Product Managers Deal With The Microsoft Office Problem

Microsoft Office Changes Very Slowly
Microsoft Office Changes Very Slowly
Image Credit: Stephen Edgar

How about a quick show of hands: who uses Microsoft Office every day? Hmm, I believe that I see just about everyone’s hands in the air. Let’s face it, outside of the Microsoft Windows operating system, Microsoft Office is just about the most popular piece of software out there. Sure, there are some competitors such as Google Office and Libra Office; however, the biggest share of the market is owned by Microsoft and has been for roughly the past 30 years or so. So why are the Microsoft product managers so slow to make improvements to Microsoft Office?

Change Comes Slowly To Microsoft Office

So how many people use Microsoft Office every day? It turns out that the answer is hundreds of millions of people. They use Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and all of the other bundled applications. The people who use these applications (myself included) understand how they work and have learned over the years how to deal with their quirky unique features. What this means is that when Microsoft’s Office product managers decide to make a change to their product development definition, they understand that they are messing with fire and may not be able to add this to their product manager resume.

The impact of any change to Microsoft Office is huge. This might be the reason why Office always looks like it is so behind the times. The competing software has a sleek modern feel to it while Office seems to be stuck in a kind of time warp. Microsoft has extended Office to work on the web and on mobile devices; however, those versions of the Office application all look like the older desktop application. What seems to be going on here is that the Microsoft product managers are very scared of making any changes to Office that might accidentally end up making any of their existing users mad at them.

One of the challenges that users of the Office applications face today is that the design of the screen when you are using Office seems to be stuck in the past. At the top of the screen is Office’s signature “ribbon bar” where just about every feature that you could ever imagine using is located. The problem with this feature is that it is so large that it currently takes up almost 1/3 of the screen leaving precious little room for the user to interact with the document that they are creating.

Finally Real Change Is Coming To Microsoft Office

It’s starting to look like the Microsoft product managers have been listening to what their users have been telling them. Microsoft has said that they are going to be rolling out changes that will result in an Office product that is faster, cleaner, and able to be used more collaboratively. The changes will first come to the Word and Outlook applications. One of the key changes will have to do with the ribbon bar. Microsoft is going to be simplifying this space. The ribbon will be shrunk with the goal of making it both smaller and more legible. The new ribbon will display roughly 12 different actions and other actions will be accessible via a drop down menu. The user will be able to customize the ribbon bar by pinning actions that they like to it and removing ones that they don’t use.

Another area of the Office suite of applications that will be changing will be its search feature. One way that Microsoft is going to be making this better is by adding a predictive search capability. What this means is that it will suggest the message or file that you might be searching for even before you begin typing. Along the same lines, Google has done a better job than Microsoft in building collaboration tools into their version of an Office software suite. One thing that Microsoft’s Office suite does do a good job of is permitting collaboration between users that are making use of the desktop, mobile, and web based versions of the Office product. The redesign is going to group the sharing and collaboration options into a single corner of the ribbon bar.

The Office product managers are facing a unique problem. In redesigning Office they are trying to appeal to two very different groups of users. One group of users are the roughly one billion users who have been long time Office users and who are very familiar with its look and feel. The other group is the remaining one billion users who have never used an Office suite from any vendor before. This second group of users is often found in developing countries. Both groups of users are looking for software that can provide them with both intelligence and simplicity. However, the challenge comes from the group of existing users who basically hate it when Microsoft either changes or removes things. This means that the Microsoft product managers need to find a way to balance simplicity vs power.

What All Of This Means For You

As product managers, the one thing that we’d all like to have is the ability to be responsible for a successful product at a successful company. I think that we can all agree that the product managers at Microsoft who are responsible for the Office suit of products fit this description. One of the challenges that these product managers are facing is that because there are so many people who use their product, they have to be very careful how they go about making changes.

Part of the problem that the Microsoft product managers are facing is that because so many people use their software each and every day, they have become used to even the smallest details about how the software works. Microsoft’s Office software is starting to look dated especially when you compare it to newer offerings from companies like Google. The Microsoft product managers appear to be worried about using their product manager job description to make changes that might offend anyone. The Microsoft Office’s applications use a screen design that has a “ribbon bar” at the top of the screen that takes up way too much of the screen. The changes that the Product Managers are getting ready to make to Office include changing the ribbon bar so that it is much smaller. Other changes will be made to Office’s search feature. The goal going forward is to make Microsoft Office become more simple and intelligent.

The challenge that is facing Microsoft’s product managers is that they have to keep making changes to Office in order to keep up with the times. Their large installed base of users really don’t like change because it causes them to have to go back and relearn something that they used to know. What the product managers are going to have to do is to make good decisions about what needs to be changed and then take the time to sell it to their user base. If they can get this right, then Office can once again become a sleek modern application that everyone enjoys using.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the Microsoft product managers should change all of the Office applications at the same time or do it one-by-one?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

We should all have such problems. The product managers over at that very, very successful company called Amazon are now facing a new challenge. A while back Amazon paid US$13.5B to purchase the high-end grocery store chain called Whole Foods. The Amazon product managers are now under the gun to change their product development definition and apply what they have been able to do so well for selling books and home goods to food. Just exactly how should they go about doing this?