10 things deploying Microsoft Office can teach you

You can learn a lot from deploying Microsoft Office -- like how end users really work and how deeply entrenched Office is in your business.

It's just Microsoft Office, right? The ubiquity of the Office suite means it has become so entwined with many workers and their business processes it's an important -- yet sometimes disregarded -- element of daily business operations.

Microsoft Office 2013 will soon launch. Early adopters will begin to deploy it, and then other organizations will follow over the upcoming months. I've worked on teams deploying Microsoft Office, and those projects challenged how I viewed the software and gave me insights I never got as a writer or a user. Here are 10 things you can learn from deploying Office.

1: It's a good idea to start small

Upgrading to a new version of Microsoft Office can bring fundamental changes that you may not anticipate in IT department meetings. Starting off Office deployments with a small group, such as a department or project team, and then methodically moving the migration forward can help save the deployment team and end users from any additional hassle.

2: Bad Office habits can become cultural

Follow up with end users during or after a new Office deployment and you'll get insight into how they make Office work -- and maybe not so productively. These bad habits can spread across a team or even an entire organization. A deployment can be a time to work directly with your Office users without the hassles of help desk tickets or classroom learning. This is where having a trainer or Office power user attached to the deployment team can save the technicians time that can be better focused on technical issues.

3: It's part of their job, nothing more

It's easy to geek out over new features when you work in IT. However, when you get out amongst the end-user community, you may find that Office is just part of their job and they may not know much more than what it takes to use Office to do their work. If you go into an Office deployment by asking questions about their job and presenting new features that could help with their tasks, it will help sell the new version and perhaps create an internal champion for it.

4: Templates are a many splendored (yet misunderstood) thing

Office templates can be big productivity boosters, but they often result in misconceptions or misuse. When I'm working with novice Word users and questions about templates arise, I always try to understand their definition of templates because they may not be using true Word templates (*.dotx files). This is another case where having a trainer or Office power user along on the deployment can help. Depending on the impact of poor template usage, it may spark a separate post-deployment project all its own.

5: Microsoft Office skills run the gamut

Office skills can run the gamut from complete novice to power user, and changes to the interfaces and feature locations can affect some users but not others. This means the questions the deployment team receives are going to run the gamut as well and will probably have no discernible patterns. In these situations, I always recommend tracking end user questions to determine user needs, so that quick reference cards, job aids, and internal knowledge base articles can come from what the deployment team learned along the way.

6: Internal Office champions are a huge help

It's assumed that everybody who works in an office knows Microsoft Office. However, the applications are gaining in complexity, support teams are often understaffed, and groups have to stretch Office into doing more. This means it's time to find internal Office champions. They can make Office work inside their group, and they're often the first person end users go to with problems. Giving these power users early access to a new Office version can pay off later when they get other users up to speed and help sell the benefits of the upgrade.

7: The Ribbon and other UI changes make a difference

Office largely remained unchanged for years, until the launch of Office 2003. After that, Office 2007 and 2010 introduced even more changes. If you're making a major jump in your Office deployment, getting a trainer or user support person to ride along with the deployment team will keep the team from getting bogged down in end-user questions.

8: Outlook manages many processes -- if not departments or even businesses

Upgrading Office means changes to Outlook and where user folders appear. This can be initially upsetting to some users. While productivity pundits encourage people to leave the Inbox, some users manage their work lives from inside it. So invest the time up front in Outlook during the deployment to ensure a smooth transition. Outlook quick reference cards are a must for some users.

9: Office end-user support content is online and plentiful

Having been through Office deployments myself, I've found that even when the Office body of knowledge is light, free online resources can fill the knowledge gap -- but only if the organization actually uses them., TechNet, and some third-party Microsoft Office sites can answer most questions. Make sure that the deployment team and end users are aware of these free online resources.

10: Include patches, service packs, and add-ins with the deployment

Deploying Office isn't an out-of-the-box experience, so it's smart to include the current patches, service packs, and any add-ins that employees might request as part of the initial requirements. Always test the complete Office image within the IT group and even with select users prior to deployment.

