? Label it what you will, the definition is still the same. 

How to get started –5 Step’s to sustained success

So how do you delivery something? Process is important as it ensures focus. These 5 steps are what I typically. I’ll do a follow up blog on this process. 

  1. Define ownership, roles & responsibilities
  2. Define meaning & Scope: focus on evolution
  3. Select your platform
  4. Build for Day 1
  5. Analyse, Sustain & Evolve


Reflections from the field – Tips for being a better consultant

Striving to be better at what you do is important for your development. Though, it typically translates into developing what you know rather than how you act. For consulting (or any job), there are two parts to the equation; Hard Skills & Soft skills. Balance is needed so you should learn to develop both.
I aim to help people develop their soft skills. They are typically harder to define and require more attention. Below are concepts I work on developing every day and hopefully you can take some away and start developing them for yourself.

Quality builds trust which creates opportunity

The link between quality & trust is easy to understand. When a relationship or engagement is new, you must prove yourself. The best way is to deliver something of superior quality. Whether that’s a presentation, application or a document. Do what you can to make it a quality output. It can be difficult to define what the quality standard should be so it’s important to set this upfront.

Delivering quality is the best way to build trust however, being aware of when trust it exists is challenging. Know where you are at on the spectrum. It’s not as easy as asking ‘do you trust me’. Start with small tests to gauge where you are, build up to something bigger. Once trust is established, only then can you start being opportunistic and by that, I mean, challenge peoples thinking, pitching ideas, pitching for more work. If it doesn’t exist, work on getting it.

Understand when to focus on delivering quality versus being opportunistic

Own your brand

This is how people see you. Your actions, traits & values have a direct correlation to your brand. What you are known for? How effective do people think you are? How well do you know your domain of expertise? At some point, people will talk about you. Managers, customers or colleagues both past & future. These conversations, ones you aren’t involved in, define your brand and it’s important you own it.

What do you want to be known for?

Keep your commitments

Sounds simple enough. What you agree to in meetings, quick conversations or any other discussion. Manage them, follow up on them & keep on top of them. Let people know where they are up to. Don’t ignore them. Often, we forget the small things we commit to. I’ve found it’s delivering on these small things that go a long way in building quality relationships. People tend not to forget if you let them down.

Diligence is important to your brand. Avoid being that person who can’t keep commitments.

Embrace adversity, build your resilience

Before getting to this one, I’ll say that work can be tough. Mental health is far more important than any job you will ever work. Know your limits. If you are in need support, please seek it. Most companies have an assistance programs available so contact your manager or HR representative if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Something always goes wrong. You project isn’t delivering quality, a relationship is damaged, you can’t get something signed off or you’ve just gone live and everything is on fire. For me, building resilience has been key to being successful in consulting. When things aren’t going well it’s difficult to get motivated, relationships are left in the balance, and you probably want to give up. I believe it’s in these tough moments, our true character really comes out. Do you pull out all stops to get things back on track? Do you give up? How do you respond to these situations?

Adversity defines character but know your limits

Respond, don’t react

Passion is a beautiful thing. When harnessed and used in the right way it can lead to amazing things. We get passionate about what we create or are heavily involved in, so when things don’t go your way it’s very easy to get frustrated & annoyed. In these situations, it’s important to not let your emotions guide your reaction. They always manifest in negative ways. You become short, you get agitated, frustrated quicker and if left unchecked can impact the work you deliver.

Don’t write that email. Avoid confronting that person. Go and take time to think about a response.

Play the ball. Not the person.

Stay true to your values

What do you stand for? What’s the right thing to do? Morally & ethically, these are difficult questions to answer. People that know & live through their values are more content with their work & personal lives. Understanding these goes way beyond anything you can do at work. I’m of the view that your values are generally set by age 6 and from that point develop & mature. Work to identify what your values & seek work that aligns with them. When personal values don’t align with professional, it leads to a world of pain.

Hopefully this list can help you sharpen your softer skills & make you a more effective consultant.


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