Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Alternatives to Stack Ranking?

Alternatives to "Rank and Yank" stack ranking: rather than playing around with Monad or writing some gadgets, I've dedicated my free time to reading up on what to do after you get rid of stack ranking and try to center on having everyone actually work together to get the best results for the customers vs. focusing on how to politically get ahead to get a good review. I'm also taking some time to contemplate on Deming's points and assess how Microsoft is doing against them. In some ways, we're slipping backwards into the industrial-era muck.

What I would deeply appreciate is real-world experience from people living with stack ranking alternatives. Now, I imagine there's something worse than stack ranking. People have written me saying how great it is to be with companies that reward all-around performance vs. relative performance. They feel appreciated, well compensated, and can focus on doing a great job. Managers feel like they can actually tell people when they do a good job (versus having to hold their tongue should that report be on the edge of falling into the 3.0 bucket and then being confused when that 3.0 review is delivered).

Is peer-review more screwed up and political than stack ranking? Can you incorporate a 360 assessment for everyone? Can manager feedback be constant and actually affect the manager's review? How about if you could provide feedback all the way up the chain? Should everything be transparent: if you're going to keep a stack rank, should you just publish it? If not, why?

Published stack ranks would be demoralizing?

Dude, it already is.

November 9th - Save the Date! Have you ever been to the shareholder's meeting for Microsoft? Well, if you're a shareholder and you want to experience the meeting... perhaps have your concerns heard between bursts of sunshine and smoke... you should put it on your calendar:

The Annual Meeting of Shareholders of Microsoft Corporation will be held at the

MEYDENBAUER CENTER 11100 NE 6th Street Bellevue, Washington on November 9, 2005, at 8:00 A.M.

Executive Pay: now, within the Microsoft DEF 14A filling is information regarding pay and bonus for some of our executives. Worth a quick scan (as always, interesting documents noted in http://www.microsoft.com/msft/aspx/secfilings.aspx ).

Where are the Lone Gunmen when you really need them? There is no Mini. This blog is in fact organized by Microsoft leadership to make upcoming major changes and shake-ups appear to be organic and therefore easily accepted by the subtly manipulated rank-and-file workers of the company. They even got an amazingly good looking flunky, posing as the blog's author, to meet with a respected Business Week journalist. This blog is a place where people will blow-off steam and, having satiated their anger, be a compliant cog and jump back into the machine. One comment:

Hmm, I am starting to think this is just a PR stunt, this blog is fake.

Followed up into more depth here. I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted. Sorry, it's just me, my beat-up laptop, and a bunch of groovy people taking time to add their points-of-views.

Other random things: one comment following up on my last post:

Mini. Tell us more. Who was it that tried to fix the mess but went to Google instead?

I think I know - search the internal web for the PowerPoint named something like "BillG A Day in the life of a Dev" or such. The author, Mr. Perlow, moved on to Google last year or so.

Yep, that's exactly the PPT and author. The copy I have has the title Day in the Life of a Developer.

One comment makes a really good point about why the Longhorn reset was a good idea:

FWIW, the Longhorn reset was due to the fact that the main folks were distracted with Windows Server 2003 SP1 and then Windows XP SP2. During this "distraction", it was primarily devs that were working on Longhorn, and they were doing so in different branches. Release management had their 3rd string assigned to Longhorn. The testers weren't really even looking at it. The ones that were, were distracted with a new test harness and in learning/writing managed code automated tests. Very little actual quality assurance was going on because those folks were just too busy shipping other good stuff.

When folks finally came up for air and looked at Longhorn, the reset made sense because the Server 2003 code base was rock solid whereas some devs had been mucking with Longhorn unchecked for years. I think the scheme they came up with made great sense... instead of starting with a big mess and integrating changes from a solid code base, start with a solid code base and only merge rock-solid features into it. In hind sight, it's a no-brainer (though it was far less obvious back then).

