Aug 7, 2021Liked by Steven Sinofsky

BillG thought it was his job to challenge every team to be more forward thinking at all times. On one hand, that is a core part of Microsoft’s success. On the other hand, he never really understood the tension between forward thinking and the focus required to finish software because he had an attitude that once an idea was conceived and agreed to, the software was done. Except the software wasn’t remotely close to being done.

At this point Office 96 was on the cusp (well, really on the upward slope of the cusp, maybe even before the inflection point of the cusp) of being the project that did more to work in parallel on long-lead forward thinking features and architectural renewal (both themes BillG would always push) than any project in the entire history of Microsoft. But, since it was conceived and agreed to before Office 95 shipped, in his mind it was done and the two years required to finish was just wasted time where we weren’t being forward thinking enough. I am being a little over-dramatic. He of course did understand intellectually, but he also hated it.

NathanM joined the fray to try to get all of us to be better at thinking ahead and championed the 48 in 12/24/48. I had a long meeting with him where I was able to relate the huge amount of work to finish that was being glossed over in these discussions. He also gave me the insight into the need to not just refine old value incrementally but to always make sure there was large, unique, new value in a release. Finding the right ideas that translated into large, unique, new value was also a lot of work, but uncertain and lossy; things that did not fit into an engineering process where one of the primary goals was successfully shipping. Big ideas that never ship produce zero value, but incremental progress has its limit in exciting users to upgrade. Navigating this tension would drive tweaks to the engineering system in the future. Later we would see that the Office engineering system could ship far more new value than end users could ever understand or adopt.

Expand full comment
Aug 8, 2021Liked by Steven Sinofsky

So fun to revisit the schematic of Project X you put together. And to see the reference to the term "Concept Car" in the slides.

Pragmatic development teams in Office were skeptical of the 'vaporware' the design team had stitched together in Macromedia Director. But because it had been shown at the company meeting and at Comdex - something new for a design team at Microsoft - the Office teams knew Project X couldn't be ignored. That added to the tension Jon DeVaan mentions here.

I remember Steven saying to me, "What takes a Designer a few weeks to do in Director will take years to build." And it's true. So Steven did a masterful job of 'dumbing down' Project X into ClipArt so that the most salient and achievable ideas could be properly partition, refined, designed, and costed.

That's where the idea for 'Concept Car' came from. The auto industry had long made a practice of introducing advanced styling and engineering in their 'concept cars' that they then would syphon off into production vehicles. They still do. It was a metaphor every developer could wrap their head around and made doing vision prototypes in the future much more collaborative across disciplines.

Expand full comment

“Dumbing down” hahaha!

Expand full comment

Ok, maybe ‘simplify’ is more fitting. 😬

Expand full comment