Successful deployments

Microsoft Office does play an integral role in the jobs of some end users, so don't take it for granted. An Office upgrade can lead to change, which is not always welcome by some employees. Spending some upfront time planning and factoring the end user community needs can go far to ensuring a successful deployment.

Other tips?

Have you hit any obstacles in deploying Microsoft Office? What suggestions do you have for making the process go more smoothly?


Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...


That was in Office 2007, when MS replaced the 'File' menu option with that Office logo button. I installed 07 to get familiar with it. Soon I wanted to save and print a spreadsheet, but I couldn't find a readily apparent way to perform those tasks. Instead of immediately hitting the F1 key (another tool users aren't aware of or have forgotten), I decided to see how long it would take to figure it out on my own. After 30 minutes, I gave up, pushed F1, and learned that what I thought was just a logo was actually a clickable button. I made a note to point it out to each user as I upgraded his / her suite. Apparently I wasn't the only one with this problem, since it was gone and 'File' was back in the 2010 version. Sometimes MS does realize it made a mistake. (Here's hoping they give Metro the same treatment in W9.) There are sometimes pages on the MS site how to perform familiar tasks in the newest version of their applications.


I have not ever deployed MS office, however I have hit obstacles due to a dim-bulb in IT deploying the latest and greatest on the PCs used by finance, and other departments. Here's an IT maxim: if it's not EXACTLY the same, it's different. Don't install the latest and greatest then walk away before confirming the end user is happy and can continue to meet their "productivity" requirements.


Of all the experiences I've had that might have resulted in a "geek out" moment, anything MS was not one of those experiences.


Don't create group policies restricting features that are decided by network admins that aren't power users and don't have a clue how the software is used by those who use it.


The author is so right that many users of Office, not matter how long they've been working with it, have an abysmal level of knowledge. And what's more worrying, seemingly no curiousity about what it might be able to do for them. So they drag on using whatever method they found that works, or whatever they were told when they first got the job by someone who knew as little as they do. And they get bad habits...As an example, my assistant persists in making quick changes by inserting adjustments in result formulas in Excel to see if that reconciles the figures, and then leaving them there instead of amending the data area. No wonder I'm going grey.


Don't do it and jump off the Microsoft merry-go-round! For many small businesses, Office is an overbearing, unwieldy overkill, that something like LibreOffice will handle perfectly well, without the associated cost. If you're going to have a cost of training, you may as well use it effectively, to gain a better long term ROI.


My apologies for nit picking, but It was actually Office 2007 that introduced the "ribbon" interface and "Microsoft Office Button" that replaced the File menu. Office 2010 replaced the button with the "File" tab that opens "Backstage" where Save, Open, Print, etc. options are located. Cosmetic changes such as these remind me of when American auto makers used to change the front grill and head and tail light lenses from one year to the next to differentiate a particular year of the same car.Everything else -- body, frame, engine, interior -- would be the same. I don't know that the ribbon was an improvement but it has undoubtedly sold a lot of books, training materials and classes. Perhaps new users learn to navigate the ribbon easier than the old menu & toolbar interfaces. For existing users, such changes incur a great deal of lost productivity while they learn the new interface. Hopefully, they may learn to take advantage of both new and existing features that may provide shortcuts and increased productivity in the future. And there will always be complaints about changes in user interfaces. While writing character-based applications in the 80's, when an item was added to or removed from numbered option menus, users would complain that they "have always pressed 2 then 5 then 12" to do such and such "but now it is 2 then 5 then 13!"


Sorry for the inaccuracy. I read somewhere that the Ribbon came about because people would routinely request MS add features to Office apps. The problem was that the requested features were already present, but the users didn't know how to find them (or how to press F1 either, apparently). The Ribbon is an attempt to reduce the number of menu levels needed to reach a feature, and to make them more visible by adding icons to the text descriptions. MS says it's easier for new users to learn than the old menu, as you noted. Problems arise when it's installed for some experienced users. I don't have an opinion on the Ribbon's ease of use. I personally didn't have much problem with it, but I can see how others might find it ... disturbing. i certainly found it an easier transition than W7 and Aero to W8 and The GUI Formerly Known As Metro.

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