REDMOND, Wash., April 20, 2004 — In an academic setting, a score of 90 percent earns an automatic “A”. By that measure, the team shaping Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 merits a similar high passing grade. When the innovative application debuted last October, it reflected the pioneering edge of the digital note-taking category. Today, Microsoft honed that edge by announcing the preview release of Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 Service Pack 1 (OneNote SP1). Ninety percent of the features included in the software update are a direct result of customer input and feedback — with the remaining 10 percent coming from indirect customer feedback.
Chris Pratley, Group Program Manager, Office Authoring Services
Input from nearly 10,000 people served as the blueprint for OneNote SP1, which includes technical updates and performance improvements as well as a new feature set. Over a period of a year, the OneNote team asked early users, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and other Microsoft industry partners for their thoughts on the new software, then integrated their responses into the OneNote SP1 development process to increase customer productivity and ease of use.
“Customers voted with their feedback, and we listened,” says Chris Pratley, group program manager of Office Authoring Services at Microsoft. “Ninety percent of what we did in the service pack was in direct response to that feedback and the remainder is some great new stuff we know they’re going to love. With any product that breaks new ground in the market, you’re gambling that your research and analysis are on track. As it turns out, the record shows that customers were really happy with our initial design, but we also wanted an opportunity to respond to people and add or modify the features that customers think are important, depending on how they use the product. And of course we wanted to make sure OneNote would be valuable on any kind of computer, for any kind of note taker.”
OneNote 2003, part of the Microsoft Office System, is Microsoft’s solution for effectively capturing, organizing, retrieving and reusing notes. With SP1, Microsoft is increasing integration with Microsoft Office 2003 editions, allowing users to bring in more rich media, improved sharing and security, and improved Tablet PC functionality by adding increased support for inking and organizational tools. The software’s tools and features offer users one place to accomplish these tasks, whether they work on a desktop, laptop or Tablet PC. Designed with the highly personalized nature of note-taking and research in mind, OneNote combines the flexibility of paper notes with the power and efficiency of digital content, allowing people to gather and record information based on their personal style.
Taking Note of Customer Feedback
The emphasis on customer-focused design dates back to OneNote’s origins, and ranges from in-depth analysis by small groups to large-scale statistical data. For example, when the code of the original software release was just barely functional, developers launched a field trial with about 20 people in Seattle to gather feedback on the concept and on how well they had executed on the design and functionality.
“That input was super valuable,” Pratley says. “It changed our fundamental design in certain areas so that even in beta we had a product that better matched the way people work.”
From that point forward, the OneNote team turned to a number of other information channels, including a Usenet newsgroup that encourages customers to talk to OneNote design teams. The team also relies on input from a set of MVPs — expert OneNote users external to Microsoft who support the people in newsgroups and share their candid opinions on product capabilities.
When the original OneNote software was released in beta, the design team created a Web site where users could sign up if they were willing to be contacted later about their experience. Of the more than 30,000 people who downloaded trial versions at that time, over 9,000 agreed to be surveyed occasionally about how they used the product and which features they considered most valuable and interesting. That original panel remains in place today, providing ongoing statistical information.
The design team has also collected highly useful information from about 450 OneNote users at Microsoft itself during the development cycle. Pratley explains that because these people cover many job roles from lawyers to sales people to event coordinators, their feedback has turned out to be fairly representative of information workers on the whole.
Since product launch in October 2003, the OneNote team has also solicited input from about a dozen corporations who volunteered to participate in the OneNote Rapid Adoption Program (RAP). RAP customers generate extensive feedback for Microsoft, especially in terms of the business value they derive from using OneNote in workgroups.
Peter Sullivan, a partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLC, a New York-based law firm and RAP customer, says the biggest benefit of OneNote to him is the ability to bring everything for a legal case into one central location that is easily searched, easily organized and accessible by the entire team. “When we can get a job done more quickly, we save time and our client saves money,” says Sullivan, a member of HHR’s Litigation Group. “OneNote helps us be more efficient, a quality that is important to us and our clients.”
Other customer research for OneNote has extended to field trials where the team deployed interim builds of OneNote SP1 to gather early feedback on how well the new features and technical updates work. These trials involved users running the actual code, enabling the OneNote team to compile stability reports that result in a sounder product at launch.
“All this user research means the service pack is not only better from a feature standpoint and a user interface smoothness standpoint, but also much more stable than it would be otherwise, because we got a lot of information from out in the real world on anything that might have caused trouble for people and fixed it,” Pratley says. “So OneNote SP1 is good, it works as people expect, and does what people want – that’s exactly what we wanted to accomplish.”
What People Wanted
The OneNote team began collecting feedback from the general public in March 2003, when the initial beta software was released. Small or critical changes got addressed immediately; bigger items were saved for the service pack. The volume of input jumped when the OneNote software shipped last fall, yielding more numerical input and data points that reinforced the patterns seen in the preliminary feedback.
