go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

April, 2008

  • go ahead, mac my day

    features vs scenarios, with a Clippy example


    As a member of MacBU, one thing that I hear frequently from users are feature requests. They're usually phrased along the lines of, 'you guys should do [something that I think is cool]'. Sometimes, the user will append a statement along the lines of, 'and all of my friends think that this would be great too'.

    Feature requests by themselves aren't really all that interesting, even if you think that lots of people will use it. What is really interesting to me is why you want that feature. What are you trying to accomplish with it? Since you don't have that feature today, how are you getting around it right now (if you are able to get around it)?

    The reason that this information is more interesting to me than the plain vanilla feature request is that it gives me context for your request. It gives me a chance to think about the whole scenario. It means that I can take your scenario and combine it with other similar scenarios that I've heard from other users, and I can do some research about those scenarios. That research might lead me to a different feature (or set of features), or it might give me a better idea of how important this scenario is in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes it turns out that the feature that was requested was one that won't actually solve the real problem. Or sometimes it turns out that the feature requested will solve part of the problem, but not the whole thing -- without a full understanding of what you're trying to accomplish, we're not going to be able to solve the real problem.

    In each of our apps, if you go to the Help menu and click on "Send Feedback", you'll be taken to a webpage to submit feedback. This is a great way for you to tell us what you want from us. When you enter your feedback, please be as complete as possible. If you tell us "I need different bibliography styles in Word", you've only given us part of the picture. If you're more complete in the feedback that you submit, we’re more likely to be able to act on it. In this example, tell us what different bibliography styles you need. Tell us what the impact is of not having the one you need. Tell us how often you need to use them. Tell us whether it's a commonly-used style or if it's a special one that's only used when you submit a paper to a specific conference. Tell us how you're working around it right now (using another app? typing everything in manually? something else?). Tell us how this impacts your productivity.

    I noticed that someone submitted product feedback asking for the return of the much-maligned Clippy.  This is a request that I would have loved to have more detail about. Did this user think that they got good help from Clippy, and that they haven't been able to get as good of help since Clippy was excised from the apps? Did this user appreciate the assistance provided by Clippy when it noticed that you were trying to do something like write a letter? Did this user simply think that Clippy was cute and missed that little bit of whimsy while they were working on something? Or was this just a joke on the part of the submitter, because they knew that such a request would make me wonder if I was losing my mind?

    We're in the early stages of working on the next release of Office. Right now is an excellent time for you to think about what Office could do to better meet your needs, and to tell us about it.  Yes, even if you do want Clippy back.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    dreaming about WWDC


    I've been trying not to spend too much time on the Apple Developer Connection website dreaming about WWDC, but it's hard. The list of sessions looks pretty complete, so I'm mentally composing my checklist of the sessions that I want to attend. I think that my biggest problem this year will be tearing myself away from the iPhone sessions to go to those plain ole vanilla Mac sessions.  

    WWDC : Mac geeks :: Christmas : everyone else. And for all that I love MWSF, I love WWDC even more. I'm surprised that I haven't set up a countdown yet. Hmmm, maybe I'll do that later today ...

  • go ahead, mac my day

    hangin' out with the MVPs


    Before joining Microsoft, I hadn't heard of our MVP program. MVP stands for Most Valued Professional. They're people around the world who aren't Microsoft employees but who have become experts in our technologies. They share that expertise freely, and Microsoft recognises them for all that they do to share that expertise.

    MacBU has several MVPs, with deep expertise in our products. I've been able to meet some of them at MWSF, and I got to meet many more of them this week. Microsoft sponsors a regular MVP Summit, where our MVPs have the opportunity to come to Redmond, learn more about what we're working on, and spend time with the product teams to do deep dives into our apps. I've spent the past two days in our sessions with our MacBU MVPs. It was hugely valuable. We shared with them some of our earliest thoughts about our future releases across the board, and got their feedback about it.

    I also had a chance to present to them a wrap-up of the work that my user experience team did for Office 2008, and gave them more detail about how we do usability tests and recruit users for those usability tests. They asked what a usability test might look like, so I ran them through an on-the-spot example using My Day. I told them what task I would ask the user to complete, and what I'm looking for with that task.

    Hmm, I've been on a My Day kick recently, so maybe I'll share that task list with you guys in a future post.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the evolution of My Day


    As I've discussed earlier on Mac Mojo, software evolves. My Day is no different in that respect. We went through a few design iterations before we got to the version that ships with Office 2008. Let's talk about how we evolved My Day as a result of feedback from our users.

    In some of our early designs, we looked at making My Day a widget. The feedback from users was instant and overwhelming: no widget! Users told us that the value of My Day to them is being able to see it all the time so that it helps you keep on task. As a widget, it was too easy to forget that it was there, and so never look at it.

    One early design of My Day showed a fixed number of 3 calendar events and 3 tasks, and had a fixed size to match. In our usability studies, users told us that this was too rigid. Some users said that they don't have a lot of meetings, so they wanted to be able to see only their tasks tasks. Other users said that they keep their to-dos in their head or on paper instead of in Entourage, so they only wanted to see calendar events. Our design evolved to default to three of each, but to allow you to change the size of the window and change the size of the individual panes within the window to show you exactly what you need.

    Another change made was how we handle the end of the day. Originally, our design had you change the day in My Day to another date if you wanted to see the information there. In usability studies, our users told us that they wanted some idea of what was coming their way tomorrow so that they could plan the next day. So we added a new design: we show you the first calendar event that you have tomorrow so that you know that you need to get in early for that 8am conference call.

