For the past eight years, cultural change at Microsoft has accelerated based on open and transparent conversation, addressing tough problems from a diverse set of perspectives, and clear articulation of values applied to technical, social, and ethical questions. Essential to the communication fabric that enables this growth is cross-company participation across vibrant and diverse communities, powered by Yammer.
Recently, Microsoft positioned its employees and staff for the next wave of collaboration by shifting Yammer to Native Mode, strengthening the ties across Microsoft 365 and the social network. Migrating to Native Mode transforms the community model to be aligned with Microsoft 365 groups and the collaboration and communication capabilities of Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft SharePoint. A network in Native Mode empowers IT professionals with processes and management found in the tools established for Microsoft 365.
All of these improved functions and compliance features led Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO), the engineering organization at Microsoft that builds and manages the products, processes, and services that Microsoft runs on, to shift the Yammer network entirely into the integrated infrastructure.
Why it was time to implement Native Mode
Yammer joined the Microsoft family of products in 2012. Since then, the internal social networking service has experienced significant and organic growth, becoming a wellspring for knowledge-sharing across the company. Microsoft’s employees and partners have long relied on Yammer to communicate. During Microsoft’s recent work-from-home period, 110,000 users turned to Yammer to connect and collaborate with colleagues. Even prior to that, Microsoft employees and third-party guests have leaned heavily on the platform to communicate initiatives, changes, and host stimulating and asynchronous conversations on critical topics. As the social network grew, it became clear that it was necessary to remove some outdated or irrelevant material for the health and future development of the network.
Migrating to Native Mode is the only way to fully align the back end of Yammer to the rest of the Microsoft suite, including Microsoft Azure Active Directory. Beyond integration, Native Mode permits CSEO to manage all Yammer communities with the same policies and practices implemented across Microsoft 365. The integrated infrastructure of Native Mode enables all files and conversations to be searchable and shareable through common methods. Additionally, moving to Native Mode allowed CSEO to leverage Microsoft Azure B2B guest models, adopting unified and familiar document, group, and app sharing models for partners and customers.
The strong identity management introduced in Native Mode simplifies oversight, adding controls to manage guest identities and appropriate guest access to the service. In addition to the Microsoft Azure B2B guest capabilities, Microsoft 365 rules and policies can now be applied to Yammer communities.
With new policies promoting safe practices and rules removing unused content, Yammer in Native Mode empowers a vibrant network to continue supporting Microsoft’s culture of innovation and inclusion.
Planning and preparing for migration
For small and mid-sized organizations, moving from classic Yammer to Native Mode could be as simple a process as flipping a few switches and adjusting some settings. To make the transition smooth, the Yammer engineering team has developed an automated wizard for Yammer, the Native Mode Alignment Tool, to help migrate communities of fewer than 50,000 users. For larger enterprises, including Microsoft, migrating to Native Mode requires a closely monitored approach guided by an engineer.
Native Mode alignment
Native Mode alignment guides the processes of migrating Yammer to Native Mode. This process inventories existing members, communities, and files, enabling decisions about how to handle changes that might occur during transition. The process also monitors the progress of proactive changes, limiting the number of surprises encountered during the migration to Native Mode.
The Native Mode Alignment Tool generates the reports an administrator needs to initiate the Native Mode process when ready.
The switch to Native Mode is either automated, with the Native Mode Alignment Tool, or engineer driven. The volume of information in Microsoft’s Yammer network is significantly higher than a majority of other customers. As such, CSEO worked with the Yammer engineering team to successfully migrate to Native Mode with minimal disruption.
CSEO’s approach included several important phases.
Readying for Native Mode revealed that Microsoft had several thousand unused groups and Yammer accounts that accrued since the service’s introduction. As CSEO worked through their migration strategy and introduced automated lifecycle controls, abandoned groups were culled from the network and safekeeping strategies were implemented to help owners prepare for Native Mode. Cleaning up Yammer occurred throughout the entire migration, helping to prune the environment of unnecessary material and easing the transition.
