A new kind of focus group fuels innovation and iteration

How much time do you spend searching for documents? The answer is probably somewhere between more than expected and far too much. Finding files in your immediate work group can sometimes be tricky, but finding shared files by other teams becomes more complicated when you don’t know who the author is, what the title is, or where to find the folder.

Inspired by this scenario and fueled by enterprise feedback in a a new kind of customer focus group, Smart Tagger, a Microsoft Garage project, was built by Garage interns. The Word add-in provides intelligent document tagging to make finding and discovering documents easier. You can read more about the project and features or download the add-in to get tagging.

Powering innovation through Customer Obsession

“Finding information and documents across an organization is one of the biggest pain points identified by customers,” shared Patrick Gan. As a Program Manager on the Office Shared team, Patrick is focused on collaboration experiences in Office and understanding multiple ways in which people work together. Patrick and his teammates are champions of customer obsession, leading efforts to inject customer perspective into Office feature development as much as possible. “We started customer focus groups over four years ago, when we reached out to our local sales teams in Boston and asked if they had customers that’d be willing to talk to a product team.”

Over the years, Office has invited numerous customers to participate in feedback sessions about potential product designs and UI. “We’re happy to share our roadmap with them – it’s a very reciprocal relationship where we get valuable insights from customers, and they get to talk to and brainstorm directly with our product development teams to improve the Office apps they use daily.”

From hardware prototyping to hackathons that turn ideas into reality, The Garage fosters a growth mindset culture by driving collaboration, creativity, and experimentation at Microsoft campuses around the world. “Having customers in The Garage spurs more thinking outside the box,” added Theo Lorrain-Hale, another PM with the Office Shared team. Customers go through different brainstorming and affinity exercises around their workflows – writing down a set of problems, grouping them on the board, and coming up with solutions together with Office program managers, designers, and software engineers on how to solve them. A new addition to these feedback sessions involves Garage interns, who led focus groups around feature and product designs that Office is thinking about building, including reimagining a better document tagging experience.

A solution for finding documents across organizations, built by Garage interns

Theo pitched and sponsored an intelligent document tagging project that Garage interns worked on during their four-month internship at The Garage. Along with the Office Docs team, he introduced the students to all aspects of Office applications and guided them to think through a customer lens. The interns were tasked with finding ways to bring more visibility to tagging in Word and investigate what a better tagging experience might look like across the Office 365 suite.

Smart Tagger Team image
Garage Interns from left to right: Victoria Tran, Annie Guo, Joseph Turtel, Courtney Tam, and Jonathan Volfson

The intelligent tagging project was proposed as a starting point to validate the hypothesis that tagging documents helps people find files faster and be more productive. The idea began with enterprise customers who voiced that finding files across an organization was too time-consuming and often frustrating task. Large companies can have years of documents and research stored on the cloud that regularly need to be surfaced for day-to-day work with clients. Office knew that creating a better file management and sharing experience would require customer feedback and validation to refine.

“What we’ve learned to do is separate the value of what people are asking for versus specific features that people are asking for.” Joseph Turtel, Program Manager Intern for the project. Victoria Tran, a Software Engineer Intern for the project shared, “We’ve been able to talk to large customers in the market research, medical, and apparel industries. For now, we’ve focused our effort to develop a Word add-in that intelligently suggests tags, which is exciting because students, teachers, and professionals worldwide use Word.” The broader takeaway will be how this intelligent tagging experience translates to other apps across the Office suite. Findings from customer focus groups will help inform what to explore next.

“Everything does connect. Having a mentor to push me to think more about the Microsoft ecosystem instead of a specific product or app was a great learning experience. As an intern I don’t necessarily have that kind of big-picture visibility coming into it.” Courtney speaks of her design mentor Manoj Sharma, Designer for the Office Experiences Shared Design team. Manoj is another one of the dedicated employees who have coached the interns along their journey and will continue to build on their work once the interns have returned to their universities.

“It’s a great start to the bigger, overall project – now we have a working add-in that customers can download and give us feedback on–the start of something that could be really impactful to our customers,” shared Patrick.

Learn more about Smart Tagger, a Microsoft Garage project

Smart Tagger, a Microsoft Garage project, provides intelligent document tagging for Word. You can read more about the project and features or download the add-in to get tagging.