Adoption planning for Lync. Learning to love your users.


 The following post was contributed by Ben Lee, a Senior Lync Consultant at Modality Systems. 

I'm sure you are familiar with the old Victorian adage that children should be "seen and not heard", well sometimes it can be quite easy to forget that this shouldn’t apply to IT departments! Historically IT is often overlooked by the rest of the business, as long as the lights are on and computers are whirring away we get left to our own devices. Fortunately this is an image that is changing, particularly with concepts such as DevOps which allow IT to really shine and show how they can proactively add value across all areas of a business. Another way this can be achieved is by delivering awesome projects.

IT Project work can generally be split into two categories, user facing and behind the scenes stuff. With either type it is important to properly plan everything that you need to do along the way, but with user facing projects, we sometimes neglect to properly plan for training and user adoption. It's unfortunate as these elements will ultimately make or break the delivery. It doesn't matter how technologically advanced the solution, how high the ROI will be for the company or how simple to use the solution is, if people do not want to use whatever you have deployed they will begrudge you for "making their lives harder".

Working as a Lync consultant I am frequently involved in the second type of project where you are deploying something that is designed to actively change the way people work and this can generate push back as people generally don't like change.

Lync is primarily a Unified Communications and telephony platform which means it provides a simple and easy way for you to find, contact and collaborate with colleagues and individuals from other organisations. Lync is designed around communicating with people but is not necessarily about extensions and DDIs, to get the most out of Lync you need to approach it with a slightly different mind-set and this is where your adoption planning really comes into play. I've talked with many different organisations who have deployed Lync, some successfully, some not so, and I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks I have picked up along the way to help ensure a successful deployment and hopefully you will find that these also apply to any user-facing project delivery, not just to Lync.

The key to it all is building user trust and engagement. The last thing you need is for people to feel put upon by IT. Fortunately there are a few techniques you can use to get people on your side:

1. Choose the right tools for the job

In a Lync deployment there is a large range of endpoint devices that you can select from, including desk phones, meeting room devices, USB wired headsets and wireless travel headsets. Users often become quite attached to their devices and if you can give them an element of choice it will make things feel more personal to them.

Try and map out what types of workers you have in your organisation by scenario i.e. mobile sales worker, desk based administrator, field engineer or home working analyst. You should already have a good feel for these types of scenario based workers from your device / BOYD purchasing policies. You can then match appropriate devices to each scenario and perhaps even hold a workshop where you get a selection of users from each category to test out the different options available.

While choice is a good thing you do want to make sure you aren’t giving people free reign. Having a pool of supported devices for users to pick from helps to keep the right balance between user choice and longer term supportability. Even something as simple as letting users choose between single or dual ear headsets can make a huge difference to the perception of a deployment.

2. Pilot your solution

As soon as you have laid the technology ground work for your deployment and proved all of the functional components are working (Don't forget your stress and DR tests!), start your pilot phase. In a pilot you want to have a selection of users from across your organisation and make sure you don’t just cherry pick those who are technologically capable. Make sure you include at least a few people who have been resistant in the past. When you win them over you will have a great group of champions that you can reference in your broader deployment.

A cardinal mistake is to deploy to IT and count that as your pilot phase. You and I know that IT are not normal users! They are used to figuring out new bits of software for a living, working around issues and, more often than not, do not have standard computers running standard software. By all means use IT to help you figure out the kinks in the system but just don’t count them as your pilot phase, you need normal users doing normal things with the system.

3. Evangelists

During your pilot phase you should be constantly checking in with your chosen users, learning what they had problems with, what worked really well for them and also what didn't. This will allow you to address any issues before they become a problem. You can also start building up a collection of stories specific to your organisation where Lync helped make someone's life easier. When you come to do the primary deployment you should build these stories into your training sessions, this is what people want to hear, these are the reasons why they should be paying attention during training – because it will make things better for them. The more of these hooks you can find to use as leverage, the better. Use these stories to build trust in the solution and also some excitement and positive anticipation amongst staff who have yet to be migrated.

You could even consider taking people from your pilot who had real success and turning them into "super users" who will can act as a first point of contact during the primary deployment. This can help reduce the amount of queries you get coming into your service desk leaving them free to deal with large problems.

4. Plan your primary migration strategy

Your job in IT is to make things as simple and straightforward for users as possible. When it comes to planning the full scale migration, make sure you have made everything as seamless as possible. Remove as many kinks or oddities about running both the old system and the new one side by side and address any issues from the pilot phase. Try to minimise the number of third parties that you are relying on, particularly if you are doing a telephony deployment with number ports involved. Try and plan so that you always have a clear fall back path available. Hopefully you will not need to use it but it’s always better to have something ready.

If you do have to accept some compromises while you are in a half-way house, make sure you clearly let people know what will change or get better and show that this isn't how you have designed the system but is merely temporary. You will be surprised how much flexibility this will buy you.

5. Offer support where it is needed

Make sure you have appropriate channels available for people to get support when they need it. The last thing you want is to have migrated users who find themselves unable to work. If you are doing a large scale deployment across a site, consider using floor walkers who can be on hand immediately to assist with any questions that users come up with. Consider using a central feedback system where people can submit queries, and view solutions from other staff. If you do this make sure it is monitored and feedback is taken on-board.

As part of the primary migration strategy you develop, try to avoid migrating a large quantity of users or offices all in one go without having appropriate hands-on support available. You want to avoid swamping your service desk if things don’t work out.

6. Coordinate training and rollout

When you are carrying out your deployment or pilot phases you need to encourage people to use the new system in preference to the old platform whatever that may be. Aim for a triple hit; Train people, migrate them and then take away access to the old system. This means that you can be sure that right after your training they have no choice but to put into practice what they have learned. However if you do taking this approach, pay attention to the previous point and make sure people know where they can turn for help, either by having people doing floor walking who are knowledge experts, or an online support portal. Whatever you choose just make sure you have something available for people who need a bit of help.

So there you have it, my six top tips for ensuring a successful Lync deployment, particularly if you are deploying enterprise voice. While the contents of this article has been based around deploying Lync I think you should find that the themes also apply quite nicely to any user-facing project that you need to deploy. The key thing to remember is getting your users on board with what you are trying to do, be open and honest with them for better or worse. If you have any of your own experiences you'd like to share I'd love to hear from you either in the comments below or though twitter.

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