Microsoft Garage develops Outlook add-in FindTime to overcome the challenges of scheduling meetings

The Microsoft Garage community of self-described “hackers, makers, artists, tinkerers, musicians, inventors” within Microsoft is best known for their niche iOS and Android apps (with the occasional app for Windows phones). But apps aren’t the only things the Garage likes to work on. The Microsoft blog spends a considerably amount of time talking about the newest Garage project, an Outlook add-in that allows Office 365 users to more easily schedule meetings.

Called FindTime, the Outlook add-in works like this:

  1. An Office 365 user wants to schedule a meeting with multiple people, perhaps where not all of them have accessible calendars.
  2. Anyone can receive the invite and visit the FindTime “voting page,” where they can select the best date and time for them among the options presented. They can also suggest alternatives.
  3. The best time is selected based on the votes of all required attendees, and the meeting is scheduled. The meeting organizer can also close the process once a designated “most important” attendee has voted.
Everyone goes to the same place and votes using the same interface.

Everyone goes to the same place and votes using the same interface.

FindTime is particularly useful for scheduling meetings with people outside of one’s own organization. In those cases, the only previous option was to send out a meeting time, get back yay and nay responses, and then adjust–perhaps multiple times–until everyone can attend. Clearly, FindTime is a nice solution for overcoming a real-world business problem.

FindTime provides meeting organizers with a clear view on who has voted, and how.

FindTime provides meeting organizers with a clear view on who has voted, and how.

More than 4,000 beta users worked with FindTime prior to its release today, and so it’s been fairly well-vetted. The project started out as a bot that would automatically schedule meetings, but found that approach to be a poor fit for people with the most complicated schedules and who need to schedule meetings with those outside of their organizations (and not using the same systems).

The impetus behind the development of the Outlook add-in was simple:

“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.

Check out the video for an overview of how FindTime works:

FindTime looks like a great solution to an important problem, and is just the kind of thing that Microsoft Garage is perfect for working on. As the FindTime team had to say:

“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.”

Go check out FindTime and get your meetings scheduled. We’ll continue to keep you updated on Garage projects, because you never know when those crazy hackers will come up with something useful for you, personally.

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