Talking To Customers

At Microsoft, we have developers and testers.  Those two disciplines make up the traditional engineering roles that most companies have.  Where we seem to differ the most is in the project management and feature design role.  Some companies call them business analysts.  We call them program managers.

From group to group at Microsoft, the role varies however.  It's not surprising when we have hundreds of different groups and needs in each group.  Some PMs are UI focused.  Some are extremely technical and design APIs.  The PMs on my team focus primarily on user scenarios, application interfaces, and feature prioritization.  They seek user feedback in a variety of ways to validate the designs.  Since we are a v1 product, we suffer the typical problem of having very little user feedback.  You often hear joke that MS apps reach their full potential on version 3.  A big part of that is learning how to get it right as far as users are concerned.  Sometimes we need 2 iterations of trial and error accompanied by user feedback to find out.  Our goal is to improve that v3 groundhog day.

Our PMs are doing some amazing work.  They have so many different groups of customers (or at least target customers since we don't have a TCM application available to buy yet) from whom they gather feedback.  They PMs spend a great deal of time talking to customers, doing presentations, sending surveys, going over data, coordinating usability studies, and meeting with user groups.

Hopefully, if we've done our job right our v1 product will be closer to perfect.  If so, we'll learn considerable amount from this process.  Some efforts will prove to be more helpful than others.  Regardless, talking to customers is the obvious first start to making a v1 product useful to the people who might use it.