How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

Summary: Microsoft has overhauled its innovation pipeline from both a technology and process standpoint. Here are five slides that explain some of the changes made.

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Microsoft has done a lot of rethinking and revising in the past couple of years as to how to bring innovations more quickly to market. But it wasn't until a keynote presentation today that I understood how the Softies have been rejiggering the pieces to get concepts more quickly to market.

Dean Halstead, the Visualization Architect for U.S. Federal Microsoft, was the opening speaker at the SharePoint Saturday The Conference event I'm attending on August 11 in Annandale, Virg. Halstead, a 12-year Microsoft veteran, is considered an internal Microsoft Federal expert on innovative solutions, open government and government transparency.

Microsoft was in need of fixing its innovation processes and organization to help it become more agile. As an example, Halstead cited the Microsoft Surface. Although version 1 of the Surface never came to market until 2007, the Surface prototype dated back to 2003 or 2004. What took so long?

The Surface went through a formalized process,as opposed to idea of a product group working from the get-go with Microsoft Researchers. With Surface, "research was trying to shuttle that prod all the way through" to production. Lesson learned, Halstead said. Now, research projects at Microsoft often have product group involvement from early on, as was the case with the Kinect sensor, he noted.

Halstead showed off during his talk several slides that explained Microsoft's latest thinking on bringing internal innovations more quickly to market. Here were the five I found especially useful.

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Microsoft is thinking not just technologically, but also organizationally, about its innovation process these days. The various labs throughout the company are the conduit between Microsoft Research and the PGs (product groups).

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Products/technologies in Microsoft Research are anywhere from five to 10 years from commercialization (if they are deemed as having commercial possibility). Once a technology hits one of the Microsoft Labs, it is about two to four years from commercialization, Halstead explained.

(click on the slide above to enlarge)

This slide above was the first official mention I've seen of something I heard about back in 2009. Alchemie Labs (which I thought was spelled "Alchemy Labs") is an organization/group within Microsoft dedicated to creating teams and projects that function as internal startups. Idea Hub -- which is tied to Microsoft's internal Poll performance-management system -- is also something that Microsoft is making available to partners for customizing SharePoint, he said. The Garage -- an internal lab about which Microsoft Storyteller Steve Clayton blogged earlier this year -- is another of the company's mechanisms for helping employees turn ideas into potential products.

I had heard recently that Microsoft had done away with  its revised ThinkWeek process, but I see it's still on Halstead's slide. (However, he also still had Microsoft Live Labs in his slide deck, despite the fact that Microsoft did away with that Lab earlier this year.)

(click on slide above to enlarge)

Halstead mentioned an internal Microsoft offering known as "Acing," which is built on top of SharePoint. Acing allows Microsoft employees to use social-networking technologies similar to Twitter and Facebook inside the company only, so that Softies can find subject matter experts and share information without it being exposed to the public cloud, he explained.

(click on the slide above to enlarge)

My takeaway from Halstead's presentation: Microsoft officials believe they can use technology and process improvements to make innovation happen more rapidly and repeatedly. Do you think the Redmondians are right about this?

Topics: Microsoft, CXO, Emerging Tech

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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44 comments
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  • The Garage tagline is awesome!

    NT
    mikecel79
  • Message has been deleted.

    LoverockDavidson
    • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

      WTF? Screw you ZDNet moderators for deleting my on-topic post. Recap of what I said:

      Way to go Microsoft! Keep on innovating so we can keep on purchasing quality products.
      LoverockDavidson
      • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

        @LoverockDavidson Wtf are you smoking? Microsoft have never innovated.
        MissionMan36
      • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

        @LoverockDavidson
        Perhaps all the wailing about no innovation on MS stems from ignorance. I experience the developer view of MS and see tremendous progress in the development area, the tools are awesome and make it every day easier for the programmer. This is the silver bullet that always will save MS, the fact that they give people tools to innovate and what you do is up to you.

