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?