Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What is the "outlook" for Hotmail?

In a recent post, I talked about the features of the next generation of Hotmail. Let's also talk about the project itself. The Hotmail development project is not done in a traditional waterfall method--as Microsoft tends to do--but in an agile and iterative way using XP/SCRUM methods. The application is released to the user every seven weeks. (If you follow my blog, you know I love this.)

I think the benefits of this approach are significant--and so does the Hotmail team. From what I understand, there is an agile guru within the Expert engineering team named Bernie. I need to get ahold of him!

The project has reached Milestone 3 (M3), which means they have turned the code over to beta testers (M3 is an Microsoft-specific milestone). Currently they are operating with a limited set of users, somewhere around 4k. This is a very small set of users when you consider the current Hotmail user base to be >200 million active users.

The team has completely turned their product direction over to the user base--which is driving the features and what the team is working on. The team says it is not in control of Hotmail's destiny--the users are!

This is the way it should be. We should all learn from this and loosen the reins and let the customer dictate the features of any application development project. We should listen to the users (customers) to ensure that we meet their needs, hit the target, and beat expectations. In the four weeks that the application has been in beta, the users have found 270 unique bugs.

The Microsoft Hotmail development team is developing different experiences for different groups of users, and they are using the feedback from each of these groups to drive the UI design. This is something I have never done, but think it is an excellent idea (the sound of scribbling you hear is me taking notes). Also, they are testing the application in Microsoft's usability lab (I have toured the lab and it is impressive – maybe something I'll cover in an upcoming post).

As far as the technology being used on the project, the team moved from C and CPP to C# and .net. They started from scratch and were able to move from the current UNIX platform to an Intel platform (yes, you did read that correctly).

I am going to keep my eye on this one! I am wonder if they will try to market some of this as an enterprise solution. The M3 is faster than Outlook Web Access (OWA) and looks to provide more features. Hmmm, what is the “Outlook” for Hotmail?


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