Since the eighties, Microsoft has always thought of Office in a certain, very rigid way. One team works on Microsoft Word, another on PowerPoint, another on Excel, and so on.
But on stage at the Bloomberg Technology Conference, Microsoft Office Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green revealed that she recently shook up the whole Office organisation — because people just don’t get stuff done the way they used to.
When people are working on their smartphones, or even using voice interfaces like Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, or Microsoft’s own Cortana, they’re not worried about individual apps, but rather the overall project they’re working on.
“People want to get things done in the fastest way possible,” Larson-Green says. “It’s about the task you’re trying to do.”
Larson-Green says that she reorganized Microsoft Office around tasks, not individual software. Some members of the Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Sway teams have been retasked to work on “content creation,” she says, while some of the Excel and Access teams are now focused on visually presenting data.
“We can think more deeply about ‘task’ versus ‘tool,'” Larson-Green says.
The key advantage here, Larson-Green says, is that documents will “decompose into their parts.” Which is to say, Microsoft can start to treat charts differently than text or spreadsheets or calendar invites. That way, for example, if you ask Cortana for all the charts you made on Monday, she can strip them straight out of Excel and show them to you.
It’s an unconventional approach, Larson-Green admits. But Microsoft has a self-given mission to change the way people work. But Larson-Green is a long-time Microsoft exec who invented the Office Ribbon and headed up design for Windows 8, among other jobs, before she took her current job. And she knows that it helps to take a long view.
“You have to be willing to take risks,” Larson-Green says.