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8 best practices to create a Microsoft Teams pilot program

Unsure if implementing Microsoft Teams is right for your organization? Learn how a pilot program can help test the platform to determine if it meets user needs.

Organizations have a lot of options when considering the best unified communication system to deploy when replacing an aging PBX or outdated VoIP system. Microsoft Teams is among those options -- particularly for companies that already use Office 365.

But before a company chooses Microsoft Teams, it should first launch a pilot program -- not just to vet the platform, but also to ensure it's the correct choice. Failure to implement the pilot using best practices can generate misleading outcomes and can lead to poor decisions.

Assessing Teams properly requires careful planning. Whereas suites like Office 365 can be deployed with little configuration and setup time -- which is one reason why SaaS is so attractive -- rolling out a Microsoft Teams pilot takes more work. Handing out headsets to IT and simply assigning a few direct inward dialing numbers is not sufficient enough to truly test Teams' full capabilities or to gauge how others within the organizations will use it.

For starters, Microsoft Teams goes well beyond the capabilities of standard VoIP or cloud PBX platforms. Teams offers a place where groups can come together to collaborate, share content, interact with other tools, use conferencing capabilities, and make or receive calls. Companies should evaluate all of these capabilities within the context of what they need today and what they will require in the future.

To deliver a successful pilot program following best practices for Microsoft Teams, there are eight key steps.

1. Define the overall goals and objectives of rolling out Microsoft Teams

During this initial phase, IT has to confirm that it understands the drivers behind the change. These drivers may include the need for better communication between different team members across multiple locations or just replacing an aging UC platform.

These objectives will also help set the stage for the Microsoft Teams pilot program and justify its need.

2. Establish sponsorship from the business and leadership

Companies should evaluate all of these capabilities within the context of what they need today and what they will require in the future.

To ensure the pilot will receive support from the business, IT needs to obtain buy-in from leaders throughout the organization and not just from within IT. This enables users from different departments to participate -- and, more importantly, to share their perceptions -- about the pilot.

3. Allocate the time and resources for the Microsoft Teams pilot program

A successful pilot requires active participation from all of its members. IT and business users need to allocate sufficient time to test and discuss Teams' overall functionality and the direction of the pilot program. As with any other relevant project within the organization, the pilot should have a project manager, timelines and a budget.

4. Define explicit use cases for the Microsoft Teams pilot program

The goal of any pilot program is to fully test a company's desired objectives. Thus, it's critical to define all of the key use cases of the UC platform it is reviewing. These use cases can include the following:

  • Testing conferencing with external users, encompassing one or two clients or vendors.
  • Testing internal collaboration with audio and video.
  • Testing desktop sharing using Teams.
  • Testing mobile apps and conferencing from personal and corporate devices.
  • Reporting on the usage and administration of the system.
  • Using third-party tools to back up Teams content.
  • Testing Teams' town hall meeting function for situations in which an organization's leadership wants to reach out to multiple users.
  • Testing international and domestic dialing.
  • Testing the different hardware that a Teams deployment might use, such as hand-held phones, conferencing systems and wireless headsets.
  • Testing transfers, hold and other PBX-like functionalities.
  • Testing any third-party software the organization may require, such as content management systems.
  • Testing integration with any other tools or software programs that the organization might deploy.

5. Acquire the necessary hardware for the pilot program

As part of the evaluation, the pilot should include testing hardware such as handsets, headsets and conference room systems to assess the platform from end to end. This will also allow users to get familiar with -- and provide feedback on -- the hardware they will use.

6. Get help from Microsoft if needed

As the pilot begins and stakeholders start to use the system, questions and unforeseen situations will likely occur. Microsoft offers a number of dedicated websites for Teams, including online training classes and technical documentation.

7. Analyze the outcome of the pilot

Once testing is complete, a pilot program committee should review the findings to determine if rolling Teams out to the entire organization is feasible and if it is the correct decision.

Admins should carefully discuss any limitations -- such as issues with call center functionality or difficulties integrating Teams with a client's ERP, for example. If those constraints are a showstopper, then additional research will be required to determine if third-party tools are available to fill the gap or, alternatively, whether those problems are so critical that they can't be ignored.

8. Prepare for the full implementation plan

If the Microsoft Teams pilot is successful, then the last step is for admins to outline the lessons learned and define how they will launch Teams. Depending on the size of the organization and its internal IT skill set, you might want to have Microsoft or one of its certified system integration companies assist with the planning and rollout.

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