Category Archives: My 2 Cents

people holding their phones

Community Events – Local Reach

Another BIG event going on this week in the M365 world: M365 Conference 2023 in Las Vegas. It’s a 3rd party conference, though heavily invested and involved with by Microsoft by way of speakers, keynotes, sponsorship and other content. Lots of big announcements.

But not everyone can attend.

Not everyone can get there. Not everyone *wants to* attend or go to Vegas. And with a looming recession and/or economic outlook for many organizations, it might not be a great time to send folks to out of state costly conferences.

Enter… local events.

Now, I’m not trying to poo-poo these big events. They’ve got a ton of value. I speak at some of them. They’re a fantastic opportunity to step away from your day-to-day responsibilities (if you can…) meet with community (topic-wise, not geographic community) folks, spend time chatting, building broader networks, or meet and connect with Microsoft and vendor contacts. The coverage that larger events offer is also extremely important in that you can see so many sessions, workshops, vendors, and more in one spot. In addition to this week’s event, there are events like 365 EduCon that offer options in more cities throughout the year.

What I am saying is that local – usually community-run – events have a place, an important one – for many folks.

Community events like our M365TwinCities event (working on a Fall date…), the upcoming MN M365 User Group Spring Workshop, or even frequent M365TC #CoffeeCrew events fill important gaps in our communities. In upcoming weeks here in Minnesota we’ll be reviewing this week’s big announcements from Microsoft, offering more in depth coverage with workshop sessions, or just having a coffee and connecting with others. Similar groups will be meeting all over the US and the world doing the same thing.

SO. Get familiar with your local community. Join it. Take part in it. Contribute to it with your time and experience. And if there’s not a community you’re looking for – consider building one!

wood letter tiles forming a message

Community Events – Find your Context

OK. Two quick points to make regarding “context”:

  1. The posts I’m writing about community events are my opinions. Just one opinion of many that are out there. Heck, it’s just one opinion on my team – ask Sarah or Tamara what they think. These are not “Do it this way or you’re wrong” posts. I’m attempting to give my perspective for folks to hopefully glean something useful from when considering, or running, your own events. You should also seek other opinions. 🙂
  2. Understand your own context… your community. When considering hosting an event, do your best to understand the context you’re working in. That context is going to include things like the communities you’re a part of, the technology you’re working with, the organizations that are a part of the area you’re in, and the organizational cultures you’re working with as well.

My Context

I’m a consultant that’s worked with consulting firms of all sizes and as an independent. Before that I worked for a large retail organization where I had my first exposure to SharePoint. I’ve been working with SharePoint, Lists, M365, Teams, the Power Platform, and a lot of the rest of the Microsoft tools since then – almost 20 yrs. I’ve been a Microsoft MVP since 2009. I’ve been speaking at and organizing user groups and community events throughout that time.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn. I merely want to establish that I’ve got some background in this stuff.

I’m in the Twin Cities – Minneapolis, St. Paul – Minnesota. Our metro area is home to a large and healthy Fortune 500 community of organizations in addition to the largest private company in the US. There’s also a significant representation of government organizations from the state, county, and city levels. All of these public, private, and governmental organizations use the Microsoft suite.

The Twin Cities is also home to a number of user-driven groups around technology. User groups, meetups, consulting company-driven groups, Microsoft-driven events, and community events like our M365TC group. Lots to choose from and enough where we’ve got a track record that attendees can count on and are comfortable attending.

Our Event – M365 Twin Cities

Our event has been an all-day Saturday event – in the style of SharePoint Saturday – now Community Days – events. We generally run two events per year – in the Spring and Fall. Part of our context in Minnesota is weather – so as mentioned in the Pick a Date post – we don’t (usually) mess with Winter scheduling or compete with Summer scheduling. Winter does still like to mess with us – even with Spring and Fall events… Our event usually draws 300-400 attendees – which is larger than most SPS-like events.

We’ve been able to keep it free to attendees so far with company sponsorships covering event costs.

You can see more details about the most recent event in our recap post.

All in all, it’s a relatively fantastic environment – and context – to run successful events in. We’ve got an eager and interested audience, a fair number of folks willing and interested in speaking, and a combination of local and national companies willing to invest in events as sponsors.

