Today's Guest Writer: Rich Grutzmacher

Rich Grutzmacher is a Program Manager on the Office User Experience team. He helped coordinate one of the long-term, real-world studies conducted on early Office 2007 builds.

This is the second in a series of entries where I will share with you some of the lessons we learned by following a group of typical Office users for eight months while they used Office 2007 Beta 1 to perform their everyday work.

Yesterday, I shared with you the rationale behind the study. Today, I will share with you a few of our early observations related to training (or the lack thereof) that we obtained shortly after the release of Office 2007 Beta 1 in 2005.

One of the most common questions people have asked is "how much training will it require to effectively use Office 2007?"

While we are providing many tools to help with the transition, many concerns can be allayed by simply trying out the product. In our experience, once they try it for themselves, most people agree that extensive training is not required to use Office 2007, despite the new user interface.

As Jensen mentioned a few weeks ago, we designed the new user interface with the goal of requiring little training to use Office 2007. However, we also knew that our users would be the final judges and that we needed to get the UI in front of typical Office users as early in the process as possible to see what we could learn about the learning curve of the product.

One of the primary research questions for this extended usage study was: "Can typical Office users quickly learn how to use Office 2007 with virtually no training in their own natural work environment while performing their own daily work tasks?"

To help answer this question, we tracked the participants very closely for the first 2 to 3 days they had Office 2007 Beta 1 installed. (I recall driving in the snow to visit with participants. Wow, I can't believe it was that long ago!)

During these early interviews, we found that all participants were able to accomplish their primary work tasks during their first 48 to 72 hours using Office 2007. No test participant encountered any work stoppage issues and no one reported any subjective decline in their performance or in their ability to perform any work-related tasks.

In fact, the participants' out-of-box experience was overwhelmingly positive.

Participants uniformly reported liking the new interface, but felt that it would take some time to get fully used to. Nearly all of the issues encountered during the first 48 to 72 hours were related to the beta quality of the software and were not a result of the fundamental changes to the user interface.

This finding was very encouraging since it was the first time anyone outside of Microsoft was using Office 2007 to perform meaningful work tasks in a natural work environment. These results helped validate our hypothesis that users could quickly and easily learn how to use Office 2007 even without the benefit of training.

With virtually anything in life, a little bit of training can help you be more effective. That is undoubtedly true with the Office 2007 user interface (and would have been true with the previous user interface as well.) But this extended usage study helped us have the confidence that even on day one, people could get their work done--even without the benefit of training.

As we move towards availability of the final product, case studies which help demonstrate these results will become available for us to share with you.

Next time: How we used feedback from the study to improve the product for Beta 2.