Yammer brings a lot to Microsoft, besides the great product itself. Yammer has succeeded in creating an end-user driven adoption of their product, something Microsoft themselves were very good at ten years ago and earlier. Today, my impression is that Microsoft products are recommended and taken to organizations by IT-department only.
But the ability to deliver a product that people use and recommend to colleagues does not come from long and careful planning and detailed product plans. It comes from small improvements all the time, testing out new features (a/b-testing) on isolated user groups and the ability to constantly measure which features that are used and how they are used.
There are several articles already written on the topic of bringing Yammer methodology to Microsoft, for example this by PC World.
At SharePoint Conference 2012, I had the pleasure to listen to a one hour session by Adam Pistoni, Yammer CTO and now also engineering general manager at the Microsoft Office Division. Adam held a very inspiring session about not relying on assumptions on customer needs and taste.
Three pillars make up Yammers secret sauce:
- Data Driven Design: don´t rely on user surveys, it is not an representative group that answer surveys. It is the “silent majority” you want to reach. Everything in the product you develop needs to be measurable, this is something you need to build in to the very core of the product. Also define KPIs that all changes are measured against, could be Retention, Activity Rate, Sign-ups etc.
- Rapid, incremantal releases: Shorter cycles means more course corrections. This is certainly not new in the software industry (agile), but an important part of the success
- Agile infrastructure: Simple, decentralized architecture, using many small, simple and independent services.
Adam also talked about other important principles of Yammer succes, such as:
- Adaptability vs. Predictability – since we cannot know for certain what will work, it is better to be able to change fast
- Customization and configuration is bad – because it makes it hard to measure impact of changes and it makes it harder to upgrade the product
- Yammer will never come in an on-premise version
All in all, having the Yammer team in Microsoft may be the energy boost Microsoft needs to beat for example Google, but I think it will require (even more) radical changes at Microsoft.