How Startups Can Learn from Enterprises

Great products are built by great teams. That is true, no matter the size of the team. So, in trying to build great products, startups can look to all sorts of organizations for inspiration. Take, for example, my company, Microsoft. 

There is a lot to be learned by contributing in a large yet nimble enterprise company that builds world-class services and devices. Shipping flagship products such as Office 2007, Bing and Windows 8 is an enriching experience and here are some lessons that startups can learn from an enterprise such as Microsoft.

Create an environment that fosters planning

Seeing ideas blossom into products is the most fulfilling part of the development stage. I’ve seen ideas captured via vision boards, storyboards, SharePoint sites with bucket lists of brainstorming, Post-It notes on walls to detailed vision documents.

The planning process is not only about putting together a project plan with milestones, it also means you need to make time to brainstorm and plan for the vision of your product.

Use your office, your online shared spaces and create an environment to capture and grow ideas organically.

Validate and Test Your Assumptions Often

Vision and ideas can’t take you further along without validation. Usability studies in labs, field visits to potential customers, endless surveys, customer forums, discussion groups and a solid focus on customer connection are at the heart of every successful product at Microsoft. Social Crunch and Pathful provide various analytics tools to measure data. Reaching blogger networks, walking out of your office to meet-ups and hosting customer focus groups are some other ways to test those ideas.

Invest in Product Development and Product Enablement

A solid focus on product enablement is a strong success driver for product groups in Microsoft. By product enablement, I mean various factors that are instrumental in "enabling" a successful product (e.g. hosting infrastructure). This means taking the time early on and investing in the right infrastructure to enable your product will cause less head-ache in the long run.

Empower and Encourage Each Team Member

You can have the best team with lofty visions and great set of product features with a solid supporting infrastructure and still be missing something.

An emphasis on vertical and horizontal ownership in my Office team created a great environment that fostered collaboration. As you work through the long list of things you need to get done for your startup, look at each team member with a keen eye and leverage more than one of their skills. This will make for a well-rounded fully engaged team. 

Sonal Mane is a Chicago-based startup technologist. She writes at Windows of Words and you can connect with her on Twitter. Her team creates a platform for startups to gain visibility and technology support and is also looking for the next high potential startup to nurture longer term. A variety of events form the backbone of Microsoft’s program for entrepreneurs, Windows Startup challenge, Accelerator for Windows Azure, supporting the 500 Startups Demo day, Startup Weekend and DevCamps. The program is also engaged in financial funding and providing great mentors all over the country.

Thirty-seven thousand fans on Facebook and 27,000 followers on Twitter are a testament to the growing support entrepreneurs and stellar startups are receiving from Microsoft.

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