Why?

Why am I posting about community events?

  • I love helping folks skill up on technologies, solutions, productivity, and more. Community events are a great (and usually free!) way for folks to learn and grow.
  • I’ve been part of a group running events for many years and want to help others do the same.
  • I’ve recently been named a Regional Leader for the Microsoft Global Community Initiative (MGCI) and part of our job is to help others run events and develop communities.

What does your context look like?

Your Event – Your Context

You don’t have to be a long-time participant in a technical community. In fact, we readily welcome and encourage new folks to get involved. It does, however, help if you have spent some time in the community – meeting people, discovering groups, and getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t in your area. That’s where I recommend starting.

Do you have an audience? Can you find it? Can you build it?

Is there an existing group or event you can spin off from? Maybe a slightly different topic or audience where a new event may expand or complement the existing group or event? Most recently we’ve seen Power Platform groups spinning up in areas with thriving M365 groups as one example.

Do you have folks willing to invest time and energy in running an event? Can you find them?

Do you have local companies willing to invest $ in supporting events?

Is there an event you’ve attended that you might model your event/group on? Speak with the event organizer and see if they’d be willing to answer questions, etc. to get you started.

You don’t have to start big. Find a group of peers and start a user group that meets on a monthly basis. There are lots of variations and paths to building communities, groups, and events.

Community Events

Find them. Join them. Create them. Build them.

I’ve listed ours and others below. These are just a sampling.

References

photo of person holding book

Community Events – Pick your Topic

Creating a community event.

You’ve got a team, or maybe just a few folks to get started. Now it’s time to pick a topic for your event. You can’t talk about *everything*. Well, you could, but it would be a lot harder to attract attendees, speakers, and sponsors without defining a scope.

For me, a “topic” is both a subject and audience. The combination of these will give shape to your event for attendees, expectations to folks submitting sessions, and a scope for potential sponsors that want to understand what products and services your audience will be interested in.

Picking a topic shouldn’t be too hard for your team. In many cases, it’s the unifying subject that brings you together.

  • What subject matter are you passionate about? SharePoint, Dynamics365, Microsoft Teams, Power Platform, ServiceNow, Workday, or something like a specific integration between two products – niche subjects are certainly welcome if there’s an audience. etc.
  • What new topics do you want to get the word out about? Cloud-based products change so fast that it’s challenging for folks to keep up. The flip side to that might be maintaining a community for legacy products that still have customers that need attention (on-premises products potentially a few versions back…)
  • What specific pain point do you want to address? Is there a particular product + audience combination you want to target? For example: Law Offices using Microsoft Teams or M365
  • What underserved audience needs addressing? e.g. UX best practices across the M365 platform… You don’t have to start a community or event that has events on a regular basis. Events could be as needed or develop into regularly scheduled once the community grows to sufficient size.
  • Is it some or all of the above?

A topic your team is interested in should be a minimum for you and your team. The event and the effort lose some of its energy if it’s not something your team is excited about or invested in.

How broad or narrow do you want your scope to be? All of M365, or a specific product or group of products? All of the Power Platform, or just certain ones? All of Azure (ouch) or something more manageable?

Do you want to focus on one or more roles related to the topic, or open to any? We started with traditional roles like IT Pros, Devs, and Users… but roles have expanded and evolved. Each product might have its own set of roles as well. Project managers, site administrators, channel administrators, and so many more.

What’s your vision?

Topic and audience is a good place to start defining your vision for the event. Once you have those narrowed down, you can start to get into practical decisions about how the event will run, be scheduled, be hosted and paid for, etc. We’ll cover more about the vision in future posts.

Event Naming

Your topic and scope will also contribute to your event name. If you’ve got something in mind, great! If you don’t, you could default to using a name/brand consistent in the community like the “Community Days” brand. Just make sure it’s a brand and name that’s available for use, that you follow rules that may come with the name, etc. There’s a lot of value in using a known name in that it can come with built-in expectations for attendees, speakers, and sponsors. We can talk about the specific benefits of Community Days in another post.

Gaps and Overlaps

One other thing to keep in mind when considering your topic, is what groups, topics, and events already exist in your market? Do you want to compete with other events and groups? Do you want to offer complementary content or events? Do you want to fill a gap or offer something a little different to differentiate from existing groups? Knowing your market will help you find a place in it to be successful without negatively affecting other groups.

