Microsoft today provided a more transparent and formal roadmap for how it intends to update the business versions of Office 365 going forward. The roadmap will help businesses discover which new features are coming before they're deployed so they can plan for the future, rather than be surprised when changes occur.

"The Office 365 for business public roadmap provides a few months' view of new features, enhancements, and major updates," Microsoft group product manager Jake Zborowski writes in a new post to the Office 365 blog. "In some cases we may communicate farther in advance than a few months ... We will provide visibility to planned updates that are in development and in the process of being rolled out to the service, as well as to items that have been launched and are now generally available for all eligible customers. The public roadmap will be your best source of truth for product enhancements coming to the service."

You can view the roadmap on the Office 365 web site.

There are five main areas:

Launched. These are "fully released updates that are now generally available for all applicable customers." There are 13 features listed here today, including such things as a Lync for Mac update, OneNote for iOS 2.2.1, PowerMap availability in Excel, and Yammer localization expansion.

Rolling out. These updates are beginning to roll-out and are not yet available to all applicable customers. That is, they are rolling out now. There are 10 features listed here today, including a choice between the Standard Release process or an opt-in First Release program (see below), OWA for Android phone, a simplified admin UI for Office 365, and Smart Search for OneDrive for Business.

In development. This area lists updates that are currently in development and testing and could roll out in the next few or several months. There are a ton of things listed here—35 at the moment—including Apps for Office for Excel Online, Azure Active Directory Sync, "Oslo" and Office Graph, custom themes, 1TB of storage for OneDrive for Business, video sharing, navigation bar updates and many, many more. If you're curious about how Office 365 (for business) is going to improve, you might want to spend some time looking at this area.

Cancelled. Here, Microsoft will list any previously planned updates that are no longer being developed or are indefinitely delayed. So far, there are no items listed here.

Previous releases. Ditto for this area, which will eventually list generally available updates for all applicable customers.

In keeping with this new transparency, Microsoft is also providing an opt-in First Release program that will allow customers to get certain enhancements first. If you opt-in to First Release, you will receive new qualifying feature updates first, Microsoft says, a minimum of two weeks before customers in their standard release group. (Updates to Lync Online, Exchange Online Protection and Office 365 ProPlus are not included in the First Release program.) Navigate to Admin, Service settings, Updates in the Office 365 admin experience to enable this feature. The first updates will appear this summer.