Time is not always on your side, especially when it comes to scheduling meetings. Nailing down an opening where everyone you need is available at the same time can take hours of emails over a typical week, especially when you don’t have access to view everyone’s calendar.
That’s where FindTime, an Outlook add-in, comes in, helping you coordinate schedules and find meeting times with people outside your company. If you have an Office 365 subscription you can install the add-in and send FindTime invites, but you only need an email address to receive them.
The recipient receives an email invitation to the meeting, which takes them to FindTime voting page where they can choose the best options of several times to meet. They can assign a preference for times, or choose yes or no. Or, they can submit alternative times and dates.
“We think scheduling a time can be more collaborative – and with FindTime, it feels almost magical,” says Vivek Garg, a developer for Microsoft’s Team SIX and the tech lead who helped create FindTime.
It’s especially useful for reaching people whose calendars aren’t accessible, and takes advantage of a communication tool – Outlook – which many people already use daily.
“When we’re here within Microsoft, we have information about when people are free and when they’re busy so we can set up meetings. But for partners within and outside of Microsoft, without this solution, it’s a shot in the dark,” says Kevin Stratvert, a program manager for FindTime who also works for Team SIX. “What tends to happen, especially across companies, is a lot of back and forth trying to find these meeting times.”
And even within organizations, people sometimes block out time for work instead of meetings, so there’s often flexibility that isn’t reflected within the calendar. FindTime allows them to choose even within those blocks. And it’s also a good way to eliminate multiple proposals for alternate times clogging up email inboxes.
The FindTime team actually started the project with a completely different premise, of a machine bot/personal assistant that could schedule meetings.
“Then we started interviewing sales guys, and we found out they have these problems the most, scheduling across organizations,” Garg says. “It became apparent that they were spending many hours a week trying to schedule meetings with their clients.”
Voting is the key to FindTime. Building a consensus-based model based on who’s in the “To” line of the email gives each person a vote on best times for the meeting. And because it’s right in the flow of the email, there’s no need to sign in to another app. And because it’s integrated into Outlook, it pulls up the organizer’s calendar alongside the invite.
Once all required attendees have cast their votes (those in the “To” line), FindTime automatically schedules the meeting and brings the process to a close. Or, if the organizer receives a notification that the most important person for that particular meeting has responded, they can close the vote and schedule the meeting then.
FindTime was released as a prototype in August and attracted more than 4,000 beta users. Now it is available through the Microsoft Garage for everyone to try as an add-in to Outlook on the desktop or web.
Feedback from that app revealed a demand for a solution within Outlook, Stratvert says.
This latest update to FindTime refreshes the user experience for a more consistent look and feel to match what people would expect from Microsoft. The team tweaked the design to make it clear that you have options to vote on, making the call to action more pronounced, taking recipients to a voting page and making it clear how to cast their ballot.
“Organizers are taking the time to make a poll, so we want to make sure as many people go through as possible and actually submit their votes so you could successfully set up a meeting,” Stratvert says.
For the FindTime team, releasing their app through the Garage proved to be just what they needed. The Garage is dedicated to developing the hacking culture across Microsoft, and is the platform for Microsoft teams and individuals around the world to get cutting-edge apps and projects out to the public.
“The Garage gave us a good framework to work through problems. We had to pitch the idea, so it forced us to have a hypothesis and test it,” Stratvert says. “Once we knew it resonated with users, the Garage provided guidance on the things we had to do to prep it to go outside of Microsoft. It’s a good vehicle to get a smaller idea like this out to an external audience. It’s a great way to get user feedback and if we get value externally, it’s another signal to go back to our teams and pursue it as an idea that has legs and could become a part of something larger, like Outlook.”
“When we say we’re shipping with Garage, people know it’s a lightweight vehicle to prove a concept,” Garg adds. “That’s a very powerful thing.”
The Garage is also responsible for shipping a similar app to FindTime. For those on the go, Invite is an iOS app where you can invite contacts on your phone who have an email address and send them meeting time options. The recipients pick the time that works best for them, and when the best time for everyone is chosen, you can send the invite to get it on everyone’s calendar. Invite works best with Office 365 business and school accounts.
Garg sees the spirit of the Garage resonating throughout the company.
“With [CEO] Satya [Nadella] setting up the tone of growth hacking, you want to get the users before you get the sales,” Garg says.
Microsoft News Center Staff