Working with improvement actions in Compliance Manager
In this article: This article explains how to manage your compliance workflow with improvement actions. Learn how to assign improvement actions for implementation and testing, manage updates, and export reports.
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Manage compliance workflows with improvement actions
Improvement actions centralize your compliance activities. Each improvement action gives detailed implementation guidance to help you align with data protection regulations and standards. Actions can be assigned to users in your organization to perform implementation and testing work. You can also store documentation, notes, and record status updates within the action.
All of your improvement actions are listed on the improvement actions page. Learn more about viewing your improvement actions.
Improvement actions details page
Each improvement action has a details page showing its implementation and testing status; related assessments, controls, and certifications; and recommended implementation guidance. Technical actions include a Launch now link that takes you to the appropriate solution for implementation. You can attach implementation and testing evidence directly into an improvement action’s details page.
To view an improvement action’s details page:
- In Compliance Manager, go to the Improvement actions page.
- From the list of improvement actions, select the name of the improvement action you want to view. The details page for the action will open.
Each improvement action details page has the following sections:
The Overview section on the left side of the page: Contains a Summary of basic information such as the implementation and test status, points achieved, and associated assessments; and a Testing source section for viewing and changing how the action is tested.
Implementation tab: Contains implementation status, date, notes, detailed instructions, and for technical actions, a Launch now link taking you to the appropriate solution for implementation.
Testing tab: Contains testing status, date, notes, and a link to download a testing history report.
Related controls tab: Lists the controls associated with the improvement action. Select a control name to view its description.
Evidence tab: Location where you can upload and view files and links related to implementation and testing work.
Learn more about the different types of improvement actions and how points are awarded and factored into your compliance score.
Assign improvement actions
To begin implementation work on an improvement action, you can do the work yourself or assign it to another user. The assigned person could be:
- A business policy owner
- An IT implementer
- Another employee with responsibility to perform the task
Once you identify the appropriate assignee, be sure they hold a sufficient Compliance Manager role to perform the work. Then follow the steps below to assign the improvement action:
From the improvement actions details page, select Assign action on the left of the screen.
The Assign to user flyout pane shows a Suggested people list of users. You can select the user from the list, or type the email address of the person you want to assign it to.
Select Assign. The assigned user will receive an email explaining that the improvement action has been assigned to them, with a direct link to the improvement action.
US Government Community (GCC) High and Department of Defense (DoD) customers won't receive an email when improvement actions are assigned to them.
The assigned user can then perform the recommended actions.
Assign multiple improvement actions to a single user
You can assign multiple improvement actions to one user by following these steps:
- Go to your Improvement actions page.
- Select the area to the left of the improvement action's name. A round check icon will appear indicating you've selected that action. Check all the actions you want to assign.
- Select the Assign to user link at the top of the improvement actions table.
- A pop-up window appears. In the Assign to field, start typing the name of the person you want to assign the actions to. You can also select from the list of suggested people.
- After you populate the Assign to field with the assignee's name, select Assign.
- You'll then see your Improvement actions page with the new assignee listed for the actions you just assigned.
Change implementation details
You can record the implementation status and date for each improvement action and add notes for internal reference. These fields can be edited by any user with editing permissions, not just by the assigned person.
To edit an improvement action’s status, select Edit implementation details on the details page. Below are the available fields and status options:
- Implementation status
- Not implemented: action not yet implemented
- Partially implemented: for automatically tested actions, the action is partially implemented (neither passes nor fails) and receives a partial score
- Implemented: action implemented
- Alternative implementation: select this option if you used other third-party tools or took other actions not included in Microsoft recommendations
- Planned: action is planned for implementation
- Out of scope: action isn’t relevant to your organization and doesn’t contribute to your score
- Implementation date: available to select when implementation status is "implemented" or "alternative implementation"
- Implementation notes: text field for notes about your implementation.
There's no character limit in the notes fields. We recommend keeping notes brief so that you can easily view and edit them from the improvement actions details page.
Common actions synchronize across groups. When two different assessments in the same group share improvement actions that are managed by you, any updates you make to an action's implementation details or status will automatically synchronize to the same action in any other assessment in the group. This synchronization allows you to implement one improvement action and meet several requirements across multiple regulations.
Change test status
In the Testing section, you can view the testing status of your improvement action, the testing date, and any notes. A user with editing permissions can select Edit testing details to edit content on the Testing tab.
