Kevin Kieller
Kevin Kieller is a partner with enableUC, a company that helps measure, monitor and improve UC and collaboration usage and...
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Kevin Kieller | May 02, 2016 |


Success with Skype: Building a Winning Team

Success with Skype: Building a Winning Team The best teams comprise a mix of technical and non-technical expertise.

The best teams comprise a mix of technical and non-technical expertise.

When it comes to achieving success with Skype for Business, once you know what you need and have decided the best option to deliver the desired results, you then must build a team to implement what you've selected. This article provides details on assembling a winning implementation team.

Building Your Team
Implementing any unified communications solution is complicated and requires skills in many areas.

The skills makeup of a perfect UC implementation team looks something like this:

Let's decode and decipher this visual.

Like the best baseball teams, a great UC team has players who are good at fielding different positions. When building your UC team, look for people with expertise and experience in both technical and non-technical areas.

The percentages shown above represent the approximate proportion of time (person hours) your team will expend in each area. The percentages also represent the areas of expertise your team should collectively possess. Finally, the percentages, adding to 100%, illustrate all the areas you need to consider in order to deliver a successful solution. A team with the above composition has a great chance of succeeding with Skype for Business.

I used to advise that focusing solely on the technical roles (Lync/Skype for Business, security, Exchange, SQL, operating system, and network) could earn you a 50% -- a passing grade, barely. However, because I have seen too many IT-centric UC projects fail, I now advise that focusing only on the technical roles will most likely deliver only 45% of the required solution -- a fail. The relative sizes of the pie-chart wedges reflect my current advice.

Looking at the technical roles, an ideal team has a strong foundation and focus on the Lync/Skype for Business technical areas (20%). These team members will be primarily responsible for developing the solution architecture and design that matches the defined and documented business requirements. The people filling these roles will be responsible for knowing, or researching, best practices related to Skype for Business technical design. These team members will play a critical role in assessing and evaluating the various UC options under consideration.

You will also need strong network expertise. Specifically, your network specialists will need expertise with real-time voice and video traffic. The network team will need to certify that voice and video will have end-to-end prioritization across the LAN and WAN, and be ready to debug and troubleshoot call quality issues as they pop up. Because the world is increasingly wireless, these skills should extend to and include access point deployment, design, and troubleshooting. Note that wireless and wired protocols for expediting voice traffic are different, and team experience in both areas is important. The perfect network team would also have a member who has experience working with Lync or Skype for Business and understands the nuances and challenges associated with a UC-centric, versus purely voice-centric, solution.

Technical skills in areas such as Windows Server OS, SQL (since SQL Server acts as the database repository for all Skype for Business roles), and Microsoft Exchange are important. Microsoft Exchange plays an especially important role in a successful Skype for Business deployment in that it provides the voice mail, missed call notifications, auto attendant, IM conversation history storage and, optionally, end-user picture storage. Exchange 2013 or better is required to leverage the best of Skype for Business. Increasingly even organizations deploying on-premises Skype for Business are looking to leverage Exchange in the Microsoft Office 365 (O365) cloud; if you plan to do this, make sure your Exchange team members have O365 experience.

Do not underestimate the importance of communications and training. In most successful Skype for Business implementations, these non-technical skills play an equal or more important role in terms of determining overall implementation success. Your communication experts will be responsible for helping end users understand what is coming and when and why it is coming, and for setting proper end-user expectations. In my experience, you cannot over communicate. I recommend significant communication across multiple channels.

If people don't know how to use your UC tool, then the overall deployment will not be a success. Having the right training resource is as important to success as choosing the right technical resources. Your training resource is responsible for helping people understand how to use all the fantastic features of Skype for Business as well as helping users to understand how to do simple things such as joining a conference when on a low-quality WiFi network. Ask your training experts to develop an on-going training program, as opposed to creating a "one and done" event.

Change management refers to helping individuals successfully transition from how they do things now -- like using desk phones for voice calls -- to how you would like them to do things in the future -- using softphones on their laptops with headsets. In larger organizations, you may have specialized change management resources. In other organizations, supporting the change to Skype for Business will fall to the communications and training resources, supported by the project leader. Helping end users understand why, how, and what is in it for them are all components of a successful change management strategy.

In order to coordinate and manage your all-star team, you will need equal parts of project management and project leadership. I separate these roles because too often a project manager fixates on Gantt and PERT charts along with incremental task updates and ends up missing the overall project objectives.

You will need a project manager role because project planning and task tracking are important to success. You will also need a project leader who helps establish and then reminds team members of the project success criteria. The project leader also needs to ensure, cultivate, and demand executive support; mediate and decide between multiple technical and non-technical implementation options; provide confident and concise project status updates; and advocate for resources the project team needs in order to succeed. In some cases, one individual will serve as project leader and project manager; you might also combine other roles, especially on smaller projects. Should you combine roles take care not to omit one inadvertently, as all are required for success.

Earlier I referenced requiring both expertise and experience in a number of areas. It turns out that experience, having done something similar before, is most important in the project leadership role. The chance of success for your Skype for Business project greatly improves if your project leader has previously worked through or is receiving coaching from someone who has experience with the trials and tribulations of a previous deployment.

Building a great UC team takes effort. Many organizations convince themselves that passion or interest is a valid proxy for experience. These organizations often fail. Other organizations deliberately plan to bring on non-technical expertise "later in the project." This is like fielding only six players during the first three innings of a baseball game: not a likely path to a win.

Success with Skype for Business requires executing many methodical steps. The first is gathering measurable business requirements, followed by evaluating the different available options and making a decision, and afterwards, assembling the right team. Many organizations fail because they try to skip necessary steps and activities.

For my previous posts on this topic, see:

I spend my time helping organizations and individuals have success implementing communication and collaboration systems, most often Skype for Business, and I am committed to helping you succeed. If you have specific questions please comment below, send me a tweet at @kkieller, message me on LinkedIn, or join me in person at the Enterprise Connect Summit Series, coming to New York on June 15 and Chicago on June 22.

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