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April 30, 2016

Office 365 Groups – They make serious progress

Filed under: Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 20:32

Six months ago, I looked at Office 365 groups in my discussion of the collaboration tools of Office 365 and what to use when. At that time, I was disappointed with the Groups. Since then, Groups have improved a lot. They still leave a lot to be desired. But I am optimistic, because of the speedy progress that Microsoft has made. So what do I think is new & hot since my previous blog post?

Configuration of the library in Files

For me, the biggest improvement at this time is in Files. Maybe I am too much of a SharePoint addict or a control freak, but I love the fact that the Library Settings are back in the Files section. For some reason it used to be impossible to change or even see the library settings. Maybe to make sure the Group Owner does not have to do any advanced SharePoint stuff? Well, you don’t have to change the library settings, but at least now you are able to do so, if you want. For example, now you can add helpful views based on your own metadata. And you can invite Visitors to read your files.

Office 365 Group: Manage views in the Document Library of the Files section.

Office 365 Group: Manage views in the Document Library of the Files section.

Note that the interface for the Document Library is the new one, which has also appeared in OneDrive for Business and for which you can switch on a preview in SharePoint Team Sites (at least, if you are on an early bird tenant). In that new interface we’ve lost the good old ribbon with the Library tab; you’ll find the Library Settings under the gear icon. I still have some doubts about the usability of this new interface, but that may also be a work in progress.

Also, I am happy that the Files section of the Group no longer advertises itself als OneDrive: in the suite bar you now see the label Sites. That makes sense, because the address bar indicates that we are in sites as well. The OneDrive label was just confusing.

Tasks

Another big improvement is not full available yet: the addition of a tool to manage your team’s tasks. The new Office 365 Planner is available in preview. For each group, there is a Plan in that Planner, which allows you to assign tasks, track their status and organize them into buckets. You can reach the rest of the Group from there. Unfortunately, you cannot access the plan from the rest of the Group yet. When that becomes available for all Group users, we’ll have a way to manage our tasks processes and be able to do basic project management in our Office 365 Group.

Office 365 Planner: a plan in the context of its group.

Office 365 Planner: a plan in the context of its group.

Integration in Office 2016

I’ve received Outlook 2016 since my previous post. Outlook devotees, who prefer to do everything with Outlook, should have that version, because it works seamlessly with the Office 365 Groups. In Outlook 2016, you not only see the Outlook-parts of the Group (the Conversation and the Calendar), but you also have access to the Files, Notebook, option to create new Groups etc via the ribbon.

Office 365 Groups have a strong presence in Outlook 2015, where all Group options are available via the ribbon. Files and Notebook will open in the browser.

Office 365 Groups have a strong presence in Outlook 2015, where all Group options are available via the ribbon. Files and Notebook will open in the browser.

According to the Office 365 Roadmap, Microsoft is continuing to work hard on Office 365 Groups. For example, the roadmap says they are rolling out the ability to update the privacy type. That’s a relief, because I’ve seen users regret their choice for private or public, and seen groups evolve from private to should-be-public. Soon we will be able to change that setting. And Microsoft is developing functionality that allows for more serious governance, like policies, expiry for groups, the option to delete groups that were accidentally deleted.

So the Office 365 have improved a lot since they were launched as a rather Minimum Viable Product, and they are evolving into a Useful Product. And if Microsoft keeps up the good work, they may yet grow to be a Great Product.

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