    We've made a lot of tweaks to My Day to get to what we finally shipped in Office 2008. We've seen some great feedback about it so far, and I'm really excited to see how people are using it in the real world. It's been pretty nifty.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    your day is My Day


    When we were defining our goals for Office 2008, one of them was to help you manage your time. Out of that came the idea for My Day.

    One of my problems with managing my time is my email. I get something on the order of eleventy billion emails every day, and they come in at a steady trickle. One of my personal failings is that, when I see that I have new email, I am compelled to see what it is. It's an almost Pavlovian response: see icon, click to email, get rewarded with the treat of new email (which, of course, is not always a treat). Sometimes I just want to look at Entourage to see what meeting is next or what my to-do list looks like, but there's that pretty shiny new-mail indicator beckoning to me.

    It turns out that I'm not the only person who has that problem. (Which is quite a relief!) You want to see what you should be working on right now, but the lure of email calls, and suddenly you realise that a half hour has passed and you haven’t been working on what you really should be working on. Solving that problem is one of the goals of My Day. My Day isn't intended to show you anything at all about your email. Instead, it's a quick heads-up display to show you what your calendar and your tasks list.

    When I first started using the daily builds of Office 2008 more than a year ago, My Day wasn't one of the reasons that I was looking forward to trying out the latest and greatest. (The feature that I wanted the most was SmartArt in PowerPoint.) At first, I never really got into My Day. That changed over time. I've been using My Day extensively for the past few months, and it's really made a difference in how I manage my time.

    I've always been a heavy calendar user, but now My Day means that I don't tend to look at my calendar for today's events. I look at My Day to see when my next meeting is and where I'm supposed to be for it. I look at my calendar for future events and to schedule new meetings. And I'm actually using the task list now. I've always had the best of intentions when it comes to keeping a task list, but I would try it for a few weeks and then never look at it again. With My Day always visible, I'm finding myself using it to enter new tasks and to check off ones that I've currently got. A year ago, you would've seen about four tasks on my list, all of which were overdue. I've currently got 17 of them right now (although four of them are overdue — but at least they're not the same four that were overdue a year ago!). The biggest change, though, is that I now can let that new mail icon in Entourage wait for ... well, at least 10 minutes before I click on it to see what new email has arrived. This is an improvement of at least 9.8 minutes. Maybe I can get up to 15 minutes one day! All of this means that I’m better focused on my work and better able to get things done.

    Coming later: how My Day evolved as a result of user feedback (including the answer to the question "why isn't My Day a widget?").

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: Why do you do this job?


    I got a couple of questions from a Dear Reader recently, asking about working for MacBU in general and why I like my job in particular. I'm going to answer the latter first; look for the former coming in a few days.

    Okay, so the off-the-cuff remark to that is 'because Microsoft pays me'. Catch me at the pub and that's the answer I'll give you. But it's not really an answer to the question. After all, Microsoft would pay me to have a whole host of other jobs, and there are a whole host of other companies out there that would pay me to have other jobs [1].

    The reason that I have this job is that I think I've got the coolest job at Microsoft. First of all, I get paid to work on Mac applications, which is pretty cool by itself. Even better, I get paid to work on Mac applications that have a real daily impact on the lives of literally millions of people. And, I get paid to deeply understand what Mac users want out of our applications.

    It's those things together that make me love my gig. The level of complexity is high, and the target is ever-moving. I like solving hard problems, and I like the satisfaction of achieving my goals. I spent some time last week meeting some early adopters of Office 2008. One user who sticks out in my mind was a hardcore Entourage user who found My Day (found it within a few minutes of first installing Entourage), and it really works for them. They've changed their whole workflow to optimise around My Day: flagging emails so that they show up in the to-do pane of My Day, stopped using the Task window (instead adding tasks almost exclusively either through the Project Centre or directly in My Day), etc. And they're happy about it. (Which reminds me, I should talk some more about how My Day came to be, so let's add that to my queue of upcoming messages.)

    That's what gets me up in the mornings. There are problems out there to solve, and these problems are ones that I'm in a unique position to solve. And if it's right, we've done a great thing. We have a very real way to help people improve their productivity and thus get to spend their time on what they want to do instead of on managing their tools.

    I really do love my job. And I'm glad you asked me that. I'd been getting bogged down in the minutia of my job, and was losing sight of why I decided to take this gig in the first place. So: thanks. :)

    [1] Nadyne trivia: I was an Emergency Medical Technican for ten years, so I really do have skills that don't involve pontificating about Mac users.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the future of Entourage


    I've been working on the next version of Office for quite awhile now. It's long past time that I've opened up a bit about some of the high-impact work that has taken up so much of my time.

    Entourage is near and dear to my heart. It is, bar none, the single application that I use the most. Messenger is another app that I use frequently, to have quick conversations with my colleagues around Microsoft. As we looked at what we need to do to help our users communicate better, the answer became clear. Entourage and Messenger already have some integration, allowing me to see your Messenger status when I am viewing an email from you.

    So we're taking our integration to the next level. Starting in the next version of Entourage, we're integrating some of the most essential features of Messenger. Specifically, I'm talking about winks and nudges. Directly from Entourage, you'll be able to send a wink or nudge to your Messenger contacts.

    We haven't completed our focus group testing yet, so this is really early stuff here. Let me show you what we're thinking about right now. First, we've added a couple of entries to File -> New:

    the new wink menu

    Now, when you choose Wink from the menu, this is what appears:

    sending your wink

    Then you just hit send, and voila! You've winked at someone.

    We're expecting this to be a major feature in our next release. Focus group testing will give us better feedback about this. For example, is that wink really the right one? How many winks should we build into the app? How do users add their own winks? We want to make sure that we get this integration exactly right, which is why I've been working so hard on it for so long.

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