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Microsoft National Innovation Forum - Part III: Innovation Practices

Microsoft National Innovation Forum – Part III: Innovation Practices

| On 28, Sep 2007

Praveen Gupta

Welcome to Day 2.

First presentation was titled Customer Needs Management in PLM given by Ed Miller, President of CIM Data. He asked if anyone knew what CIM stood for. He had to answer it, Computer Integrated Manufacturing. He mentioned that innovation is going through its evolution similar to other new methods and technologies. Time, Cost, Quality equation is no longer sufficient for success of a business. New dimensions such as globalization, product complexity, competition, pricing pressure have become equally important. Now, innovation has become a buzz word today but it comes in many forms – both internal and external facing.

“With the pace of innovation heating up, any enterprise that fails to replace 10% of its revenue stream annually is likely to be out of business within five years.” The Economist Magazine, 2003

Innovative products are clearly a key to success. In order to benefit from innovation, one must identify potential opportunity, and understand what customer wants to do, and how we can help the customer achieve its objectives. The innovation process is known but organizations are disjointed to pursue. Besides, the opportunities identification is hard to do.

PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) is the primary engine that translates customer needs into products. Innovation is the driving theme. PLM has become a strategic business approach integrating people, processes, business systems, and information. PLM emerged from engineering, and is expanding with major focus on collaboration to enable innovation.

According to Ed, Microsoft should concentrate on front end of innovation where practices are collaborative, social and ad-hoc, and deliver good enough (vs. complete) solution to allow extensibility. This needs to be quick, simple, and easy without too much overhead or complexity.

Community is critical to innovation but it is successful when an individual is motivated to participate. Executive sponsorship means establishing a core team of advisors who can facilitate innovation and funding it so ideas can be explored to conclusion

The next presentation was the highlight of the conference. A presentation titled Why I love the iPod®, WII® iPhones®, and Google® by Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft. At first, one wonders why a designer at Microsoft admires its competition. Bill Buxton has worked with great designers.

Bill said investment in process innovation gives better return on investment than in products. He believes in BHAG – Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal from Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Bill set the context as the following:

  • Current preoccupation with design thinking in areas such as business
  • Problems in new product development in companies
  • Frustrated designers within organizations
  • (Justified) Fear of competition from other companies and Jurisdiction

Bill is a musician, an explorer, a mountaineer, and of course a designer. He understands that risk and danger are not the same, and worse thing one can do is to play it safe. To mitigate the risk, take some thing totally dangerous and make it useful with right tools, and right training. Companies trying innovation must think of four things – Fitness, Training, Tools, and Partners.


Bill’s talk was full of energy and exhilaration. He said when we fail we feel ashamed. Why? Failure is an expensive experience; we must learn benefit from it. His book titled Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design was offered to all attendees after completing the conference evaluation. I would recommend his book to feel Bill’s excitement, and style of design.

Innovation at Microsoft Panel

The final item on the agenda before lunch was a panel of Microsoft managers who shared their own experiences with the innovation process. Randy Granovetter, General Manager of Innovation, has been an innovator, former President and CEO of Jabra, a leading maker of earphones, and winner of several industry awards. Her innovation mantra is fail fast.

The IdeAgency is a community platform used internally at Microsoft. The innovation process deployed in IdeAgency consists of Idea definition – seed, try and learn, prototype – no one is overnight sensation, observe and prioritize…get feedback from your customers…must immediately validate with customers.

People are scared to take risks. We promote Fail fast, Discover, Listen, Learn and Collaborate. She coined the term Ideators crating ideas standalone or linked. IdeAgency includes Idea Exchange – ideas, ideas, ideas… Innovation Challenge – attract seed activity in relevant areas….=> Global community…grassroots Experts…business Group liaisons…=> Contribute… freeform or structures comments, votes, etc.

Randy talked about Global Expo where ideas are bought or brokered by stakeholders who advise & direct, review readiness, and make funding decisions.

IdeAgency represents global Microsoft community…where employees Post… Participate…Experience and Learn…Collaborate…Prototype…Validate…

Being persistent; and understanding consumer cycles is important in institutionalizing innovation at Microsoft or any corporation. What are you thinking? Discover, listen, learn, and collaborate.

Besides Randy, there were six other Microsoft managers who shared their experiences with innovation in their department. In services innovation means driving standards, evolving processes (better, faster, and cheaper), pull out best ideas off our people, and create a sustained culture. Key Aspects include idea generation, Incubation, development, launch, and learn. Generally, people get stuck before the idea incubation. So filtering ideas is critical for sustaining innovation. On operations side, excellence in execution is important with less focus on new things, and next big things. Hiring outside people, and putting them in a different building does not work. Problem is when it requires interaction with the rest of the building. A better approach would be to take the most suitable people from the current environment, and then have them develop new ‘things,’ review frequently, and work with them.

Dan Rasmus mentioned about The Institute for Innovation and Information Productivity (, collaborative effort among several companies. According to its website, “The Institute for Innovation & Information Productivity was formed to research and develop global productivity metrics more appropriate to the Information-Age — and to explore and define the influence of technology and innovation that will uncover ways to measure the productivity of innovation.”

Innovation in HR department with more than 1000 professionals meant using project lifecycle, taking small steps with strong emphasis on change management, thinking globally, and leveraging known tools such as MS project portfolio server.

Keep it simple, just enough structure to make decisions without quenching innovation.

After lunch, participants were slated to take tour of Home of the Future, Microsoft, and meetings with Microsoft managers.

Overall, two days passed by meeting so many peers, and learning so much. I am sure everyone learned something at the Microsoft National Innovation Forum. I liked the idea of failing fast, hope not too many times!