Does Microsoft Forms stand a chance in the real world?

Microsoft Forms was released over a year ago for Office 365 education customers but was only recently made available in Public Preview for commercial tenants.

While it is a relatively simple and easy to use application, its coming of age story (albeit not yet complete) has been a bit confusing.

Some challenges

For starters it’s rare that apps like this start in education tenants before hitting commercial environments. Usually it’s the other way around.

Then there’s the name – it’s called Microsoft Forms, but the URL is forms.office.com. So that would kind of make sense that it be called Office Forms because by comparison Microsoft Teams has a URL of teams.microsoft.com even though it relies on Office 365. Anyway, semantics.

Then there was the “preview” for commercial. The whole premise of First Release functionality was so that IT admins could select a number of users to preview new features with, or the entire organisation. Yet now in Office 365 we have features like Forms that are in Public Preview and accessible to all users regardless of First Release setting. In fact for Forms, before it hit Public Preview it was either all or nothing – the only way any user could see it at all was if the entire tenant was enabled for First Release, as selective user-based First Release settings were not sufficient to make it visible.

Moving along, we have it now and I believe it is a worthy addition to the Office 365 portfolio. While historically we’ve had Excel Web Forms available in OneDrive for Business, I don’t believe many users really new about that capability. Effectively Microsoft Forms is a prettier and simpler replacement for Excel Web Forms, and with more sharing capabilities. Let’s not forget SharePoint lists – but same challenge there.

From customers and end users I work with this application has been extremely well received for its simplicity and bare-bones functionality. One particular story an end user told me is that their previous Excel spreadsheet form that was sent as an attachment to collect feedback was hardly ever returned, whereas with Forms they have had a 100% return rate.

On a personal level I’ve started using Forms as an information and feedback gathering too before and after workshops or training sessions.

And while I think Forms delivers some quick wins I think users will start to hit the limits of its functionality quite quickly when they want to move beyond basic surveys of a few questions.

What Forms needs

Better group functionality

For one – Forms is an individual feature, even though it allows for sharing and copying of forms. The sharing is more of an after-thought, and instead what I think we need to see more is a shared form library or repository, like we have with Flow. That being said, Flow didn’t have shared features at launch but they came shortly afterwards – so hopefully the same thing happens with Forms. If the shared form repository could somehow integrate with Office 365 Groups that would be ideal. One could argue that for that purpose we have SharePoint lists which provide a form-like interface for user input, however you could conversely argue that this method is not as friendly as Forms by a long shot.

Question grouping

The other big improvement I believe Forms needs is the ability to group questions together. This is something we see in tools like SurveyMonkey where we can create pages of questions that users progress through. While I don’t think Forms has to necessarily copy SurveyMonkey (because at the end of the day that is a purpose-built tool that only does one function, and does it damn well) it would allow Forms to move up a level if users could group questions together.

I found this latter point the deal-breaker for me when it came to one of my consulting programs where I have an executive questionnaire of almost 40 questions across 4 different topics. It simply didn’t present well in single scrollable page. For this reason I opted for a paid SurveyMonkey subscription. I still use Forms for the basic bits, but SurveyMonkey is used for that specific questionnaire.

The last thing Forms needs is a bit more visual customisation. At present it comes with some basic colours and themes/backgrounds, as well as the ability to put a logo at the top of the subscription. I think this is fine, but just a few more customisation options would be well received, including the ability to have a white header instead of requiring that it be coloured.

Conclusion

Do I think Microsoft Forms is ready for the prime time? As long as the expectation is set that it is a personal form solution for quizzes and feedback/input, I think users will continue to adopt it.

Like Sway is to Prezi and Planner is to Trello, Forms is to SurveyMonkey – it’s not enough to compete but is enough to slow users from choosing those solutions and having data stored outside the organisation’s virtual walls of Office 365.

While a timeframe for General Availability hasn’t been set yet, hopefully it will come soon and bring about some additions and enhancements at launch.

 

Stay tuned for news this week from Microsoft Ignite as there will be some improvements around functionality about Microsoft Flow as well as future integrations.

Beware the mirage of Microsoft Teams

I’ve written previously about how Microsoft Teams has changed almost every single conversation I have about Office 365, and this is a great thing because people are starting to genuinely look at different ways of working.

