S2 E1: Seamless Teamwork at Microsoft with Keshav Puttaswamy

Post Date: 04/01/2020
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In this episode, let’s look at Teams in the eyes of Keshav Puttaswamy, PM Manager at Core Services, Engineering and Operations, Microsoft. 

As part of their core culture, Microsoft strives not only to grow as an organization, but to share their learnings with others as well. Through their journey in achieving seamless teamwork, we’ll discover how Keshav and his team helps develop and improve Microsoft solutions and how they drive growth and collaboration within their organization. 

In this episode: 

Keshav’s role 

I’m a PM manager in Core Services, Engineering and Operations, an organization part of Microsoft. We focus very much on how we transform Microsoft as a company across the board. The part I’m focused on is around the employee experience. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about collaboration, how our employees engage with each other, and how we transform that experience that hopefully then translates into an amazing set of stories that our customers can take advantage of. 

We’ve taken a very deliberate shift from what we used to call Microsoft IT, and it’s not just a shift in name, it’s also a shift in approach. We want to be more vision-led. We are partners with the rest of the company and we’re driving change. We really want to drive that vision for what we believe is necessary from our products to the change that we aspire as a company.  

Seamless Teamwork: the drive to better services 

We know there’s constant change and there’s never a state of perfection, so we always aspire to be as great as we can be. And we do take that responsibility very seriously. We want to model what we believe is the best way for companies, in our case, we’re talking about seamless teamwork and collaboration. We want to model how we believe employees, even within Microsoft, should really engage and connect using our tools.  

And so, it’s not so much as, “Hey, let’s take the products that we have and then just deploy it for Microsoft to go use”. It’s as much about driving guidance, what our vision is for how we want employees to engage, and how we connect the dots to make that a seamless experience, which we believe will translate into improvements in the products.  

Now, our number one goal here is to drive as much of these learnings back into the product, whether it is Teams or SharePoint or others. And we’re not shy about sharing our opinions with the product group; it’s really a kind of mutual partnership. So, a big part of our role is to share those stories. “Here’s how we did it.” And hopefully that gives some insights for our customers to leverage and learn from. And we always love to hear those stories from our customers as well. 

The growth mindset 

With Satya, embracing the growth mindset has really been highlighted, not just in how we work and think, but in what we do as well. I think the best way for us to learn is to apply an experiment within Microsoft and then share those learnings.  

I’ll take the Teams deployment as an example. I came in the picture only in the last few months of it, so a lot of the work had been led and driven by the team. But it was a really interesting one because the team’s product had just gone GA; we were trying to deploy it straight. Our goal was to get all 200,000 employees onto Teams, and they were all used to using Skype for Business.  

We were figuring out how to scale Teams at that level not only technically, but also from a process and change perspective. So, it required applying that growth mindset and experimentation where we would try in a small part of the company, quickly learn from that, turn it into the new best practices that we then stage for the next part of the organization.  

And in this case, being very honest about what success looks like is crucial. Because our goal at the end of the day wasn’t just to get everybody onto Teams, the goal was to actually transform the employee experience. If we got everyone on the Teams and they had a crappy experience, that’s not success for us. So, setting clear goals and metrics along the way and saying, “Hey, for this phase of the pilot, what does success look like?” Measuring those, and if we’re not meeting those goals, going back and saying, “What do we need to do different? What does the product need to do different?” and then iterating on that. 

Teams for seamless teamwork 

We used to live in sort of a ‘me’-centric world where things would land in my inbox, and then I would work through them. But now, we’re not living in that world anymore. We now work as a team, and we all need to stay aligned. Now, somebody is relying on me, forwarding emails across to five other people for them to know the information that needs to be out there so that they can get it themselves and react quickly as a team. So, bringing those team-based workflows and the way it allows us to automate different processes, that’s what makes us really excited about Teams. 

For us in CSCO, our driver is about employee experience, and we really believe that Teams has the opportunity to transform that. It also aligns with how we think about seamless teamwork. 