- Eliminate groups that are no longer needed. Previously, duplicate, unused, and old Yammer groups stayed around in perpetuity. Removing superfluous items reduced the number of groups CSEO had to monitor during migration.
- Address groups that fail governance. To comply with Microsoft’s standards, administrators and owners of noncompliant groups were required to take action lest their groups be deleted. This effort helped remove groups that weren’t needed.
- Ensure clear ownership. Dubbed the “FTE + 1” rule, groups who fell short of the two owner, one FTE threshold were given the opportunity to promote a new owner or agree that the community would be deleted. If no action was taken, the group would be deleted through automation. In some circumstances, users had been appointed group owner due to team changes and may have been unaware of their ownership status. When ownership was unclear, CSEO consulted with group members on the steps needed to bring the group into compliance.
Cleaning house properly decreases the number of unused and noncompliant groups within social networks, reducing the number of groups that must be migrated. Furthermore, as old and outdated groups are removed from the ranks, users can better discover current resources and information.
Assess the current state of the Yammer network
Before moving into Native Mode, CSEO carefully examined the existing network. This meant digging into specifics about how classic Yammer communities were being used.
- Connected vs. classic. How many communities were currently connected to Microsoft 365 prior to moving to Native Mode? The number of classic Yammer groups within a network determined the scale of migration required.
- Members and guests. Collaboration in Yammer is at its best when internal and guest users can work together. Understanding the volume of guest access and identifying groups with guests in classic Yammer is a necessary step for transitioning those guests into new identities provided by Microsoft Azure B2B. In Native Mode, guests rely on Microsoft Azure B2B to access the network.
- Owners. To meet Microsoft’s internal compliance standards, all Microsoft 365 groups require two owners, one of which must be an FTE. Being able to identify owners and noncompliant groups allows service engineers to identify which groups require changes to be compliant in Native Mode. In addition to fulfilling compliance requirements, providing early information to group owners allowed CSEO to prepare members for changes related to migration to Microsoft 365 and Native Mode.
- Unlisted and secret groups. Classic Yammer enabled owners to indicate that private groups be unlisted in the groups directory and undiscoverable in Yammer search. At Microsoft, most of these groups were created for testing, but some contained confidential information. In the transition to Native Mode, these groups needed to be converted to private groups, which still restricts access to members of the community, but enables the group name, description, and avatar image to appear in the community directory and Microsoft 365 search indexes.
Identifying unlisted and secret groups allowed CSEO to develop an appropriate masking strategy and communicate with owners early.
Pre-work related to evaluating and understanding the Yammer environment is critical to a successful migration. The preceding elements will all be affected during the transition into Native Mode, and knowing what will be affected reduces the potential for surprises or disruption.
Proactively address gap cases
Although the majority of classic Yammer groups connect to Microsoft 365 without complication, several gap cases exist that require early and proactive involvement. To avoid disruption, CSEO developed specific strategies to address these gap cases.
- Safely mask unlisted and secret groups. Native Mode still supports private groups, but previously unlisted groups will show up in search results. Unlisted groups from classic Yammer become private groups that present content only to members, but the name, avatar image, and description may be visible to anyone in searches.
To protect confidentiality, unlisted or secret groups were re-titled, assigned a generic avatar image, and given new descriptions to avoid sensitive information appearing in public searches.
After migrating, owners of affected groups were prompted to edit the group title and meet classification requirements. If these groups were not re-titled after migration, CSEO assumed the group was abandoned and removed it.
- Encourage users to store file attachments in Yammer private messages. Private messages exist in both classic Yammer and Native Mode networks. Although you can store files in groups in Microsoft SharePoint, files in private messages don’t have an associated group. As a result, any necessary files must be downloaded prior to the transition to Native Mode.
To avoid users losing files saved in private messages, CSEO developed communications to encourage users to download their files and back them up elsewhere. Users were asked to acknowledge completion of this task so that CSEO could gauge the proportion of users who may not have acted. If necessary, CSEO planned to engage directly with users having a large volume of files stored in private messages—a step that proved unnecessary due to high response rates.