Our event: M365TC

It’s been quite a while since I thought about this topic from scratch.

For many of us in the Microsoft M365 and SharePoint space, we started doing events around the SharePoint product. Our event started in 2008 as a “SharePoint Camp” for IT Pros, Developers, and users. It aligned with the “SharePoint Saturday” brand shortly after and then evolved over the years as SharePoint grew with content expanding to include technologies and products that integrated with SharePoint as well. Now, in its current form we’ve switched from “SharePoint” to “M365” to accommodate how the platform has evolved and products are marketed. The roles have changed a bit as well, adding executives, managers, decision makers, citizen developers and more.

What’s your topic going to be? Reach out to other local event producers and organizers or regional leaders if you want help in figuring out your event topic!

woman in black tank top

Community Events – Speaker Development

There’s always room for improvement.

As event producers, we can use our events to grow the community in many ways. The most obvious is bringing news, updates, and training to attendees. But we can also use these event opportunities to elevate speakers – of all levels.

New Speakers

Be deliberate and open to adding new speakers to your event roster. It’s easy to select known speakers – folks with a track record of good presentations that score well with attendee feedback. At the end of the day, these veterans usually offer timely topics with practical experience and polished presentation skills.

But how did they get that way? Someone let them present for the first time. Why not keep the cycle going and give folks a chance when you can. Start with earmarking a few session slots per event for new speakers – either folks new to your event or folks new to speaking. It’s often easiest to choose folks that are local to your event as you’ll have more opportunity to work with them if they want help.

New folks might need some nudging, a bit more attention and energy than veterans. First, we’ve got to identify folks. Some of them will be upfront with a willingness to present when they make a point of chatting with organizers during the event. Others might mention a good case study or topic they’ve dug into that we as organizers know would make a great topic. So, we have to find these folks, identify them, and encourage them to consider submitting sessions. Speak up. They need to know. They need the feedback.

Mentoring

If you can, offer to mentor new folks if they’d like input on topics, writing abstracts and titles, building presentations, doing demos, and public speaking. Just sitting down to chat about the whole process might nudge them through that impostor syndrome many of us feel and make them feel less anxious about submitting topic ideas.

Mentors might come from your leadership team, or other speakers. When you’re connecting with folks that have presented, check in to see if they’d be interested in helping new folks. Mentoring might be a quick call, something they can do over coffee, or a series of meetings depending on what works for them. It’s a great networking opportunity for everyone involved as well.

Diversity

I’m not going to explain the benefits of diversity in your speaker lists – there’s tons of content about that. There’s a lot of value for our audiences in hearing different perspectives from speakers. So, take a look at how you’re doing, keep an eye out for folks that might offer another perspective.

Note: It helps to have a leadership team that also has a range of perspectives.

I won’t go as far as recommending you come up with a quota, but as you’re going through your speaker/session selection process, take a look at the speaker list before you lock things in and consider tweaking where needed. If you don’t find the balance you’d like to see, leave some slots open and maybe request changes or new submissions from folks. Your attendees will notice and appreciate a spectrum of voices.

Presentation Reviews

As a group we’ve been talking about this one for a while. We haven’t done anything like a workshop yet – though I’d love to figure out how to make that work. Challenges here are things like speakers generally are already busy, they’re already giving their time up to attend and present, and it would be hard to find a time to get a bunch of them together. However, it would be nice to offer this type of thing as a service to speakers that are interested. So, something to consider.

In our case, we’re lucky enough to have a Power Point MVP – Sandra Johnson – locally here in the Twin Cities. She’s also part of a group called the Presentation Guild that looks like it has a ton of useful materials for speakers.

Even the most polished and experienced presenters could probably do with a review of their materials and suggestions how to make them better. I know from experience that we rarely have the opportunity to get feedback from peers while at events. Also, aside from a general workshop I know a few individuals reached out directly to Sandra though and they’ve been super excited about how that coaching/experience worked for them.

Speaking Coaching

For some folks, public speaking is a hurdle. They might have some good ideas for a topic or a case study but might not have experience or be comfortable speaking in front of a crowd – even a small one. For this, there are a few options.

