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Rutgers MBS Students Thrive in Microsoft Design Thinking Product Externship

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As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the first customer shipment, on 29 June 2007, of the revolutionary Apple iPhone, the most transformative & successful product in history, we are reminded yet again of the extraordinary power of Design Thinking. This product has done more to enable the digital age than any ever designed. Apple has sold over 2.2 billion iPhones to date. No digital product comes anywhere close. Not within 3 orders of magnitude.

Under the leadership of the singular visionary Founder and CEO Steve Jobs, and his Chief Design Officer, Sir Jony Ive, considered the greatest industrial product designer of his generation, Apple turned out hit product after hit product. This included the iPod, iTunes, the iPad, the iMac, the MacBook, the Apple watch, and of course, the iPhone. While many companies have ephemeral success with their smartphones, laptops, and other related digital products – think Motorola, Blackberry, Nokia, HTC – all have seen rapid falls into irrelevance and financial distress. What has set Apple apart has been its absolute commitment to “Design Thinking” in every element of its culture, most notably its product design mindset and processes. This has enabled Apple to have a sustainable, decades-long competitive advantage, unheard of in today’s dynamic digital era. This is why Apple has achieved the unique distinction of being the most highly valued public company in the world – with a peak market cap of $3 Trillion! That’s higher than the total Gross Domestic Product of Canada, with a $2 Trillion economy. Or equivalent to France, with a total annual GDP of just shy of $3 Trillion.

Over a 15-year period under the leadership of CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft stumbled badly and continued to lose mindshare, market share, and relevance. Microsoft was in many ways the antithesis of Apple. User experiences were often painful while user interfaces were downright boring. In addition, its products were over-featured and slow to load. Ironically, the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, always considered a slow, quirky, buggy, and insecure alternative to Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Mozilla Firefox, was finally put out of its misery by Microsoft on 15 June 2022, ensuring the last vestiges of the Balmer era are finally behind us. Under new CEO Satya Nadella, everything has changed at Microsoft. The highly successful Microsoft Surface is a prime example of that.

Last summer, immediately following my Rutgers MBS Design Innovation course, I connected with the Microsoft Messaging product team (Teams, Teams for Consumer, Skype, GroupMe) along with my student, Pooja Kansagra, and my TA, Kruttika Raman. Pooja, my TA for this summer’s course, worked on a hands-on project within my class that applied Design Thinking principles to the GroupMe messaging app, popular amongst Rutgers students. Based on her class work, Pooja and her team were able to make some very powerful suggestions to Microsoft as to how to improve the GroupMe user experience. This led to a design sprint on behalf of Microsoft with 4 universities, which I led, and where Pooja and Kruttika mentored. This experience is memorialized here.

The Design Sprint was so successful, Microsoft asked me if I could scale to 20 schools. Of course, I said YES!

In the second phase of this project, per Microsoft’s request, we widened the scope to include highly rigorous prep schools and International Baccalaureate schools as well as community colleges and research universities. Microsoft wanted to gain a deeper understanding of how students in each of these age groups, each with their own generational preferences for messaging apps. We also expanded the time frame from a weekend “sprint” to a semester-long “deep dive” to generate far more comprehensive insights

Representing Rutgers was a team of four, led by my recent former student, MBS graduate Asaad Abdul- Hamid, Class of 2022.  He is about to begin his doctoral program in Engineering Management at the Stevens Institute of Technology. All teammates are members of the  Minority Engineering Educational Task (M.E.E.T.), the Rutgers Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. These talented engineering students include Chandler Dorce, Computer Engineering, Class of 2025, Kelci Mensah, Cognitive Science & Computer Science, Class of 2023, and Abigaelle Nelson, Mechanical Engineering, Class of 2023. Given that GroupMe is widely used at Rutgers, the team had strong prior knowledge of the platform’s strengths and weaknesses. This allowed them to generate powerful insights. As a result, Rutgers was chosen as one of the top companies to present to the Microsoft GroupMe product and engineering leadership team and made a very positive impression. Each team member now proudly displays their Microsoft Innovation Externship certificate, signed by me and Microsoft Corporate VP Manik Gupta on their LinkedIn profile. Once again, Pooja and Kruttika played key mentorship roles.

The Rutgers MBS curriculum, under the leadership of visionary educator Dr. Deborah Silver, has a uniquely strong focus on incorporating design thinking in every element of its degree program. This continues to be reinforced with every opportunity that I have to connect my Rutgers MBS students with real-world, world-class company engagements. Now, with the launch of its new Product Design concentration, the MBS program naturally marries these two highly symbiotic domains. This will only serve to extend MBS's unique position amongst professional degree programs, building on its unique combination of business and science.

Author(s): 
Mike Grandinetti
Published On: 
07/05/2022
Tags: 
Design thinking
Externship