Of course, we wanted to improve the call experience, the chat experience, all the things that Skype did. We absolutely had a huge room; the meeting experience, Teams as a platform to let teams work in channels. We believe that it really fosters a sense of inclusion and collaboration, and it accelerates how quickly teams can make decisions, get aligned, and move forward. 

Microsoft’s own experience with Teams 

Here at Microsoft Redmond, we have a big campus, and everyone comes into the office. So, we’re very used to being in the office and working in that way. We’ve had occasional snow days where people work from home, but it’s usually one or two days, and then you’re back to your normal routine. With Covid, this is an extended period of time where 50,000+ employees have been all told to work from home. And so we cannot just work like how we did snow days. No, we have to work in this environment.  

Living that experience, it’s amazing to see the innovation that happened amongst the employees. We had a big quarterly planning offsite which was scheduled already. And we’re like, “Okay, we can’t stop quarterly planning. We have to do it. And we’re going to do it in Teams.” And we’re talking about almost a hundred people working in a highly collaborative way. And it was amazing to see how everyone shifted very quickly to Teams.  

They created channels. The co-authoring went through the roof. You could see everyone jumping in the Excel files. It was amazing, and in some ways, it really embodies and accelerates our vision of how we see and what we think of as seamless teamwork. We used to only talk about it, but now we’re living it. And it’s really fantastic.  

Keeping the balance with compliance 

We know what can happen if our tenant and the environment that we create does not support the kind of collaboration that people need. I think it’s finding the right balance because if you put a very big wall in front, then people are just going to circumvent it. So, we believe in self-service. We don’t want to be a bottleneck to employees collaborating and getting work done. Any of our employees can go create a team, a site, and we fully empower everyone to do that.  

First of all, we want to encourage everyone to share in the cloud so that not only is it a better experience, but so it’s more secure and compliant. We have a couple of strategies to do that, including product features. We have this known folder move where you just save your document into your MyDocuments, but it actually goes into your OneDrive in the cloud. So, it’s backed up and it’s accessible anywhere.  

We also drive some policies, like we’ve got this container labeling mechanism, where employees can identify, “Yeah, this is highly confidential”. And we’ve put in place some policies that say if it’s highly confidential and you’re sharing it to the entire company, well maybe you might want to look at that again; either your label is not actually 100% accurate or you need to reconsider. We still want to empower the employees, but we want to bring those to light so that there’s very conscious decisions being made by employees. 


There were a few moments, but one that really stuck in my mind was when we released Windows phone. That was, I think, a moment for the company where we realized that we have to take a different approach. It was shifting from the mindset of, “It’s Windows, so all our users are going to come use our thing” to, “Actually, people have choices, and everyone’s going to use the things that make the most sense.”  

At that time, we needed to work together with all of our partners. And there was a real shift. I think Satya really accelerated that shift of being more inclusive and being part of that ecosystem, and sort of a rising tide lifts all boats. It was an experience that made me consciously shift how I thought about how we work at Microsoft.  

Today’s takeaway from Keshav: 

“Coming in towards the end game of this project, we found that even though it seems that replacement of a tool with another tool sounds simple enough, the complexity of how little things can have an impact on how people perceive it is significant.” 

Links: https://www.microsoft.com/itshowcase/blog/

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With over 20 years of business and technology experience, Dux has driven organizational transformations worldwide with his ability to simplify complex ideas and deliver relevant solutions. He serves as the Chief Brand Officer of AvePoint who has authored the LinkedIn Learning course How to Build Your Personal Brand, the book SharePoint for Project Management, as well as numerous whitepapers and articles. As a public speaker, Dux has delivered engaging, interactive presentations to more than 25,000 people at leading industry events around the world. He also hosts the modern workplace podcast #shifthappens that focuses on how leading organizations navigated their business transformation journey. Dux advocates tirelessly for inclusion, using technology for good, and philanthropic initiatives. Connect with him: http://dux.sy

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