Co-presenting

Find someone to co-present with – preferably a seasoned speaker – they can balance a session with. It’s a great opportunity to get your feet wet without putting all the pressure on your own shoulders. Many event organizers should be able to recommend folks that would be interested in working with new folks. It’s often an opportunity for both parties to learn something.

Toastmasters

Another option that’s been available for quite a while, is an organization called Toastmasters. It’s kind of like a support group for speakers (my description). But a great place to work on your speaking skills and comfort level while also doing some networking. Here in the Twin Cities, we had a technology-focused group as well called Tech Masters though I’m not sure if they’re currently active – possibly another COVID organizational casualty.

New Technology

One last thing to consider is keeping up with updates in the tools themselves – from Power Point Designer to Microsoft’s new Copilot functionality to speaker insights available through Microsoft Teams. There’s a growing opportunity within the tools we use for speaker upskilling and updating how we each present our content. This might also be an area where we could leverage experts like Sandra who know those tools well.

Game on!

room chair lot

Build a Team to Organize Community Events

Don’t go it alone.

Technically, sure, you can do it. But don’t. It’s not worth the pain, frustration, stress, and anxiety.

If you’ve got a desire to produce an educational event for a community, there are a lot of details to pull together to be successful and managing those tasks requires a lot of time and energy. So, before you dig into that task list, build your team.

Building a team not only distributes the workload, but has the potential to bring diversity of thoughts, perspectives, and ideas – all contributors to more successful outcomes.

Our event – M365TC

I’ve been a part of local events for years. The one I’m most involved with is M365 Twin Cities, formerly a SharePoint Saturday event. For a bit of context, before COVID we were running two events a year with 300-500 attendees. Details about our most recent event: M365 Twin Cities Winter 2023 by the Numbers – Wes Preston (idubbs.com).

Our current organizing team has six members, though we’ve had as many as eight people involved. There are countless ways to spread out responsibilities. You’ll likely find that assignments can align with team members’ skills, though roles may also evolve over time. Each person brings their own skills, experience, and strengths. Leverage what you can, grow the skills you don’t have, and lean on other folks in your community or the broader community when you can or need to (see info below about MGCI).

The following is an example of how an event team could delegate tasks and roles. It’s just an example of how our team does it, not necessarily a model for everyone.

  1. We have a person that manages sponsorships – They determine sponsor levels, assemble documentation and materials, communicate with sponsors running up to the event, connect with sponsors the day of the event, and following up with them after the event.
  2. We have a person that manages speakers – They organize the call for speakers, coordinate and moderate the speaker selection process (a group of as many of our organizing group as we can get together), manage communication with speakers, coordinate speaker gifts, post session details and assemble the agenda, pull together and distribute speaker and session feedback, and more.
  3. We have a person that coordinates food for the event, pulls together a speaker dinner, and orders all of our swag.
    Preparing the food requires talking with potential vendors, pricing out options, coordinating delivery, and more all to keep our attendees fed. The speaker dinner requires coordinating the location, menu, invites and RSVPs.
    Event swag varies event to event but involves selecting items, managing timelines, and more.
    Note: Sounds like a lot of for one person, and it is. These could easily be delegated to three separate folks, but we’ve been lucky to have this person around for years and she’s got it all figured out.
  4. We have a person that does all the money and legal stuff. It’s a short description, but pretty specific and requires its own experience.
  5. We have someone that coordinates our venue – Finding the venue when we need to move, communicates with the venue host, handles contracts, maps and materials for the event and signage for attendees to get around, and more. Details here include what rooms, resources, and staff are needed and available for the event. They typically coordinate set up and tear down, putting up a giant session “wall” (agenda for the day by room), communications for the team during the event, and AV for keynotes, opening, and closing sessions.
  6. We have a volunteer coordinator that figures out what we’ll need help with, comes up with a plan, and organizes a call for volunteers prior to the event. During the event she wrangles all the volunteers, sets up and staffs the check in desk for attendees.

Don’t let the number of words or the length of the descriptions above fool you either. This doesn’t capture everything we end up doing. We all have our hands full. Our team is pretty flexible, so there are often responsibilities that jump from one person to another as time and availability dictate. There are all sorts of variations out there on how to run an event, where to invest your time, and more. This is just one example.