        As an example, razor, mvc3, silverlight, ria, html5 integration, webforms, wcf, wpf, nuget integration, azure, sql, etc.. etc...
        willfordcr
      • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

        @LoverockDavidson
        MIcrosoft lost the game with Google due to its poor innovation. Wherever Google enters it brings high level of innovation - just opposite to MS. The only goal of MS seems to be selling "virtual innovation", i.e. same bodies in repainted jackets.
        drleos
      • Deleting posts

        Hi. Our comment system is really in disarray right now and they are trying to fix it. If you or anyone here has a post flagged/deleted that doesn't deserve to be, please use the coment form on my blog and let me know. We'll reinstate it. Sorry for the extra work and trouble. MJF
        Mary Jo Foley
  • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

    I love the "Do Epic Shit" line. XD
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

      @Cylon Centurion

      Agreed.

      @ ZdNet Bring in +1 button or Like button or both.
      hardrock2552
  • As long as MS remembers ...

    ... that innovation in UI design is extremely important in selling its technologies, it should be fine. The company's design organization needs to be constantly thinking of, and implementing new ways to woo users with innovative UI designs - for Windows and Windows apps - for the company to do well.
    P. Douglas
    • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

      @P. Douglas : Yes! I think the same ... UI experience is the most important part of a software ...
      EricDeBerg
  • Microsoft thinks??

    That is news indeed!
    How about the PEOPLE that work for Microsoft that think....corporations don't think...PEOPLE do.
    linux for me
    • Spoken like someone who doesn't work high up in a company

      @linux for me People bring ideas to light, but committees need to approve them. The committees represent the company and the shareholders. They are often very risk-averse, which is one reason why companies get big, bigger, then die. Actually, Apple had this issue in the late 80, early 90s. If it wasn't for the fact that Apple was on death's door, Apple wouldn't have brought Jobs back. Now that MS is on the ropes (more figuratively but could eventually be real), the company needs to make changes. That means the committees need to be more agile. So when they say "Microsoft" they mean the committees that control the money.
      A Gray
      • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

        @A Gray

        "People bring ideas to light, but committees need to approve them."

        Frankly, I see that as a bit of a problem, rather than a solution. IMO it should be the free market that determines success or failure of a product, which is why I like the public "labs" approach over the committee approach.
        CobraA1
      • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

        @A Gray
        Before committee "Do Epic ****"
        After committee "Sell ****!"
        Agnostic_OS
      • You completely missed the whole point.....

        @A Gray
        Again, committees are made of people...When organizations (companies, committees, groups, etc...) take on aspects of "thinking", etc...they become doomed to failure. Microsoft, AT&T, and several others are those who have atrophied in "peopleless" corporate machines that fail to innovate. The bigger the committee, or the more committees there are, the less innovative they become.

        You even proved my point when you mentioned Jobs returning to Apple.
        linux for me
  • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

    Nice slides, good ideas but culture eats strategy for lunch. Where are the culture shift slides?
    Carol Rizzo
    • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

      hmm ... Interesting ... no body has ask this question but Carol is right...
      EricDeBerg
  • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

    MS is consistently failing in the area of innovation and creating a bunch of committees is not the way to encourage fragile ideas to take root. Committees consistently snuff out ideas that do not fit with the "vision" of the committee head. It's a standard practice in large companies. MS still has not made the jump to 64bit, WindowsPhone is only starting to catch up to the functionality of Windows Mobile and MS missed the whole touchscreen revolution. MS is as big and lumbering as HP and IBM when it comes to innovation. They can steamroll whatever they want but initiate a fresh, new idea? I don't think so.
    mryanaz
    • RE: How Microsoft thinks about innovation these days (in five slides)

      @mryanaz You are an Idiot! Windows has been 64 bit since XP 64 bit. I am running Win 7 64 bit right now! Windows Phone Mango is great with features not in other phones.
      And one last word Kinect!!!!
      jatbains