Right. The issue I, and I imagine everyone else in the company, has is the circumstances that were allowed that led to the reset and that no one was held accountable after the metal had stopped screeching and the fires died down.

Okay, I'm hitting the road for some vacation-OOF. I'll pop in occasionally to follow-up on interesting developments.

(Updated: fixed some formatting and a bad hyperlink.)

143 comments:

R2K said...

What the hell is this blog about? :)

Good stuff, ill figure it out eventually.

R2000

Anonymous said...

Intrigued by your meeting with Business Week. I have an anon blog and have been approached by journalists who have actually been in partnership with those who have been threatened by my postings. I just don't respond. How did you know the meeting would be "cool?"

Fish said...

An alternative to stack ranking? It's not that hard. You said it: "having everyone actually work together to get the best results for the customers". The answer lies in giving the Organisation's objectives to Teams of people, not individuals. And then let the teams figure out how to achieve them, with support. Why hire so many bright people, only to make them into task workers? It's a question of philosophy - people are strategic value, or people are commodity? MS is running a form of Scientific Management (Taylorism) which dictates that people must be commanded and controlled; objectives are set on-high and those below are measured to achieve. A side-effect is to create a large power structure which is irrelevant to the objectives of the organisation (except to add unnecessary process). Gotta read Alfie Kohn, "Punished By Rewards" - he has an answer - really.

Thras said...

Problem: How do you identify the people contributing the most to your company and reward them; at the same time how do you also identify the people contributing least to your company and convince them to leave so that you can hire better people?

I don't see stack ranking as a terrible way to do this. At least it's simple, which is a plus. It has to be implemented by competent managers to work, but let me clue you in on something: so does every other rating system in the world.

On the other hand, it's unlikely that productivity on different teams always follows a gaussian distribution. Talent often collects.

The system that I would implement, given the power to do so, would concentrate on finding independent measures of employee motivation, and more important (for productivity) employee intelligence. The second isn't that hard to do with written tests, actually. The first is harder, but there are several available methods.

Once you have an independent measure of employee worth, you have a pretty could idea of team potential. This allows you to measure manager worth. And knowing which managers to hire and fire is 100x more important than knowing the same for the peons.

Anonymous said...

let me throw an idea. another 'save the date'. let's see how much we are, how strong our voice is, and most important, how open microsoft is to listen its own people. we're all pretty smart guys, and can manage to send an anonymous e-mail. let's do it!

date: october 24th, monday
from: your anonymous character
to: lisa brummel
subject: we need a new review model
body: i believe a new review model where everybody who does a great job is rewarded fairly, and allows us to work as a real team because there’s no need to compete between peers for a limited number of rewards, will have a positive impact at our company morale and productivity; because [your reasons]

now: it has to be serious. just 1 e-mail per person, no spam, no robots, and send your actual reasons for requesting a new review model. if you have an idea on how the review should look like. send it along. things might not be perfect now. but, just like mini here, i still believe this is ‘the’ company and we can change it.

Anonymous said...

Hey - your blog made it to Blogger's "Blogs of Note". Yay for you!

Anonymous said...

Hey, have a good break! You certainly do deserve it. Man, who am I going to turn to to "hear" other MSFTies with the same sentiments..?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that anytime you have a group of people working on a project there will be a distribution of performance and contribution.

I suppose at Microsoft you could have a system where you just pay everyone the same, regardless of how they perform or contribute.

But whether you decide to compensate people on how they perform and how they continue to improve or not, their performance will still represent a distribution of capabilities and contribution.

There could be improvements to any system that tries to determine or arrive at that distribution and how people are paid, but to pretend that there is not a top n% and a bottom n% is to ignore the variation in humans.

No one is opposed to teamwork, but to ignore the differences in people is silly.

Anonymous said...

"Hey, have a good break! You certainly do deserve it..."