The main point is, there’s a lot of work to do and having a team in place helps spread the work around without (hopefully) overwhelming any one person. You have to divide to conquer. Build a great team.

Microsoft

In the Microsoft space, the Microsoft Global Community Initiative is working to make organizing Microsoft community events easier by providing tools and resources for leaders to put on successful events. Keep an eye on MGCI as this effort matures, grows, and more resources become available to help you be successful.

Note: I was recently named a Regional Leader for MGCI. What does that mean? Stay tuned… 🙂

References

code projected over woman

Preparing Technical Skills during a Job Search

Overview, Context, and Outcomes

When it comes time to start a job search, what do you start to think about, how do you prepare, and what do you do regarding your tech skills?

Note: Tech skills might be a primary focus for you – when your job IS working with tech – or it might be secondary – where tech tools are part of what you do but more of a means to an end than the primary activity. How you approach your tech skills during a job search doesn’t really differ, though the priority may vary.

Here’s how it usually looks for me:

  1. Assess current skill levels, identify topics to improve and gaps to fill, and dig into new topics you’ve been meaning to look at
  2. Learn! – Skill up existing capabilities and fill gaps in your skill set
  3. Get Certified
  4. Update the resume, profiles, and other content sources.

Understand the outcomes you are looking for as you work through the job search process. Define the targets and goals that will motivate you through the process.

Assess and Identify Topics and Skills

I was kind of hoping this would be a clear 1, 2, 3 sort of logical progression, but I’ve found it’s more of an iterative and non-linear process.

  • You can likely easily discern between: “I have a bunch to learn” and “I just need to polish off a few skills”. Don’t sell yourself short, but also don’t oversell yourself. Try to be honest with yourself – it’s best for everyone to find that balance between humility and confidence. Smile
  • Don’t spend too much time overanalyzing it. You probably have a short list of topics you know you’ve been meaning to get to or areas you want to brush up on. Start there. It’ll help you get into the learning groove.
  • I’ve historically started by coming up with a list of accomplishments (projects, solutions, etc.) or activities (“keep the lights on” sort of daily or repeated tasks) and translating those into skills and categories. Thinking back on those activities leads to a decent list of skills I’m comfortable with, really good at, or raise a flag on areas I want to improve on. All solid info to build on.
  • If you want to get more comprehensive (after your first pass or two), you’ll need to invest a bit more time. You’ll need to both find an accurate and up to date list of skills or features and assess your skills and experience against that list. Also keep in mind that list is a moving target with products these days changing so quickly.

Learn

If you haven’t already, figure out if you have a preferred way of learning. Is it reading, watching videos, attending classes or conferences, or just clicking around in your product of choice?

Where do you find the resources you need to learn what you want? I’m a reader and doer, so I like to start with product documentation – online articles and content – while clicking around in the product. But I’m lucky to be working in a product space with generally really good content from the product company itself as well as access to learning versions of software and services. Not all products work that way. After I’ve read up a bit and learned the correct terminology, I’ll venture out a bit to see what the wider community has published. This is where I’ll generally find more of the pros and cons, best practices, and more practical knowledge.

If you’re taking the time to learn new things, take a few more minutes and journal the journey a bit. What are you learning? How can, will, or did you already use that new skill to do something notable. It’ll help you retain that knowledge and/or share it with others.

Test and Certify

The value of certification varies across products, communities, and organizations. Is it important in your company, community, or niche? Are you at a place in your career where you need to provide some sort of baseline knowledge, etc.?

If certifications exist that align with your skills, check them out. As you’re learning and in the midst of skilling up, topics and details are likely fresh in your mind and it’s a good time to take those tests.

There’s probably more to dig into on the certification topic, but not today.

Update your Story

Fine tune your story – ideally, your skills have grown and matured since the last time you looked for a new job. Update how you describe yourself – use defined roles – and your journey, the highlights so far, the value you offer, and the goals you have.

Updating the story itself takes a bit of effort, creativity, nuance, and probably some assistance and feedback. After that, it’s the practical cutting, pasting and making sure you’re using that new story consistently across the services you use to tell the world about you and connect with recruiters and companies.