- Prepare guests in external groups to adopt the Microsoft Azure B2B guest model. Because the guest model was changing and guest users might not have access to communities for up to one day, communications were provided for group owners and members to align expectations for Native Mode. This included detailed information as to what would change, confirmation that a Yammer group was still active and needed, and prepared communications to share with guests. Final announcements went to all members, including guests, with supporting information that would be available even if access to a community was interrupted.
These proactive steps exist to reduce a disruption of service for Yammer users. By predicting and responding to gaps, CSEO was able to engage with groups and owners early, preventing a loss of access.
Ease the shift for critical and large communities
CSEO was always aware of the potential impact a migration might have on large and critical Yammer groups. To avoid confusion related to the changes, additional communication was established with groups and owners of key communities.
- Shift communities that need Microsoft 365 features. Several features, including the ability to host live events, host files in Microsoft SharePoint, and enable a consistent Microsoft 365 user experience, were only available in connected communities. Ensuring key community owners understood the change and would experience no loss in functionality required direct communication by CSEO.
- Shift communities with large membership numbers. Microsoft’s larger Yammer groups, those with 5,000 members or more, also required direct engagement and communication in order to avoid disruption. Direct one-on-one interaction with community leaders also proved to be helpful for readying Microsoft’s bigger communities.
By engaging early and often, CSEO was able to consult with groups and owners regarding the new features and benefits of Native Mode, discuss action steps required to ease the migration, and convey milestones.
Early on, CSEO’s communications professionals scheduled a series of messages to go out to users informing them of the changes. A major part of CSEO’s migration plan was to provide high-level information to everyone, then rely heavily on regular communication with group owners for targeted actions. Project managers directly engaged with group owners from larger and critical communities to prepare them for the change. This steady stream of communication not only helped group owners ready for migration, it also amplified messages across Yammer.
CSEO communicated directly through emails, via messages posted into groups, and through generalized announcements posted in all-company environments, including Yammer and Microsoft 365 groups. Emails were utilized when direct action was called for, whereas general messages were posted throughout Yammer communities. In utilizing this strategy, CSEO was able to sequence and map out a successful messaging campaign.
- Provide context. Yammer capabilities have evolved over time, but to enable fundamental changes that take advantage of Microsoft 365 capabilities, a transition into Native Mode became a necessity. Moving to Native Mode is a one-time event, after which every new community is immediately connected in Microsoft 365. Giving users this context helps them understand the value of migration.
At a user and group owner level, it was important for CSEO to convey action and consequence. Giving this kind of context allowed CSEO to prevent any loss of user files, messages, or groups. This also meant informing Yammer users of groups and files they owned in the network so that they might take action.
- Seize the opportunity. Conveying the benefits of Native Mode to members of Microsoft’s Yammer communities was a top priority. Integration with Microsoft 365 did more than strengthen compliance controls, it also unlocked several features, including live event, guest controls, and eDiscovery, that users had long been asking for. These changes closely aligned to Microsoft’s technology and cultural goals. Communicating what was possible in Native Mode got users excited for the change, creating buy-in.
- Account for overlapping audiences in your communications plan. While mapping out a communications calendar, CSEO recognized that individuals might be both a member and an owner of several categories of Yammer groups. To avoid bombarding users with repetitive or unnecessary information, comprehensive communications were delivered broadly to reduce the number of messages and potential confusion.
- Record audience actions and acknowledgements. Several communications included calls to update Yammer communities and acknowledge completed actions. If response rates were low, CSEO was able to prepare further mitigating steps to avoid disruption during the transition.
Given the complexity and scale of the project, setting out a strong pattern of communication eased the transition to Native Mode. After the migration was underway, CSEO published web pages and blogs to further facilitate the communication with users, group owners, and stakeholders during the change.
Managing the shift to Native Mode
Due to the size of Microsoft’s Yammer environment, initiating Native Mode required coordination to manage the volume of accounts, thousands of Microsoft 365 groups, and millions of files. Additionally, the age of the network became a factor because variations found in older metadata made it more complex to migrate from classic into Native Mode.
