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We’re getting around to doing our FY21 planning for the Excel team, and I thought it might be worth looking back a bit and sharing the high level FY20 plans and how we’re doing against them. For folks who don’t know me, my name is Brian Jones, and I lead the Excel PM team. I’ve worked on a number of things in Office over the years including Word, File Formats, Extensibility, and Access. I’ve been leading the Excel team for the past 4 years, and every year we have an internal framework around how we organize the team around a set of top level goals. I often considered posting those frameworks in this community, and decided now is a great time to give it a try. This is the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation with this community on the direction we’re taking the product.


We don’t plan out the full year down to the level of specific work items - instead, we identify the top level goals we want to focus on and identify a collection of initiatives that we fund where each initiative is tasked with hitting one or more of those goals. We “ship” daily at this point across multiple platforms, so the groups are constantly rolling out improvements, and each initiative adjusts their plans throughout the year as they learn through customer interactions and usage data. We use a framework that looks a bit like Objectives & Key Results, but I wouldn’t say we use OKRs in the strict sense.


This past year we had 5 key goals - for each of these we have about 3-5 key measurements, as well as 2-5 funded initiatives. Below is a slightly modified version of the framework I used with the team this year. I had to pull out a couple initiatives that aren’t public yet, and removed the specific metrics from the goals for now (I’ll look into which ones we might want to share publicly over time). I’m sure there are a number of terms in here that won’t be familiar but as I plan to spend time in future posts drilling into each goal, and I’ll be sure to clarify those terms and provide more context:

Excel FY20 OKRs.PNG

For accessibility purposes, here’s the text from the image for the top level goals… I will spend time later drilling into each one in future posts for the folks who find it useful:

  • Web – customers can use our web app for all their work and should never feel they need to fall back to using the rich client
  • Value – customers of our premium subscription offerings feel that Excel gave them great returns on their investment (ROI)
  • Modern – customers are on the latest version of the product and able to use Excel for all modern teamwork
  • Engagement – everyone finds more value in modern Excel, using it for a wider variety of tasks
  • Culture – people love working on the Excel team, and feel they can be their authentic selves.

We’ve made significant progress against all of these this year, and are on track for hitting many of the targets we set (but not all). If you’re on the latest builds, you’ve probably seen a lot of these improvements roll out, or will soon.


In future posts, I’ll drill into each of the goals and talk more about what we’ve delivered to help hit those goals.

 

-Brian

34 Comments

@Brian Jones (OFFICE)  , that will be interesting to see your next posts with more details, and thank you for sharing

Contributor

In a recent Microsoft 365 briefing on YouTube, I was wowed by a new AI-driven data type for food (demoed by the last presenter in this briefing). We've had geography and stocks since 2018. When can we expect to see some of these new data types?

New Contributor

Hi Brian - when can we see parity in the Mashup Engine (PQ) and Vertipaq Engine (PP) present in Excel vis-a-vi Power BI Desktop

Also when will Custom Visuals roll out to all Office 365 subscribers and will work on the Data in the Data model

https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/excel-announces-new-data-visualization-capabilities-with-po...

 

Best Regards

Sam

Regular Visitor

Project Yellow - sounds interesting .

Thanks for being more transparent. Looking forward to seeing what you deliver in the future!

Mike Glenn - yes, you can expect to see data types continue to evolve pretty significantly over the coming years. This year there are a few big additions, one of those being Wolfram Alpha backed data types (which is what you saw in that M365 briefing). That functionality will be rolling out to Insiders in the next month or so. 

 

ExcelPBI - With import data (power query), our main investments right now are on getting cross platform support, as well as some alignment with a couple other native parts of Excel which we'll talk about in more detail later this year. You may have seen that we started adding PQ refresh support to Mac earlier this year. We'll continue investing there. 
We are not investing in custom visuals right now. The main investments we're making in the charting space are in the web, as we had a lot of feedback from folks who wanted to see more functionality similar to what they get in Windows & Mac. It's been a huge push, but a lot of the core infrastructure work we needed is now out, and folks will see pretty rapid improvements there through the year. I'll spend more time on the overall web backlog and the progress to date in future posts. 

 

Konrad Schaefers - it is definitely interesting We're improving the type of solutions you can build and problems you can solve with Excel. Hopefully you've seen the modern arrays and array formula work already, where you can run calc against an collection of values (rather than a single value), and the result of a formula can also be an array. Some of the other formula improvements like LET are also a piece of this. And data types give you more complex structures in a cell, as opposed to just text/numbers. 