  • Update your profiles, job sites, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Update your “About me” to include what you’ve accomplished, what roles you can fill, and your goals moving forward.
  • Prepare examples and stories that showcase your knowledge and experience to talk about with prospective employers.
  • Add more specific activities and projects/outcomes to your job description where the sites or services allow it.

Next Steps and Now Steps

The concepts above apply to more than just job seekers. Why wait until you’re looking for a job to learn something new, to write down something you’ve done and share it with others? Folks can learn from your experiences and examples right now. You can learn something new right now. You don’t need to take a class, attend a conference, read a whole manual to find those nuggets of info that will resonate with your situation. Yes, those are great ways to learn, but you can continue learning and growing in much smaller chunks on a more regular basis if you are motivated to grow. Why wait?

Learning in Public

This tweet got me thinking:

Building in Public

Presumably the context here is “Building in Public” which Arvid often talks about. The concept being if you’re building a company, a startup, a solution to some problem – that you talk (and publish content) about the thought process going into it, the decisions you’re making along the way. This process, this openness, exposes the “why” to your “what”. It makes the founder and the concept more approachable. It provides context for potential customers, partners, and clients to understand the solution, the impact, and the business more. It will drive engagement, and ideally end up with not just more customers, but more passionate customers.

Arvid and others can do a better job of explaining the “Building in Public” concept, but that’s the takeaway I have from it.

Keep in mind, talking, building, and having conversations doesn’t mean you’re *right* about everything, for sure. But you’re digging in and developing opinions. Ideally, you’re open to discussion on topics and tweaking your opinions as you learn and grow. 

Learning and Doing in Public

“Show evidence of your mastery” The context I’m interested in is around tech skills. And showing mastery here is just as important. 

How do you show evidence? Write a blog post or an article on a site like LinkedIn. Record a demo video. It could start with journaling for yourself until you’re comfortable writing for others. There are lots of ways of getting started and progressing from there. 

For Yourself

  • It can show your current employer what you know, what you’re learning, as well as how well you can communicate.
  • It provides more information to prospective employers if/when you’re looking for a new opportunity.
  • Sharing, writing, communicating: Great practices that develops soft skills.

For Your Company

  • Like individuals sharing stories, organizations can demonstrate proficiencies to clients and customers. 
  • Within a company, teams can share solutions to internal challenges. These often result in other departments wanting to implement similar solutions – not only resulting in business wins but added ROI for the tools and licensing companies invest in. 

For Others

The more you share, the more opportunities there are for folks to learn from you. People learn in different ways. You never know when your style of communication might sync with someone’s method of learning. You never know when that nugget of information you figured out is the one thing they’ve been trying to find.

Jobs vs. Roles

Overview and Context

“Jobs” vs. “roles”. What is a job, versus what is a role. It’s a bit of a baseline-setting, foundational topic to support future posts. Some folks might consider jobs and roles to be the same, or at least very similar. My perspective is that not only are they different, but that it’s important to understand how they are different when it comes to training, skills, and other “how can I fulfill the requirements of my job or even exceed expectations” topics.

The dictionary definitions:

Job – a paid position of regular employment.

Role – the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.
Or, to make it a bit more readable:    the function played by a person.

While the definitions tell the difference, there are some nuances. I’ve seen the terms used somewhat interchangeably in business – often when talking with management or folks in HR. I don’t think this is horrible or worth correcting, but it can lead to confusion.

A job is your employment – described by who you work for, where you work, the “whole” of the expectations of you, etc. It aligns with a title you put on your resume, your business card, your LinkedIn Experience section. Job responsibilities likely include many roles, often capped off with: “other duties as assigned”.

A role is usually one of the many things you do, roles you play in your job. Some of those roles are related to soft skills, some are related to tech skills or platforms. In some cases, your job and role might overlap 100%. In my experience, most folks have one primary job with many roles.

To make things a little more confusing, if you work in or around the IT space, terminology used when developing and marketing products, apps, and solutions can overlap here as well. We have terms like “persona”, “user stories”, and “use cases”. These terms tend to have a lot in common with what the rest of us refer to as “roles” and are important when it comes to training and communications. These terms flip the perspective – from the person’s perspective to the product’s perspective. Thankfully the perspectives often meet in the middle and everyone gets along.

