A placemat is a small cloth placed at a dining table which sits beneath a table setting. But at Microsoft, a placemat is something different.
A placemat is a document that lays out various important criteria or issues in a visually-pleasing manner. It gets its name from the placemat template that goes at the dining table with outlines for where the dinner plate goes, where the water glass goes, where the different forks go, and so on.
A strategic placemat might look like this:
Improve customer satisfaction and accelerate engagement through a streamlined experience that offers best-of-breed services throughout the entire product lifecycle.
To make people more productive at work, at home, or on the go by delivering a world-class experience that removes all stumbling blocks to success.
• Increase customer satisfaction and usage.
• Learn from our customers’ usage patterns.
• Reduce support incidents.
Trust and Reliability
Run a trusted and reliable world-class service at global scale.
Create and publish easily-discoverable, timely, relevant, and high-quality content solutions which address our customers’ needs.
Implement an innovative, modern, and seamless support experience, offering just-in-time suggestions for commonly-observed problems.
In practice, there are a lot more boxes on the placemat, with additional columns for things like Initiatives and Metrics for Success, but I got tired of making up generic-sounding text.
Another kind of placemat is a lower-level feature placemat, with a box for each feature under development.
Add widgets to all gadgets.
Convert existing doodads to widgets where possible. Investigate alternatives for remaining doodads.
Improve efficiency so we can reduce size of server pool.
Shorten maintenance window to reduce system downtime.
Investigate and address top 5 reliability issues identified by telemetry.
The placemat serves as an agenda for the placemat review meeting, where representatives from teams that have boxes on the placemat report on the status of their work. These placemat reviews tend to be convened by senior executives, so preparing for the placemat review is an important and somewhat stressful activity.