Testing status fields
You can edit test status when an improvement action's implementation status is "implemented" or "alternative implementation."
Test statuses for manually tested actions:
- None: no work has started on the action
- Not assessed: action hasn't been tested
- Passed: implementation has been verified by an assessor
- Failed low risk: testing failed, low risk
- Failed medium risk: testing failed, medium risk
- Failed high risk: testing failed, high risk
- Out of scope: the action is out of scope for the assessment and doesn’t contribute to your score
- In progress: testing in progress
- Remediated: tbd
Automatically tested actions may also show one of the following states in the Test status column on the Improvement actions page:
- To be detected: awaiting signals that indicate test status
- Could not be detected: couldn't detect a test status; will be automatically checked again
- Partially tested: action has been partially tested; neither passes nor fails
The test status and testing notes for automatically tested improvement actions can't be edited manually. Compliance Manager updates these fields for you.
Toggle through the calendar pop-up to select the testing date.
Testing notes and Additional notes
Enter notes for your own internal reference in these free text fields.
The testing history provides a downloaded report of all test status changes for the improvement action.
Exporting testing history
You can export a report that will show you a history of all changes in test status for an improvement action. These reports are especially helpful for monitoring progress on actions that are automatically tested, since such actions are regularly or frequently updated based on your tenant's data.
On an improvement action's details page, select the Testing tab. Under Testing history, select the Export testing history button. The report will download as an Excel file.
Update testing source
Compliance Manager provides options for how to test improvement actions. In the Overview section of each improvement action, the Testing Source area has a drop-down menu from which you can choose how you want the action to be tested: Manual, Automatic, and Parent. Learn details about each testing method below.
Manual testing source
Improvement actions set for manual testing are actions which you manually test and implement. You set the necessary implementation and test status states, and upload any evidence files on the Documents tab. For some actions, this is the only available method for testing improvement actions.
Automatic testing source
Certain improvement actions can be automatically tested by Compliance Manager. Get details on which improvement actions can and can't be tested automatically.
For those improvement actions that can be automatically tested, you'll see the Automatic option for testing source. Compliance Manager will detect signals from other compliance solutions you've set up in your Microsoft 365 environment, as well as any complementary actions that Microsoft Secure Score also monitors. The Testing logic field on the Testing tab will show what kind of policy or configuration is required in another solution in order for the action to pass and earn points toward your compliance score.
When signals indicate that an improvement action has been successfully implemented, you'll automatically receive the points eligible for that action, which will factor into scores for any related controls and assessments. Learn more about how continuous assessment affects your compliance score.
Automatic testing is on by default for all eligible improvement actions. You can adjust these settings to automatically test only certain improvement actions, or you can turn off automatic testing for all actions. Learn more about how automated testing works and how to adjust your settings at Set up automated testing.
When automated testing is turned on, the action’s test date won’t be updated, but its test status will update. When new assessments are created, scores automatically include Microsoft control scores and Secure Score integration.
Parent testing source
When you select Parent as the testing source for an improvement action, you'll choose another action to which your action will be linked. Your action in effect becomes the "child" to the action that you designate as the "parent." When you designate a parent for an improvement action, that action inherits the implementation and testing details of the parent action. Anytime the parent action's status changes, the child's status will inherit those changes. The child action will also accept all evidence in its Documents tab belonging to the parent action, which could override any data that previously existed in the child action's Documents.
Having a testing source of Parent doesn't necessarily mean that the action is automatically tested by Compliance Manager. For example, if the parent action's testing source is manual, then the child action will take on the status of parent action, which is a manual test and implementation by your organization.
To set up a parent testing source, follow the steps below:
- On an improvement action details page, locate the Overview section.
- Under the Testing Source header, select Parent from the drop-down menu.
- Select Assign parent.
- On the Assign parent improvement action flyout pane, find the improvement action you want to assign as the parent from the list, or enter the action's name in the search bar near the top. When you identify your intended action, select the checkbox that appears to the left of the action name when you hover over it, then select Save.
You'll come back to your action's details page. Under Testing Source on the Overview section, the new action you designated as the parent is listed under Parent action.
The Related controls tab displays the controls associated with the improvement action. The table on this page lists each associated control, the control ID, and the regulation related to the control. To view a description of the control, select the control's name and a flyout pane appears with the description.