Examples

A number of technical products have some or all of the following roles associated to them.

User – A person that uses the capabilities of a tool or service. A consumer of the content or tool. Folks that use Word, Excel, OneDrive, etc. In most, if not all, cases, users have other more primary business roles. Their *job* is not “user”. More often than not these folks don’t think about tech or tool-aligned roles until they are forced to (communications from IT, training, etc.)

Administrator – An administrator might be at a product (M365, Teams, SharePoint, Workday, ServiceNow, etc.) level, or at a more granular team level. They have responsibilities for keeping the system running and configurating the tools and services. In some situations (team, site, or channel), administrators might have both admin roles and business roles. In other situations, administrators may administer many sites or platforms, but not have other business roles.

Developers – Developers customize or extend functionality of existing platforms or create new solutions. They might be exclusively developers but work with a variety of tools or platforms. They might have other business roles but do some development or coding as a part of that job. There are a lot of options. Development vs. low-code developer vs. maker vs. other names, titles, and roles might be a topic for another day…

There are many other variations. Often folks have more than one role with “user” generally being a more-or-less common denominator.

Note: Another potential post topic – When an admin or developer is NOT familiar with user capabilities…

Application of Roles

Why is it important to understand roles? Because roles often define the target audience and the context used for effective communication, training materials, and even functionality in products and services. When roles aren’t accurately understood, communication and training can drop in effectiveness.

HR is another area where understanding roles is important.

  • Understanding existing organizational capabilities and identifying skill gaps
  • Finding resources within a company
  • Assisting hiring managers when creating job descriptions
  • Finding appropriate candidates to hire
  • Assisting employees with skill and career progression

There are, of course, many more examples. Topics to dig into in follow-up posts…

Resumes and Job Sites

When looking for job opportunities in other organizations, we have resumes, LinkedIn, and other services that help folks describe both their jobs and the roles that they fulfill. That’s a lot of information to share – hence the art of writing resumes and getting as much information into as concise a description as you can, with enough teaser info to warrant a second look. Understanding roles, and sometimes giving a name to them, helps folks define themselves more effectively. If there are known, common, role names within an industry or product area, this can help. But individuals are often left on their own to tell their story.

Wrap-up

Why am I interested in clarifying this? I’m working on a project (a SaaS startup) that has to do with technical skills and learning. A core concept in this area are roles – specifically related to technology platforms.

Example: In years past, folks in my industry/community might say: “I do SharePoint”. Cool. Except what the heck does that mean? How do you work with it? What do you do? What are your capabilities? Ultimately, “What can you do for ME?”. It didn’t take long to drill down a bit if you were familiar with the platform. Are you a developer, a site administrator, a platform administrator, a user? Not everyone was familiar with the platform, so that made for challenges. We face similar challenges with platforms today and will likely continue to as new platforms come online and the services we have continue to evolve.

Navigating the skill requirements of roles is key to working effectively. It’s just one of many perspectives – soft skills, etc. are obviously also critical. As employers, managers, trainers, employees, consultants, and team members it’s critical to understand scope and context, to set expectations, and more. The more we understand these roles, the better we can train for them, align them with work, and ultimately set folks up for success.

Other Duties as Assigned

It’s easy to dismiss this often joked about phrase or caveat on many job descriptions. But it’s also useful to note that many folks have found their calling, or at least jobs they’ve really enjoyed because of “other duties as assigned”. I expect the examples are limitless. I spoke with someone this weekend at an aircraft company that got to his current position (and the last few within the company) because of seemingly random knowledge and experience paired with an open mind and open ears. He saw a need, had some input, and eventually moved into a new role.

We’ve seen this happen plenty of times within the IT space as well. Again, plenty of examples. Folks in business departments assigned a tech platform role – or to use a specific tool for the department (e.g., SharePoint Site Owner, Microsoft Teams channel owner, etc.) – that leads down a path they hadn’t considered before.

It’s a fun topic but can come with other challenges and use-cases to address in another post.

My 2 Cents: M365 Voice #28

I was particularly interested in hearing what the M365 Voice crew had to say in their latest episode as the topic is near and dear: Keeping up with the latest news, updates, changes, etc. in the technology platforms we use… more later on why I’m so interested.