Visitor

So... does this mean that VBA will be available for Excel web app?

@JBBNZ, no, we're not planning on bringing VBA to the web apps. The scripting scenarios you would accomplish with VBA are a really key piece of the value of Excel, and we think that needs to work across all platforms. That's why we picked a cross-platform runtime in javascript, and last fall we announced a VBE like experience (with macro-recording, etc.) for our javascript APIs: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/excel-blog/excel-announcements-ignite-2019/ba-p/964482

Go to the section titled: Use Office Scripts to automate tasks easily

 

Also, here's the blog post announcing the preview availability: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/excel-blog/announcing-office-scripts-preview/ba-p/1093559

Regular Visitor

Thank you for sharing...

Senior Member

Thanks Brian! Can you make any statement when data refresh will finally be available in Excel Web?

@Martin Kratky , I'm assuming you're asking about the "new" data connectors that show up under "get data" and leverage the Power Query tech (as opposed to the older ways of connecting to data). I don't have any dates for when that will come to online, but it is something we're actively working on. Most likely it will start to roll out in a similar way to what you see on Mac where we start out with the most common data sources and go from there. 

What are the main data sources you use?

Another thing @Guy Hunkin has been talking to a lot of customers about is whether or not the data sources folks want to connect to are on-prem and locked down, or would be reachable by Excel Online running in our cloud. 

Frequent Contributor

This is amazing. The app/tools I love getting more love. Just when I think I couldn't get more excited about Excel - boom, a peek into the future flames that fire. Thank you for sharing. The future looks bright!

Senior Member

Thanks for the quick response @ !  For us a crucial capability is the option to refresh Pivot Tables and OLAP formula views based on  "Analyze in Excel" connections from Power BI models respectively PQ with Azure SQL i.e. user has to option to initiate a refresh data to latest version straight from Excel Web or Excel sheets that are published to Power BI service similar to "Refresh All" in Desktop.

@Martin Kratky , ok, got it. Different question than I answered

I know that's a big painpoint and we have it fairly high up in on our backlog (meaning we'll hopefully start working on it soon), but we aren't currently working on it. There are other areas of the BI stack in Excel Online that we're working on first (like core Pivot Table functionality), as well as a few other integrations with PowerBI that we'll talk more about at MBAS next week.

Regular Visitor

So awesome that you shared this! Thank you. 

Looking forward to future updates. 

Occasional Contributor

Excel is the ultimate 'low code' platform. Wish there was a 'create web app' button. PowerApps wouldn't stand a chance.. just sayin'.

 

Maybe Office JS. 

New Contributor

@Ghazanfar - If only the Excel Team had strong leadership with vision then Power Query, Power Pivot , Custom Visuals would not lag so far behind the corresponding components in Power BI Desktop, and nobody would have to pay 10$ per month per user.  The PBI desktop leadership seems to be able to ensure that Excel will always lag far behind.

@Ghazanfar Abidi there are definitely different levels of “app from Excel” scenarios. We have done a few entry level things around the data collection piece of those with the Forms integration in Excel online (where form submissions flow right into the spreadsheet), and mobile card view for easier table use on a small screen. There’s much more we’ll do here over time, as Excel is such a great solution building tool. 


Power Apps are fantastic and we partner closely with that org on how to better integrate Power Apps and Power Automate with Excel. 


We also see a number of 3rd party tools that create apps from spreadsheets (mobile apps are the common one you see now). 

Our REST APIs let developers build their own custom solutions over a spreadsheet so that non devs can build out the logic/rules/schema in Excel underneath, and the custom app them sits over the top of that. 

@excelpbi, I hear you. PowerBI is great, and the partnership between Excel and PowerBI is critical. We see that Excel users who start using PBI often become even more intense Excel users as well. The two apps help solve related but different problems for folks. We’ll continue to push further in the Excel and PBI integrations as you’ll see in some of the MBAS announcements next week. 

Occasional Contributor

+1 macOS close the gap.  It’s limiting powerpivot and powerquery usage because you can’t share with those users.  

At the same time, I have two Windows VMs. One with 32bit Excel ( because of enterprise provided add-ins ) and another with 64bit Excel (because PowerPivot needs it to be reliable.)

 

so, I’m using 3 Excel SKUs  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

@Brian Jones (OFFICE) , by the way, how actual is Microsoft 365 Roadmap for Excel https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/roadmap?filters=Excel ?

Contributor

"This year there are a few big additions, one of those being Wolfram Alpha backed data types (which is what you saw in that M365 briefing). That functionality will be rolling out to Insiders in the next month or so."

