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Introducing the Yammer culture to a Microsoft world

Last year, Microsoft Corp. purchased Yammer for $1.2 billion, and, as analysts have argued, the acquisition was about more than social collaboration software.

“There are a lot of reasons why Yammer was worth $1.2 billion to Microsoft,” said Rob Koplowitz, analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. “The way Yammer views how to build new functionality, how to prioritize bringing new functionality in, how to evaluate the value of that functionality once it’s in the product is fundamentally different. I think it was one of the things they do hope to learn from Yammer.”

Changing the structure of how things are developed at Microsoft is imperative, said Koplowitz, especially in light of the growing threats from competitors such as Google, Apple and even Salesforce. But, still, it’s no small task. Managing the code for Office products alone is a massive undertaking, he said.

As it stands, both companies may be hoping to learn from each other. Pisoni said that while Yammer executes quickly on ideas, “the process of ideation and spec writing still feels too slow.”

In a project dubbed “Initiatives,” Yammer and Microsoft are looking for ways to tie their two approaches together. Though Pisoni shied away from revealing too many details, he did mention projects — e.g., finding better interoperability between email and social — would be handed over to a cross-functional teams of 20 to 25 that would operate for a short time and be treated like startups.

Easier said than done, says Koplowitz, who sees both promise and hardship in the meshing of two very different cultures. “I think there’s a big cultural battle Adam and Yammer is taking on. And a lot of the folks at Microsoft are steadfastly behind him, but boy that’s a big battleship to turn.”

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