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'Unlocking Value' at Microsoft


After getting a Kellogg MBA, this nontechie became a software product manager in Redmond. Here's a typical day

What happens after you've created an exceptional product? Well, you have to get your customers to buy it, use it, and ideally, love it. That even holds true for something as ubiquitous as Microsoft Office software.

I am the product manager responsible for Microsoft (MSFT) office deployment and adoption. In a nutshell, my job is all about unlocking the value in our products. For example, you can only experience the value of a chocolate chip cookie once you "deploy" it to your mouth or the value in a pair of running shoes once you "deploy" them to your feet. It's the same with Office software&emdash;our customers only realize the value of Smart Art, real-time editing, and other features once our technology is "deployed" on their computer. My job is to develop strategies and tools that make the job of deploying and adopting our software as clear, simple, and inexpensive as possible.

In my post-MBA job hunt, Microsoft was not the most obvious fit—I'm not a very technical guy. On my first day at Microsoft it took me 30 minutes just to find the latch to open my laptop (though I did successfully find the "on" button pretty quickly). I think that's why my MBA at Kellogg has played such a vital part in my career development.

Success in my role isn't about understanding technology, it's about understanding the customer. You see, many of our customers buy our products, but then delay deploying them. You can imagine that updating Microsoft Office across all the computers in a 10,000-person organization is a huge task that requires a lot of technical support and a lot of money. So, I need to figure out how to leverage our thousands of field sales personnel and partners to make deployment as straightforward as possible for our customers.

I also have to figure out how to connect with customers directly, to convince them that every day they delay deploying Microsoft Office they miss out on real business value. In both cases, this takes a clear understanding of their functional (bits, bytes, deployment tools, etc.) and emotional (superstardom, frustration, support, etc.) needs, and ultimately, clear and simple messages about the value of Microsoft Office.

With field, partner, and customer interests constantly in play, each day is pretty darn busy. Here's an idea of how a day typically shakes out:

6:54 a.m.—Hop in the car and head to the Microsoft campus. Plug my Zune media player (shameless product plug) into my car stereo and sing loudly to keep myself awake. Getting out the door before 7 a.m. is crucial to beating the positively brutal Seattle-area traffic.

7:28 a.m.—Wade through e-mails. Throw some random fist pumps.

8:02 a.m.—Run the latest Microsoft Office deployment numbers by country. Identify those countries that are falling behind pace. E-mail local management with ideas on how they can close the gap.

8:39 a.m.—Scoot over to the Executive Briefing Center (EBC) to talk with a group of customers about the business value of Microsoft 2007 Office. Every day, executives from dozens of companies (and countries) attend all-day presentations at the EBC to learn how Microsoft products can help their business.

9:45 a.m.—As I walk back to my office I take a moment to daydream…. I run into Bill Gates and he says, "Scott, I've been thinking. I'm going to be working on the Gates Foundation full-time in two years, and I need someone to lead the company. Steve Ballmer is a fantastic, high-energy guy; but your hairline is far better. I think you have what it takes to lift Microsoft to the next level." Almost hit by car. Snap back to reality.

9:58 a.m.—Quick one-on-one meeting with my director to review current projects and get some more direction on a scorecard I'm developing to track our team success...

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Scott Buchanan can be reached at sbuchanan2006@kellogg.northwestern.edu.

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