To initiate Native Mode and minimize the impact on users, CSEO developed a coordinated plan for managing the migration. This multi-day process sequenced priorities and team involvement to create a clear approach with engineers, project management, communications, tenant administrators, and support teams. Several processes took an extended period of time to run, but in the end CSEO was able to connect all users, files, and groups to Native Mode.
- Coordinate a game plan. Map out timing between all stakeholders, including engineers and network administrators who will be logging and resolving any snags encountered during the migration. For a Yammer network the size of Microsoft, initiating Native Mode required several weeks of work, with guest users experiencing a day of disrupted service. Having a coordinated plan reduced the risk of extended outages.
- Share with dependent teams. Engaging with dependent teams, like support and listening teams, including tenant administrators, sets expectations during the migration. These updates should include a clear schedule of events and progress as migration processes run. Aligning expectations and sharing timing and progress updates reduces frustrations, improves communications, and leverages the support of dependent teams.
- Manage from a scripted set of actions. The Native Mode Alignment Tool can’t service a network of Microsoft’s size and scope, but it can inform management of the migration. Adhering to an order of operations consistent with the Native Mode alignment process optimizes the transition and minimizes a chance of downtime. This step ensured that the right players were involved, the right information was available, timing could be estimated, and contingency plans could be put into place.
Anticipating elevated support
Having an escalation plan in place was critical for CSEO. During Microsoft’s migration to Native Mode, CSEO recognized several potential drivers for increased support related to the new Yammer environment.
- With change comes learning and uncertainty. CSEO understood that users and group owners would need time to acclimate to community governance for Yammer. They also recognized a need for support and administrative teams to familiarize themselves with new processes as well. By planning for a certain degree of uncertainty and learning curve, CSEO was able to set expectations.
- Expect new types of issues. New workflows uncover new issues. Actively logging and responding to errors allowed CSEO to efficiently focus engineer and support energies.
- Guests may lack context and support. External users within Microsoft’s Yammer network may not have access to support staff familiar with the new Microsoft Azure B2B guest model inside their own organization. CSEO expected new support requests to come directly from guest users as they got acquainted with Native Mode. At times, these requests surfaced through other Microsoft contacts who may not have received the detailed information that group owners did.
- Cleanup might carry unexpected consequences. During the cleanup phase, CSEO saw the number of groups within Microsoft move from 40,000 to around 21,000. Although this is a significant decrease in volume, it actually represents a healthier environment consisting of active communities. Though aggregate metrics may change, the groups being removed were abandoned or noncompliant.
A similar trend was visible within group membership numbers. Users with a “pending” status—often email addresses mentioned in a community but not representing users who visited—are not preserved during migration. As such, some communities witnessed an apparent reduction in membership numbers when pending users disappeared.
Delivering new experiences in Native Mode
Initiating Native Mode for Yammer was a big step. CSEO understood the impact it would have on users, both in terms of benefits and possible disruptions. Now that a Native Mode Yammer environment is established, Microsoft’s company-wide social network can reap the benefits of a full Microsoft 365 integration.
- Group management. New compliance features unlocked in Yammer through Microsoft 365 means that governance can be established consistently across all groups, instead of individually.
- Content search and eDiscovery. User files are now saved in Microsoft SharePoint instead of Yammer. This makes it easier for users to quickly find items using enterprise search and Microsoft graph signals. This allows compliance measures to scale with the network. Additionally, Microsoft 365’s eDiscovery features now span Yammer content.
- Enhanced capabilities. In addition to being able to host live events, Yammer’s guest access is managed through Microsoft Azure B2B. This new approach means guest users access Microsoft Teams and Yammer with the same identity.
- Consistent experience. In Native Mode, Yammer employs predictable Microsoft 365 features users expect. Instead of unique workflows, Yammer enables file viewing, editing, and sharing consistent to other Microsoft environments.
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