Once upon a time, when I first joined Microsoft, product-creation (at least as I experienced it, on the relatively smaller projects I worked on) seemed like a fairly simple process. Give a problem to a bunch of smart people. Let them brainstorm possible solutions. Pick the subset that makes the most sense. Spec it, build it, test it, ship it, party. During this same period, however, the tech community often joked that it usually took Microsoft 3 versions to get things right. Applied to my personal experiences, this makes a lot of sense: v1 was basically a best-guess of what might be useful; by the time users got their hands on v1, the product team had already moved on to building v2 (comprised largely of ideas that got cut from v1); v3 then was the first release that actually factored in user feedback. And users usually noticed. J

Fast forward to today, where both the physical cost and the opportunity cost of building the wrong software is enormous (and shows no sign of abating). Not only must our products fulfill user needs and expectations while providing real value, but they must also be well-engineered and secure, cater to a global audience, strive to be innovative and delightful, hold their own in an ultra-competitive landscape, be ahead of the curve on technology and social trends, capture mind-share, inspire viral videos on you-tube, be well reviewed by Walt, and not draw the ire of, uhm, *cough*cough*over-zealouscough* regulators. Get it wrong on any one of these fronts, and your chances of becoming technological road-kill just mushroomed. Talk about pressure! J

One positive outcome of all this: I’m happy to observe more and more MS teams spending steadily-increasing amounts of effort in the product-planning and user-research activities that lead up to product-definition decisions. The combination of real data and user input, mixed with deep software-creation experience, sprinkled with broad and innovative thinking, will hopefully propel our products to a new level of value in the future. At least, I live in hope.J 

Last year I had the good fortune of participating in some project planning activities related to understanding the future of the Mobile PC in an ever-increasingly-mobile world. Part of this effort involved cataloging new and interesting usage scenarios for Mobile PCs (basically going where no Mobile PC has ever gone before). Given how integral mobility is to all our lives, it was only a short time before we were oozing out of our ears with potential new Mobile PC scenarios. So much so that an important, ground-breaking subset of these scenarios was at risk of getting ‘lost in the crowd’. Thankfully, not only was I able to capture these scenarios before they disappeared, I am now also able to share them with you, the devoted reader:

 

 

(PS: For the curious, these scenarios were captured directly on a Tablet PC using the ink-annotation capabilities of PowerPoint 2007)