Evolving Expectations: How to Get Things Done

07/01/2010 04:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I first started my career at a Japanese Ministry in the early 90s. At that time, it wasn't uncommon for me to receive handwritten notes delivered to me from my director. Upon receipt, I would carefully type up the notes, so that we could turn them into legislation drafts or official memos as a formal Ministry record.

Could I imagine anyone (the subordinate like me or the director) doing that today? Not a chance. Everyone's baseline expectation about how to get work done has changed dramatically in the last two decades. Almost everyone uses e-mail frequently and handles important documents digitally. But it wasn't too long ago that the situation was entirely different.

Today in my role at Microsoft, I am delighted when I get to help build and deliver better products by connecting with customers to get their feedback -- and helping them in real ways. I take great pride in listening to customers' desires and expectations regarding the software tools they use to get work done. We receive tons of customer feedback every month, and study thousands of hours of customer videos for every product release. We then use all that input to continually make the software people use better.

Microsoft recently launched Microsoft Office 2010, and people often ask me "What did you do to create the next version of Office?" and "How do you know what people need now?"

The knowledge and creation, for each product, is based largely on expectations and feedback from customers, from all walks of life, who use our product in various ways to manage what they do every day.

We gather the feedback through a variety of methods, including usability labs, beta feedback programs, test kitchens, and field studies (which are traditional, in-person formal lab tests).

The number one thing I hear from customers now is that their personal and professional lives have blurred. People work during personal time, and their personal life mixes with their professional life too. It's overwhelming. They want to share information and collaborate in an entirely new way to help get it all done, quickly and easily.

For organizing life, kids, classes, work, and home -- here's what people are expecting from software now:

Work anywhere.

These days, people want all the information, all the time. The response, "I'm out of the office so I can't look at that document" is not going to be an acceptable excuse in the near future! You need to be able to look at documents, work on them, and give feedback -- no matter where you are. Indeed, this new way of working across many devices, including the PC, phone and browser, will become the norm.

Create rich, multimedia documents anytime.

Content is becoming richer, with more photos, video and audio included in documents and presentations than ever before. The new tools available are allowing people to embrace multimedia in their work -- even if they don't have any experience with audio, video and graphics editing. For instance, the book reports my 11-year-old son puts together for elementary school look way better than the ones I did in high school! He really cares about the look and feel of his documents as a personal expression of himself. The substance of the content is still king, but he wants it to look nice too, and have that something "extra" that helps his message cut through so others can absorb the information.

Gain smart insights from an avalanche of data.

Chances are, you're stressed with too much data, but don't have enough insight or information about the data to take action. We've all got more data coming at us every day than we can handle. So you are expecting new tools that help you analyze the data you see, and gain meaningful insight. Analytics capabilities in applications (whether in a spreadsheet or something more advanced) help you cut through the raw data, and peer into the inner world of that information, instantly -- to see what's 'really going on.'

E-mail that's easy to manage.

Most people get at least 1,800 emails a month (on average!) and delete about 1,500. Clearly, we all need a better way to get through the deluge of e-mails, without deleting the really important ones. We're working to get people the tools that let them focus on the right e-mails with things like 'Clean up' and 'Ignore' features in Outlook 2010.

Interact with friends, family and colleagues in a holistic way.

Phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, video conferencing and social networking are all part of the way we communicate now. You have also asked to have the ability to do all of these things in a coherent way. For instance, Outlook 2010 has a new feature which lets people bring their favorite social network right into their e-mail inbox. For each contact you have in e-mail, you can now see all the e-mails you have exchanged with that individual, along with the documents you've shared, status and photo updates, and anything else that you collaborate on together.

You put lots of blood, sweat and tears into creating the content that defines your work and personal life. More than ever, I'm excited to help you create that content, even if you're not desk-bound in an office anymore. My goal is to help solve the pain points that people are experiencing in their lives.