Perform work and store evidence
You can upload evidence related to implementation and testing work, in the form of files or links, directly to the Evidence tab. This environment is a secure, centralized repository to help you demonstrate satisfaction of controls to meet compliance standards and regulations. Any user with read-only access can read content in this section. Only users with editing rights can upload, download, and delete evidence.
- From the improvement action's details page, go to the Evidence tab and select Add evidence.
- On the Add evidence flyout pane, choose whether to add a Document or Link. The accepted file types for Document are:
- Documents (.doc, .xls, .ppt, .txt, .pdf)
- Images (.jpg, .png)
- Video (.mkv)
- Compressed files (.zip, .rar)
- Browse to select the file you want to upload. If uploading a link, enter a name for the link and its URL. When done, select Add. Your item will now display in the Evidence tab.
You can delete evidence when the improvement action hasn't yet reached a pass or fail status. To delete evidence files or links, select the action menu (the three dots) to the right of the item's name and select Delete. Confirm the deletion when prompted.
When an improvement action has a test status of Passed, Failed (low, medium, or high risk), or Out of scope, evidence files and links can no longer be deleted.
Assign improvement action to assessor for completion
After you complete the work, conduct testing, and upload evidence, the next step is to assign the improvement action to an assessor for validation. The assessor validates the work and examines the documentation, and selects the appropriate test status.
If test status is set to “Passed”: the action is complete and the points achieved shows the maximum points achieved. The points are then counted toward your overall compliance score.
If test status is set to “Failed”: the action doesn't meet the requirements, and the assessor can assign it back to the appropriate user for additional work.
Users will need a Compliance Manager Assessor role in order to edit improvement action testing notes. You may also want to grant users access only to certain assessments. Learn how to set permissions and how to grant role-based assess to assessments.
Accepting updates to improvement actions
When an update is available for an improvement action, you’ll see a notification next to its name. You can either accept the update or defer it for a later time.
What causes an update
An update occurs when there are changes related to scoring, automation, or scope. Changes may involve new guidance for improvement actions based on regulatory changes, or could be because of product changes. Only the improvement actions managed by your organizations receive update notifications.
Where you’ll see assessment update notifications
When an improvement action is updated, you’ll see a Pending update label next to its name on the improvement actions page, and on the details page of its related assessments.
Go to the improvement action’s details page, and select the Review update button in the top banner to review details about the changes and accept or defer the update.
Review update to accept or defer
After selecting Review update from the improvement action details page, a flyout pane appears on the right side of your screen. The flyout pane provides key details about the update, such as the assessments impacted and changes in score and scope.
Select Accept update to accept all the changes to the improvement action. Accepted changes are permanent.
When you accept an update to an action, you’re also accepting updates to any other versions or instances of this action. Updates will propagate tenant-wide for technical actions, and will propagate group-wide for non-technical actions.
If you select Cancel, the update won’t be applied to the improvement action. However, you’ll continue to see the Pending update notification until you accept the update.
Why we recommend accepting updates
Accepting updates helps ensure you have the most updated guidance on using solutions and taking appropriate improvement actions to help you meet the requirements of the certification at hand.
Why you might want to defer an update
If you’re in the middle of completing an assessment that includes the improvement action, you may want to ensure you’ve finished work on it before you accept the update. You can defer the update for a later time by selecting Cancel on the review update flyout pane.
Accept all updates at once
If you have multiple updates and want to accept them all at one time, select the Accept all updates link at the top of your improvement actions table. A flyout pane will appear which lists the number of actions to be updated. Select the Accept updates button to apply all updates.
Note that when you return to your improvement actions page, you may see a message across the top of the page asking you to refresh the page for the updates to be completed.
Set up alerts for improvement action changes
You can set up alerts to notify you immediately when certain changes to improvement actions occur, such as a change in implementation or test status, or an increase or decrease in score. Getting quick notifications of such changes can help you stay on top of possible compliance risks. Visit Compliance Manager alerts and alert policies to learn how to set up alerts.
Export a report
Select Export in the upper left corner of your screen to download an Excel worksheet containing all your improvement actions and the filter categories shown on the improvement actions page.
The exported Excel file is also what you use to update multiple improvement actions at once. Get details about how to edit the export file to update multiple improvement actions.