Like most people nowadays, I’ve spent most of my year working from home which can be considered both a blessing and a curse at times. Lockdown has had its challenges both personally and professionally and recently it has made me stop and think about how project delivery has also had to change and adapt to the new norm which has presented me with some unique opportunities to solve some conventional problems in the way we manage projects.

I’m sure there are countless examples out there but for this post, I’ve included a recent example of mine which I thought was worth the shout out.

The Problem – The Nomadic Workforce

It’s common knowledge by now that lockdown has undoubtedly accelerated remote working capabilities and caused organisations to rethink how they deliver flexible working to their employees to empower them to work from anywhere. Traditional kiosk based users and fully staffed office spaces seem like relics of the past with most people now having a corporate laptop and mobile device to work from.

Despite the various advantages and benefits of remote working, there are some disadvantages. I’ve found that there’s a lot more virtual noise to contend with now and user engagement as a result of this can be more complicated and demanding with users being strewn all over the country instead of being concentrated on site. The working day at times can seem like Teams meeting tetris and with more ways to communicate than ever it can be difficult to get employees engaged with projects and for them to understand what is being asked of them.

I’ve recently faced this issue when I helped to plan a laptop rebuild programme with one of my clients. As part of this programme, we couldn’t just go to these users and swap out devices in person like the good old days and there was a requirement for this to be done on the clients local network at their Head Office. With their workforce being remote, there was now a lot more leg work and logistical hoops to jump through to get devices in, rebuilt and back out to those users due to these users all working remotely.

If we were to engage with each of these users directly to arrange the rebuild session and when we scale out this activity to an entire organisation this would be a considerable management overhead and it would certainly take a lot of additional time, effort and resource to deliver against this if we’re using a conventional approach.

The Solution – Microsoft Bookings Application

So instead of us having full time roles dedicated to scheduling rebuild sessions with end users, we decided to take a different approach and looked instead to utilise the Microsoft Bookings application to avoid these scheduling headaches.  For anyone not familiar, the Microsoft Bookings application is an appointment bookings & scheduling app intended for small to medium sized business customers to book appointments online. More information on the Microsoft Bookings Application can be found here.

In this scenario, we used the Microsoft Bookings application to enable users to schedule the device rebuild online. This gave the users the flexibility to arrange their device rebuild around their own schedule and once set-up the system will take into account  the designated resources availability who’d be doing the device rebuild. The entire scheduling process is streamlined and the process to book an appointment would typically take the users a couple of minutes each and wouldn’t require a full-time scheduling/ logistics role to coordinate everything directly with users, this was a massive win for the customer which ended up saving them quite a lot of time and cost in this project.

It’s worth noting that in this scenario we’re using the Microsoft Bookings application as an internal scheduling tool which isn’t it’s primary intended use as it’s more commonly used as an external appointment booking and scheduling application. Due to this there are some considerations to note.

For example, if there’s hundreds or thousands of users to contact who all need to engage with the system and in this instance schedule a device rebuild appointment then you do not want to give all the users the link to the system at once as you’d run the risk of having the majority of the users scheduling appointments all at the same time. The situation could quickly turn into a scheduling nightmare which then becomes impossible to effectively manage and track. In no time we would end up in a logistical rabbit hole with too much happening too fast. So to avoid this eventuality, we’d instead want to manage this delivery in smaller phases by looking to break up the total user base into specific targeted departments or service areas to release the bookings system to first in a sequential manner. This phased release to users will make it easier for the logistics/ scheduling lead to monitor uptake and track progress. Once the majority of users have been through the process and have had their devices rebuilt then it’s then down to the logistics/ scheduling lead to contact the few remaining users to get those final appointments over the line. This way, we’re only prioritising and directly engaging with the minority of users who have either not engaged with the system or haven’t arranged an appointment prior to the deadline instead of going down the conventional approach of having to engage directly with everyone.

This is only a small example of how this system can be used to streamline project delivery and I’m sure there will be countless other project use cases that this application can help address but it’s safe to say that I’m keen to see how Microsoft develop this application and I’m excited to see what new features and benefits will become available in future releases. Definitely one to watch!

The image below show’s an example of the front end interface that users interact with, extremely easy and straight forward to navigate.

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