Brian Jones (OFFICE): this is exciting news, thanks! 

 

One more small, but important matter: Poor visibility of the highlighted cell is an issue some with less-than ideal eyesight have been submitting feedback/suggestions on for years. The highlighted cell border is the same color and just a tiny bit thicker than all the other cells. Obviously one can move their gaze back and forth to the Name Box and Formula Bar to double-check, but this greatly increases fatigue when doing spot editing on large spreadsheets. Couldn't an option be added change the highlighted cell's border color, adjust its thickness and/or change background color to something that stands out more?

@Alex Apolloni - for PQ, we'll keep adding more refresh capabilities first. We are looking at how to bring an authoring experience to Mac too, but that's more in the planning phase, so nothing we can commit to yet. 

@Sergei Baklan - we typically keep it up to date, but it looks like we have a bug in our process where we're missing some things. Will get that corrected. 

@Mike Glenn - Which version are you seeing this issue? Do you have a screenshot somewhere showing the problem and what you'd like it to look like? Sorry, I'm not familiar with the problem so just want to make sure I fully understand. Thanks!

Contributor

Very helpful. Looking forward to seeing future posts drilling into each goal, and especially interested in whatever specific metrics you can share publicly.

Contributor

@Mike Glenn - Which version are you seeing this issue? Do you have a screenshot somewhere showing the problem and what you'd like it to look like? Sorry, I'm not familiar with the problem so just want to make sure I fully understand. Thanks!

@Brian Jones : Thanks for your interest in investigating this issue. To provide an example, I had to first recall that I was working in spreadsheets created by someone else in which they had selected thicker borders around all cells. To assist with QA, we had to compare rows of data with paper forms—thus requiring us to quickly glance back and forth between cells in the spreadsheet and the associated section in each form (handwritten of course to make it even more challenging). I've attached some sample data with thicker cell borders to demonstrate the difficulty of visually spotting the highlighted cell. You can imagine the additional eye strain caused by frequently shifting one's gaze over and up to the row and column indicators if you can't immediately find the highlighted cell. Difficulty is further increased on dimmer, lower dpi displays. This is an issue in all versions of Excel that I'm aware of. 

 

Temporarily removing the thicker cell borders is one workaround to make the selected cell stand out more. Nevertheless, additional highlighting options for the active cell would be significantly better—especially for individuals with less-than-perfect vision. This could be seen as an accessibility enhancement.

 

Expand the image fully for the most realistic view of the active cell contrast problem:

Excel sample data demo of eyestrain locating selected cell 2020-05-18 182225.jpg

New Contributor

Hi @Brian Jones (OFFICE) 

Can you shed some light on whether the Excel User Voice is monitored by the Excel team anymore?

The following product suggestion was raised in 2015 and has more than 850+ votes.
https://excel.uservoice.com/forums/304921-excel-for-windows-desktop-application/suggestions/10561194...

Please advise whether this is the right channel for product suggestions to be considered by the Excel Program Managers.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers
Bleddyn

Contributor

Brian, was my clarification about the active cell contrast problem helpful? I had to go into detail about the usage scenario because this may not seem like a big deal if you're just modifying one or two cells on a large sheet. In that case, you can simply squint hard enough to see the highlighted cell or glance up and over to see the shaded column and row. Having to do this 50 to 100 times is where you become desperate for the cell to stand out more clearly on it's own. Again, this is an issue in all versions of Excel and seemingly something that would be easy to address.

Microsoft

@Bleddyn_James  We on the Excel team do continue to monitor the suggestions on UserVoice.  While we don't always post status updates, we do consider the suggestions as well as the number of votes when we're planning our work.  As you can see from the goals that Brian shared, there are many different initiatives that have to be balanced and there are numerous reasons for prioritizing one over another. Votes that we see on UserVoice are one of those reasons. 

New Contributor

Hi @Steve Kraynak,

Thanks for your response.
Can you shed some light as to whether UserVoice is still the correct forum for Excel Product Suggestions?

As previously mentioned the following product suggestion was raised in 2015 and has more than 850+ votes. (The most votes in the formatting category).
https://excel.uservoice.com/forums/304921-excel-for-windows-desktop-application/suggestions/10561194... 

I find it hard to believe that in the space of 5 years, the top voted suggestions aren't being considered by the Excel Product Team.
This really doesn't give much confidence to users in bothering to provide feedback/suggestions if the most popular suggestions aren't even being considered.

