After months of speculation and tech blog rumors, Microsoft Office for the iPad has arrived. But it’s not as if the introduction of the world’s most popular productivity applications on the best-known tablet was accomplished through a simple handshake between Microsoft and Apple.
Adapting Office for the iPad required re-envisioning what each Office app could be. And, therefore, it also required a lot of heavy lifting to deliver that new concept without sacrificing any of the performance expectations of Office. Amazingly, the Microsoft Silicon Valley team that designed Office’s PowerPoint app for iPad numbered at just a few dozen people, including a small, tightly knit group of developers.
We caught up with Greg Jensen, principal group program manager on the Microsoft Office Client Services team in Silicon Valley that created PowerPoint for iPad to find out what made this undertaking possible.
Greg, tell us about the biggest challenge you had to overcome to create PowerPoint for the iPad?
Millions of people use PowerPoint every day and billions of PowerPoint decks exist worldwide. People truly count on it for productivity. But the touch tablet experience is different from traditional PowerPoint and is all about being fast, fluid, and responsive. Our challenge was to make PowerPoint the best presentation app on iPad but keep it familiar for those who already know and rely on it.
Also, we had to build our app without anyone knowing what we were working on. Keeping this kind of a project under wraps in the face of all of the industry-wide speculation, and making it relevant without talking to customers about it, are unique challenges.
Tell us a bit more about the team that made this happen.
We have people from all walks of life. On our small team, we probably have a dozen countries represented. That diversity gives us a lot of strength. We had a summer intern from the Ukraine who is visually impaired and he made a huge contribution to guaranteeing that our product is more accessible to everyone.
What makes such a small team capable of succeeding with such a large project?
Members of our team have experience from all over the place, from start-ups to giant companies in the Valley. We’ve been able to bring the best of their backgrounds to form a Valley-style fast, agile, and fun engineering environment. We do daily scrum meetings and monthly sprints.
To ship Office, you have to have this incredible structure and discipline that comes with shipping something that big to that many people. Yet, individual teams have to be free to run as fast as they can and be creative and innovative. We’re really proud of the way we’ve married those different elements and made that fit comfortably in the bigger Office team and huge codebase with which we work.
What are some of the other influences from the Valley that have shaped your team’s culture?
Everyone here is really passionate about mobile apps, cloud services, and increasingly social experiences at work and at home. Those three things are kind of the life-blood of the Valley right now. It’s what everyone talks about to their friends over lunch, on the weekends, and at social gatherings. The team brought a lot of that influence, mindset, and motivation to how we designed PowerPoint for the iPad and made it relevant against the backdrop of today’s technology landscape.