Getting the call
I will never forget that morning. I logged on to find an email from my manager Laura, the Digital Portfolio Manager, asking me to ‘call when you are online’.
This was the start of the most intense roll-out I have ever experienced.
The task was to roll-out Microsoft Teams (or just ‘Teams’) across Parliament to allow people to work remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Almost overnight, 9,200 staff had to leave the Parliamentary estate and constituency offices across the country and adjust to working from home. We urgently needed a robust and easy way to help everyone collaborate.
Teams is a chat-based app that works on mobiles, desktops and other devices so that colleagues can communicate with each other using video and collaborate more easily than using email or a phone call. People can work together and share information via a common space. Using Teams would be crucial in keeping the wheels of Parliament moving.
I contacted people I knew would be key to this and started daily ‘stand-up’ calls to talk through the day’s tasks. Most of us had not used Teams before so we had to learn. Fast.
I created 4 workstreams led by different project managers: Technical, Support, Engagement and Governance.
We defined our technical architecture and made sure we enabled the collaboration features of Teams. We planned to link each new team to an existing SharePoint site where we store key documents and use Teams for meetings, chat and calls.
Training and guidance
Working with a specialist supplier, we rapidly created training and guidance materials to support colleagues. Parliament went into Easter recess early and we had until the end of recess to complete the project. Business partners helped us to work out our timetable and identify pilot teams prepared to help us test our approach.
We trained our support desk and delivered Teams to the first 4 pilot teams on day 7. After completing our first pilots over 3 days we allowed ourselves a 2 day retrospective to review what we had learned before we had to move on.
Teams includes communication and collaboration features. There were two options. Give everyone the communication features at a rapid pace then add the collaboration tools later. Or roll out the full features from the start.
We decided to roll-out all the features at once. This would reduce disruption for staff and give them all the tools they need. The downside was be that some teams had to wait a bit longer but the overall process was quicker and the end result gave us a controlled, supportable environment.
Our pilots confirmed that this approach was correct and we used the retrospective to streamline our roll-out process so we could deliver rapidly.
Feedback from our first users
On 6 April we began our main roll-out and once we started we had to keep going. On the second day we received positive feedback from our first users which made us realise how much they valued the work we were doing. Days were a whirl of jumping from online meeting to online meeting trying to coordinate all the activities.
By the Easter weekend Teams had been rolled-out to just under 1,000 people. By the end of the following week we completed over 6,500 and were ready for the Houses to return. Several weeks later all 9,200 users were using it.
Milestone in the Chambers
House of Lords proceedings in the Chamber were due to start using Teams on 21 April. I held my breath as I watched at the allotted time. I wanted to cheer when the Lord Speaker opened the meeting and I realised we had been successful. On the final day we turned our daily stand-up into an online party.
Teams is providing stable and secure communication and collaboration across Parliament and is used for all internal online meetings including staff virtual ‘Town Hall’ sessions. MPs have improved communications with their constituencies and can hold private virtual surgeries.
Secure virtual Committee meetings allow witnesses to attend remotely. Teams has made it easier for us all to access key information and reliably share documents during online meetings to improve collaboration.
It was Parliament’s first fully online project and many of us were working at dining room tables and juggling with home schooling children as well. Agile communications, understanding that we were all doing our best, and a desire to get it right first time all contributed to our success.
At our height approximately 30 people joined the daily ‘stand-up’ so we could address issues and plan for the next day. A praise channel in our Team site helped us to show how much we appreciated each other.
A rollercoaster ride
I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such talented individuals working on something so important for Parliament. I am still amazed at what we achieved.
It was a fantastic experience and one I shall never forget.