Cheers
Bleddyn

Microsoft

@Bleddyn_James Excel.uservoice.com is still the correct forum for product suggestions.  We do monitor the suggestions and the voting there as important input to influence our plans.  The site doesn't highlight completed suggestions when you're looking at the list, so we prepared this post to show that we do take the input we receive seriously - https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/resources-and-community/how-your-ideas-on-excel-uservoice-com...

 

Again, there are many factors that have to be considered and numerous reasons for prioritizing one suggestion over another. With regard to the suggestion you mentioned, applying conditional formatting to named ranges, complexity and risk is an important consideration.  Since named ranges can be dynamic (changing when the workbook recalculates), and conditional formatting also happens during recalculation, it's quite complex to make this work right and avoid introducing performance issues.

New Contributor

@Steve Kraynak thanks for your response.

As you have indicated the site doesn't currently capture what has been taken into consideration.
Might I suggest that your team implement a similar approach to the experience.dynamics.com product suggestions.

Where by each suggestion is tagged with a status of "Completed", "In Review", "Needs Votes".
This would then assist your team in focusing on some of the higher voted items, and would also provide more visibility to users.

It would also provide the visibility that you described of features your team has completed suggestions that "make excel better".

Bleddyn_James_0-1597788858813.png


Are you able to shed any light on when the Conditional Formatting applied to named ranges is likely to be incorporated into future versions?
It would be great to understand where this is in the Excel teams Road-Map as it is one of the most voted items, has been open since 2015 and still has a status of "Accepting Votes".

https://excel.uservoice.com/forums/304921-excel-for-windows-desktop-application/suggestions/10561194...


I look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers
Bleddyn

Hi @Brian Jones (OFFICE) , thank you for taking care about Microsoft 365 Roadmap update, it's much better now. Still bit random information from my point of view, but my question is about Tasks in Excel (Web) mentioned in Roadmap with GA in Q2 CY2020. Is it really so and I missed something?

New Contributor

@Steve Kraynak 

Are you able to shed some light on what "not at this time" means?

https://excel.uservoice.com/forums/304921-excel-for-windows-desktop-application/suggestions/10561194...
Bleddyn_James_0-1599687510364.png

This has been a product suggestion for almost 5 YEARS!
If "not at this time" when?

 

It is one of the most voted items not only in its category but across the excel suggestions.

 

Responding by saying "it's in the too hard basket" is not a valid response.

Please provide an ETA/road map of when you actually intend to resolve this product suggestion!

There is absolutely no point in users using the voting system of forum if they are simply going to be ignored.

 

Thanks
Bleddyn

 

Occasional Contributor

@Steve Kraynak 

When I read from Brian, "no, we're not planning on bringing VBA to the web apps. The scripting scenarios you would accomplish with VBA are a really key piece of the value of Excel, and we think that needs to work across all platforms." I thought that across platforms would mean both the desktop and web versions of Excel. Great, maybe a newer more user friendly way to do some automation. But no, Office Scripts don't work with Desktop and no plans for VBA to work with Web. So what we really have are to two very separate applications with the same name, Excel....? (not to even touch on using VBA in Word and Oullook)

Because if VBA only works in desktop Excel and Office scripts only work in the web Excel, those apps are not any more interchangeable then Excel and Google sheets. No cross functional automation language between desktop and web is a very dysfunctional move by Microsoft. 

Regular Visitor

I am an Excel VBA developer. I generally work with a large volume of data distributed across multiple workbooks. I like to use a central userform to control the application. From this userform the operator will select source files to process and, typically, will select a single target file in which to collect the results of processing. 

 

I want that main userform to usually stay visible on top, even as the code may be opening/closing many data workbooks as part of processing. Right now, under SDI, the main userform disappears when I open another workbook. Right now I am "living" with this. The app still works but it doesn't look professional and the operator can't easily interrupt a long process, even though I have it set up (with doevents) so that he theoretically can - except the userform with my "Cancel/Abort" button is gone. There are other problems with the disappearing main userform. 

 

I personally don't care if you use SDI, MDI, or anything in between, as long as you give me this basic functionality. And it would be nice to be able to turn off screen updates, too. 

 

Can you give me this functionality under SDI? I can't be the only developer to feel the lack. You must have heard similar comments from others. This has nothing to do with multiple monitors or links between workbooks or any of that amateur nonsense. I store raw data in multiple workbooks. I run VBA code to process that data, going from one workbook to the next sequentially. I want to do this from a main userform which stays visible on top. Okay, I'm repeating myself. Can you give me this very basic and, I believe, very critical, functionality? 

Contributor

Would love to read more about these goals and how you're working to deliver on them!