Product Planning in Office 2010

My name is Scott Gordon – I am the Group Product Planner for the Microsoft Business Division. My team and I work closely with the Office engineers to represent the voice of you, our customers, in the product development cycle.

How do interactions with customers represent your voice in our product development efforts? Our approach reminds me of an experience a friend of mine had a while ago as a SCUBA instructor. He was asked by a team of animators how to SCUBA dive. They were preparing to create a film about creatures under the sea but no one on the team had actually been under the sea. They wanted to experience what that was like first hand, so my friend taught the animators of Pixar’s Finding Nemo how to SCUBA dive.

In many ways our job is to provide a similar experience for the engineering teams in Office. Perhaps not as thrilling as diving with clown fish, turtles, and sharks, nonetheless, one of the best parts of my job is learning more about how our customers use our products. As a result, I spend a fair amount of time traveling to meet with, talk to, and learn from our customers.

In my travels, I have toured plants and sat with automotive engineers creating new concept cars. I have seen how new commercial airliners are built. I have talked to doctors who collaborate with their colleagues to determine the cause and, more importantly, the treatment of difficult or complex diseases. I have seen the load of a public school teacher trying to help their students learn and keep pace with our fast moving world and think about how technology could play a larger role in the classroom.

These and many other scenarios are what product planners investigate, analyze, and evangelize with our engineering teams in order to make a product that meets the needs of 100s of millions of people the world over.

There are a variety of tools we use. Focus groups, surveys, ethnographic inquiry, customer interviews, and advisory councils are just a few of the ways we gather real-world data and experiences to incorporate into our scenarios, designs and, ultimately, the product.

One example of how these planning tools help take features from an idea to code can be seen in our new rich media enhancements in PowerPoint. Through customer usage analysis, we knew that over 50% of PowerPoint users included photos in their presentations and providing in place editing tools was a popular request. We were a bit surprised to learn that almost 20% of people were using more advanced capabilities like flash, video and animations. This trend spotting led us to conduct habits and practices research where we started to observe the scenarios and behaviors around the whole concept of rich media.

Next, we studied and prioritized the most commonly used and popular editing features. We interviewed customers to learn more context behind their usage. We discovered that removal of the background in an image was a big need.

Once we determined the list of requirements for making rich media great in PowerPoint, our designers and engineers went to work to determine the best user experience. Since software development is just as much an art as it is a science, it takes a lot of creativity to solve tough problems. Many times there are multiple ways to approach a scenario and improve upon or solve a particular task at hand.

In order to determine the best designs we test these concepts in a controlled environment. Much like my friend who first teaches new divers to breathe under water in a swimming pool (a controlled environment) before introducing them to the open water, planners test these concepts before we introduce them in a broad way to the world. Have we sufficiently solved the problem? Does the solution work effectively, save time, and ease the burden for the customer? We work closely with our colleagues in Design and User Research to ensure customers not only see the value of the concept but also know how to use the software.

Once we had our initial concepts, the next step was to take several of those concepts, built by our engineering team, to a test market of PowerPoint users and see what they liked and didn’t like. The data came back and showed we had found the right balance of simplicity versus functionality. Today, we are excited for you to use the many new and exciting rich media features in PowerPoint 2010 including the top requested feature Background Removal.

This is just one of many examples of how the voice of the customer guided the development efforts of Office 2010. In fact, during this past product cycle, the product planning team has spent over half a million person hours conducting similar types of customer research all over the world. We have engaged tens of thousands of customers across the United States, Europe and Asia.

Of all these customer interactions my personal favorite was a trip to a hospital on the East Coast of the United States. As part of my visit, I met with the Chief Technology Officer who talked to me about how Office and SharePoint were being used to bring doctors together from all over the country to collaborate on difficult patient cases. He shared his vision about how, in the future, patient information could be shared more effectively to more accurately and quickly diagnose symptoms. How doctors could communicate, collaborate and visualize patient information to more accurately and effectively diagnose these difficult cases. He had a list of wishes that our software could provide in the future. I feverishly took notes as he explained his list. I was inspired by the passion and sense of urgency this technologist had to put a better system in place to help his doctors and patients.

As we left his office and walked back to the lobby, a young, bald-headed boy in a hospital gown passed us in the hall, most likely on his way for more tests and treatments for his disease. Suddenly, I understood the technologist’s sense of urgency in a much more real way. This wasn’t just a better way to build cars or airplanes or process court orders, as important as those things are; this was a matter of life and death and our software played an important role and could play and even greater role in the future.

I am personally excited to see how our new Office Web Apps, Co-Authoring capabilities, data visualization, OXML, BCS, and SharePoint Workspaces will be used to help the Chief Technology Officer realize his vision.

I look forward to the opportunity to discover other ways we can continue to improve the lives of our customers. Download and try the beta; after all, you were a big part of helping us build Office 2010.