Feedback generally followed an expected order. Early comments revolved around how to use the software effectively, which prompted the team to add a new product tour package in OneNote SP1 that explains how to get started with the product. Once people began using OneNote, the design team received extremely detailed usability feedback, which led to tweaks in the interface. Then, as users grew comfortable with OneNote and discovered how it could change the way they worked, they imagined new and more powerful usage scenarios. This higher-level feedback served as the basis for new features in OneNote SP1, such as the ability to share note-taking sessions in real time.
The most-requested features became in essence a checklist for OneNote SP1. For example, many customers said Pocket PC integration was important to them. Other users wished they could pull information into OneNote from Microsoft Outlook before heading into a meeting. Still other users wanted to customize their OneNote interface with a more hierarchical structure, spurring developers to add the ability to title subpages. Other top requests included more collaboration features and the ability to import Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentations, Microsoft Word files and Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheets into OneNote as images. The request for feedback also elicited what Pratley calls “many smaller things that mean a lot to people,” such as the ability to insert the date and time manually, resizing the label tabs for pages or support for gestures on a Tablet PC.
To shape the service pack around customer input, while making the most of the development budget, the OneNote team organized the feedback in three categories, which Pratley calls “pain, popularity and excitement.” In the first bucket, developers placed the items people needed most to make certain user scenarios work, plus any rough edges that needed smoothing out. In the second bucket went the features that customers requested most commonly. Meanwhile, the third bucket got filled with the new capabilities that customers considered both cool and powerful, such as real-time sharing, Pocket PC integration and recording of video notes.
“From the pain perspective, we had a goal that all OneNote users who installed the service pack would be happy because at least one major painful thing they wanted was addressed,” Pratley says. “I think we substantially exceeded that. With regard to popularity, we wanted the maximum number of people to see that we’d responded to their requests. And for the excitement aspect, we wanted a core package that would cause people to say, ‘Wow, it’s like there’s a whole new product here!’ What we hear from early users is that we’ve succeeded on all counts. Customers see that OneNote SP1 is not the typical band-aid. It enables a lot of new scenarios.”
Variety Beyond What Developers Anticipated
During initial development, the OneNote team had dreamed up long lists of potential features and uses for their new product, thinking of it as a personal diary, a scrapbook, a set of meeting tools and so forth. But customers envisioned ways to take advantage of the application that went far beyond what developers expected. In Brazil, for example, reporters for the large media company InfoGlobo take laptops installed with OneNote to soccer games. They interview coaches and players, then e-mail pictures, audio snippets and notes to a Web magazine for posting before the game is over.
“This kind of turnaround was simply not possible before,” says Allan Caldas, O Globo Online. “With OneNote, we beat the competition by being first with stories.”
The Nassal Company, a specialty contractor based in Orlando, Fla., came up with other intriguing usage scenarios. For example, engineers inspecting an amusement park ride discovered that they can take digital photos of problems, drop them into OneNote on a Tablet PC, annotate the pictures detailing what needs to be done, then e-mail the result to a maintenance team.
“OneNote helps you get an answer within minutes instead of hours,” says Terry Miller, project manager at Nassal. “You can mail information from the site. Remote team members receive it even if they’re in a different time zone, and they can give you a quick response. You can’t beat that.”
The audio notebook feature, for which OneNote developers had in mind the ability to record and annotate meetings, is being used by law firms to record depositions or courtroom proceedings. By linking their notes to recorded audio, lawyers can review events when they return to the office. Lawyers were among those who saw the audio feature as compelling, but said OneNote would be an even more valuable tool if they could also record video notes. Other proponents of this capability included theater directors, who recognized its potential for capturing video clips while taking digital notes at play rehearsals or performances, then reviewing the combined results later with the cast. Such feedback led developers to ensure video recording was included in the OneNote SP1 feature set.
Pratley says the service pack makes it clear that OneNote wasn’t a “one-off” application. Instead, Microsoft is continuing to move the digital note-taking category forward by expanding it to encompass information gathering and information management, fueled by both technological ingenuity and customer feedback.
“From the beginning, OneNote was about looking at what people do and where they struggle, and building a new product to solve that problem,” Pratley says. “OneNote SP1 continues that approach by adding new capabilities to the note-taking experience, whether you use it on a desktop or a laptop or a Tablet PC. Previously, to keep track of all the information you’d seen and where you saw it, and to be able to go back to it and create linkages between things, you had keep those connections in your head. With OneNote SP1, you can capture information in all sorts of venues, manage it and access it later. By offloading all this activity to software, you can free up your mind for creative thinking and other higher-level activities besides trying to remember information.