Episode #28How can organizations today stay on top of changes in M365

The question asked is one many folks ask – both from an individual’s perspective and from an organization’s perspective. I’ll extend the question from the show a bit more broadly: “How do we keep up with *any* of these technical platforms that move so quickly?” Now, the M365 crew was focused on the perspective of the org – an extremely important perspective. From a slightly different angle, I think the personal perspective is also relevant and overlaps with the needs of organizations.

Why is this important?

SO many reasons.

From the organization’s perspective, it’s important to keep up:

  • to understand any risks to the org introduced by changes
  • to know when changes may require communication and training for users
  • to be aware of ways to increase ROI on platforms – using capabilities that are available and applicable to the org

From an individual’s perspective, they’ll want to:

  • keep up with changes in order to maintain skill sets (marketability, etc.)
  • know their tool set in order to be the best resource they can be for their org

And many more…

My 2 cents

  1. So first of all, I find Microsoft does a pretty good job with documentation and communication around many of its products, better than most companies in my experience. For context, my experience has been primarily in the areas of SharePoint, O365, and now Power Platform, so keep that in mind. Do they cover everything to everyone’s satisfaction on the timeline everyone expects? No. Set your expectations realistically and provide feedback where you can – they do listen and act on it.
  2. The ideas, examples, and summary the M365 Voice crew gave are right on – great places to be if you’re in the know, deep in the technology. As was mentioned several times, it’s also important to keep everyone else (beyond IT – hence the reason for governance boards, etc.) in the loop as well, which is somewhat more challenging.
  3. The Message Center and feeds from it are an excellent place to start. While I personally don’t go to the Admin area and check Message Center directly right now, I do get regular emails with updates from the Message Center that provide me enough info to get an overview of changes and find what I need by digging in when I want to know more.The “digging in” part is where things start to go sideways a bit.

    As the crew touched on – if you’re invested in the technology and community, finding additional info is doable. You’ve built a list of channels to follow and are familiar with the terms that get you the search results you need. If you’re not dug in yet or are coming from more of the business side of the organization than the IT side, then there are challenges in going deeper:

    1. Who do you follow on social media?
    2. How do you know which channels produces reliable content, opinions, experience, or conclusions which don’t?
    3. What is your preferred content? Video, podcasts, documentation, etc.? Folks learn in different way

    Bottom line for me is that Message Center is a great starting point but it would be nice to have more “where to go now” direction when needed.

  4. I LOVE the Message Center syncing with Planner. Thanks for the heads-up on that Sarah – I hadn’t caught wind of that capability before now. From a governance perspective, this feature is huge. Not only giving us a source of information, but enabling administrators a way to facilitate a process of review and communication. A few links below but I’m shocked there isn’t more out there (yet?) about this feature.

Why do I care? What am I working on?

Well, the reason I care about this topic is because of a project I’m working on – a potential service and resource for bringing technical platform capabilities together with an approach to tracking individuals’ technical skills as well as collections of resources to learn about these capabilities. The subject matter covered today touches on all of these.

  • What roles do you recognize in your organization when it comes to tech tools?
    More than ever, this is different than job titles. You might have traditional IT roles like IT Pros/admins, Developers, etc. You might also have someone on a business team that’s also a Microsoft Teams owner, or a channel owner. You might have a power user that’s building Power Apps or flows in Microsoft Automate. These are all legit use cases, both traditional roles and newer ones.
  • What pain points are each of those roles finding when it comes to keeping up to date with today’s tech platforms?
  • Do those folks have challenges or are they getting what they need with the processes you have in place?
  • How does your organization facilitate or help folks skill up and/or keep up? How do individuals or teams do what they need on their own?
  • On-boarding new folks, rolling out new products and capabilities – use-cases that in an ideal world will come with training for all the relevant roles. But training often is a one-time shot. How do folks at your organization keep up with these products *after* the initial training?

I’d love to chat if you’re willing – to hear about your specific pain points. Send me an email, respond to this post, whatever you’re comfortable with.
I know what I’ve seen, but I’m just a single data point. Smile 

Links and References

Sarah also followed up with a post with additional content and references.

Message Center connector

Sync Message Center posts to Microsoft Planner