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Stefan Thomke Microsoft Case Study "the Suite Spot" - Questions and Answers

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QUESTIONS: MICROSOFT, "THE SUITE SPOT" CASE STUDY

Elizabeth Shannon

1. What is the state of the marketplace for productivity application suites?

2. How would you describe the current development process and organization?

3. What are the challenges of integrating individual products, which compete in independent categories, into an integrated whole?

4. What should be the contribution of the newly formed Office product Unit, and how could these goals best be realized?

5. What is the best path for the next release of Microsoft Office: the "12/24" proposal or the "15-month" proposal?

1. What is the state of the marketplace for productivity application suites?

The application software being sold at the beginning of the time this case took place was not integrated into suites. The applications for "personal productivity" consisted of word processing, spreadsheet, presentation graphics, and database software packages. The suite or "business package" consisting of Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Microsoft email application, called the" Microsoft Office of the MacIntosh" (for Apple's personal computer product) was released in1989. It retailed around $895 and got favorable reviews. Office for Windows came out in 1992, and was considered to be a group of second-tier products, not quite as good or full-featured as the market leaders like Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect. Still, marketing teams within Microsoft had identified the value that an integrated suite product could bring to the market and the customer, and had gotten the company to move in this direction. Lotus came out with a suite that included a WorkGroup productivity aspect, to allow for multi-user collaboration on a document. It also had a consistent user-interface throughout the different apps, that was recognized as a significant advantage. After the Lotus product came out, a new product that was a combination of two of the market leaders, Borland and WordPerfect, came out. Although it was not considered to be the top-runner in the marketplace for suites, it was a clear signal that competitive advantages could be gained by having a suite of "best-of-breed" products, ie. top products from each app category.

2. How would you describe the current development process and organization?

The project development process used at the time of this case study was not adapting to the needs of the team, or the needs of the organization. The best example was the development cycle for Word 6.0. The scope of Word 6.0 was much larger than previous versions. Yet, the same project management tools and techniques were used for this release as for previous ones. Increased scope, and "over-featurization" made the project take much longer than before, and as it became clear to the engineers and to the testing department that the project was going to slip, everyone kept quiet about it. No one wanted to be the bearer of bad news, and testing in particular didn't want to call out the schedule problems in case it proved to be de-motivating to the team. The product was six months late, due in large part to lack of communication about the schedule slippage. If the slippage had been reflected in the schedule, some of the many extra features could have been cut and trade-offs could have been made to get a reduced-feature version of Word 6.0 out on time, with a full-featured product scheduled for a later revision. Word 6.0 suffered from not having any one person with the authority to say, "that's it, we're cutting this feature in this version", etc.

As the case progressed, it became clear that the company would be developing a consistent, data-compatible suite of individual apps, and the idea of working around a "suite" was uncomfortable to the team members who'd come from individual software application organizational units.

It became clear by the end of the case that a new organization and a new project development process needed to be integrated into the company. The company was still organized along individual application units when productivity suites were clearly the way of the future, and the organization needed to adapt to this change.

I would describe the organizational setup as evolutionary. It had evolved to the place where each app was a separate business unit, and now would have to evolve into an organization that was both suite-oriented, with consistent human interface, data sharing with cut/paste, and shared code, as well as still competitive in individual application quality. It was an organization growing and expanding in response to changing market conditions and new technology (Chicago).

3. What are the challenges of integrating individual products which compete in independent categories into an integrated whole?

* Many customers may remain loyal to their favorite product, on which they are now well-trained and accustomed to. They may not want to switch to new products.

* Creating a schedule to release a product that contains three or four different productivity apps is a challenge. Some will require more time than others. The units will not be used to working with the other teams. The products will have to have more inter-product compatibility and consistency.

* A new development organization

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