With this however comes the danger that people may leap head first without thinking of what else they need to make Teams work properly in a scalable and adoptable nature. I have found this to be more prevalent in organisations that are at the early part of their Office 365 journey (yes, there are surprisingly still a large amount of organisations in that camp).

It’s also important to note that it is usually IT people that are often leading this charge. This is largely due to the fact that IT professionals have a higher tolerance for technology change, and are more willing to play with the new shiny toy. End users generally want to just do their job, which is why change management is such a big factor in the adoption of any technology – especially one that completely changes your interface for work like Teams.

Pick your battles

So where does Teams fit in an organisation? Some people would say in every team, department, group and with every user. However again this is generally IT professionals saying this as they can see the use of Teams as a no brainer, and that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. But is Teams the right tool for every user and team in the organisation? There is no single answer here as it is incredibly subjective.

It is unreasonable to expect that every person within an organisation will work well with, putting aside job function for a moment – some users struggle with the concept of Yammer or Skype for Business as different communication modalities, let alone Teams. Baby boomers, Generation X & Y have seen email become part of their life and many don’t want to use anything else other than phones or meetings to communicate.

Out with the old, in with the new?

By implementing Microsoft Teams even if it’s across an organisation, you will still not be rid of “legacy” tools like Outlook, SharePoint, Yammer or Skype for Business. Those tools still have their place for broader communications and information, both internally and externally.

So while it’s great to think that Teams is a unified app hub and provides a single pane of glass – users will be switching between it and other tools for some time. So it’s quite possible that Teams might be viewed the same way that Yammer or Skype for Business are by some users – as simply being another “thing they have to check”.

Different strokes for different folks

In any given organisation there are four different generations ranging from baby boomers through to millennials – all of which have their own way of working. And we can’t categorise people by their job type or role either, as I’ve met gardeners and care workers who are more proficient in Excel than me as well and elderly people who could teach me how to use a Mac. We can’t assume that someone young or a tech-savvy person will want to use or work well with Teams, and conversely older or non-tech people won’t gel to it.

At the end of the day some tools are for the entire organisation or department, others are more specific. With Teams we can’t assume that it will suit everyone and every team – so the deployment needs to be properly assessed and planned.

In conversations I’ve had with customers I’ve seen a variety of scenarios. In three particular cases of teams who all sat together in the same cluster and in the same organisation, I had three different use cases:

  • A better way to discuss inbound emails and then manage those tasks with Planner
  • No desire to use the chat, but more so a single app hub to access their relevant applications and information
  • Chatting between each other when on the phone with clients, and quick access to information they might need when on the phone

Every team and user will have different outcomes they want to achieve when considering Teams – one size doesn’t fit all.

Won’t somebody think of the multitasking!?

While it might be exciting that Teams provides a single app hub experience, it’s also important to note that Teams provides a single app hub experience. No that’s not a mistake in my writing – that’s both a positive and negative.

In the modern world we have become comfortable with the concept of multitasking:

  • In Outlook we can have multiple emails open that we are reading or working on
  • In web browsers we often have multiple tabs running (and sometimes multiple browsers with multiple tabs)
  • In Skype for Business we can also have tabbed conversations, so we can be chatting with multiple people at the same time

So while we can switch apps easily using Alt+Tab or with the mouse, this means we have access to a broader range of conversations and information simultaneously. If you look at people’s eyes when on a video call with Skype for Business you can see them moving around the screen as they are often doing other work – because it’s that easy.

In Teams this is not the case – it is generally single focus. Users need to continually switch between teams, channels, chats, tabs, and the activity view. That requires a lot more concentrated context-switching than what people are generally comfortable with, so they will have to change the way their brain works. This is generally a good thing, but may be perceived as a bad thing.

Where to next?

Thankfully Microsoft Ignite is about to start this week where there will be a number of announcements all across the Office 365 spectrum but in this context specifically around Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, and Yammer. Follow me on Twitter as I’ll be sharing updates and blogging for Microsoft about some of the sessions and announcements – which will clear up some of the FUD.

Feel free to send me any questions you’d like me to ask on your behalf and I’ll do my best to get them answered in the Behind the scenes with Microsoft Teams that is being hosted by fellow MVPs Darrell Webster, Alistair Pugin and yours truly.

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