Unlikely he's actually going away, otherwise he just made it a whole lot easier for HR to track him down - just look who is OOF for a week.

Anonymous said...

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has... Margaret Mead

Keep the faith and thank you for speaking the truth

Anonymous said...

Unlikely he's actually going away, otherwise he just made it a whole lot easier for HR to track him down - just look who is OOF for a week.

Yes, the hundreds that will probably be OOF next week certainly narrows it down ;-)

On the other hand, the idea that HR would want to hunt down mini is just another sign of how screwed up HR & management are. What a buncha losers!

To get back on the Stack Rank topic, I like this quote:

It has to be implemented by competent managers to work, but let me clue you in on something: so does every other rating system in the world.

Basically all review systems have the problem of degrading into popularity contests. The only thing annoying about the Microsoft review system is that HR seems to promote the idea that it is scientific because it uses numbers, and is thus safe from the popularity contest model. Being a great admirer of the scientific method and the complexity of the real world, it really bugs me to see numbers used as a smoke screen like this. The folks that push this kind of crap are lazy, ignorant incompetents at best and scheming, cynical propagandists at worst. Either way, there is no end of the scale that bears an attractive moniker.

Having worked at several companies, I think that every review system I've been exposed to is better than Stack Ranking. The real problem with review systems is that they are dependent on the people involved to do them right. No, "system," can help you if the folks implementing it are neither ethical nor honorable. Just like the hard job of creating a workforce that can create great code, getting reviews right takes a lot of attention to the people at lower levels of the company. Lots of HR procedures won't help. Lots of grooming of professional low-level managers will.

Anonymous said...

To the poster who said to email Lisa Brummel about a new review model: I think this is a great idea, but why do it anonymously? This is one area where there shouldn't be any negative consequences to using your real name, and the suggestions may have greater weight coming from verifiably real employees.

If there is indeed a groundswell for this, I'm in. (anonymous here but not on my email to Lisa Brummel)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I just read that Deming link. It is spot on! I really liked point 10 - this is the total antithesis of the Microsoft way. I have Deming's book on sampling theory, but I guess I'll have to buy his management book.

Anonymous said...

I think that the somewhat organized campaign email to Lisa Brummel is a great idea. Count me in.

Anonymous said...

Who the F cares about stack ranks? Sure, maybe there's a better way to dole out ~3% raises, maybe not. The problem is that we have a compensation system that's making a fraction of "us" super rich while the rest of us, who actually make products, are getting ~3% raises. (Of course, the rich ones decide how much they pay themselves, so what do you expect...) If Bill instituted a $500k/yr cap on compensation, think of how many morale and leadership problems would just vanish...

Anonymous said...

very nice

Anonymous said...

There really are some interesting things happening here. Google has 80/20 time: MSFT has something similar. 80% compensation, 20% of workforce.

I understand the reasons, and they are not limited to just this one organization, but you do have to wonder: What if they did stack rank the VP class, no curve. And cap the eligible + to serflike 15%, or realistic 3%.

This is all less about stack rank and more about limited compensation for serfs: Would it be better to keep it exciting, and offer very large surprise grants to extreme overachievers? Perhaps. Enter politics.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog you got. Why not promote your blog on forums.poddop.com?

Thanks,
Dave

Anonymous said...

Hey folks, this (compensation loaded at the no-value-add top while the bottom doing the work gets nothing) isn't new! Go re-read "Microserfs."

Anonymous said...

360 peer review isn't a whole lot better, though in principle it should be.

I used to work for a large manufacturer of automotive OEM paints, and they embarked on a 360 peer review for management. It was an on-line survey that you would send to 5-10 people (one being your manager) to complete.

You basically created your own baseline by choosing attributes that were perceived as important by you, and then the group performing your "review" rated you on your attributes.

Funny thing was, you picked your own reviewers. So, besides your manager (which would be a crapshoot), your other reviewers were chosen by you - so you could basically stack the deck with the people that you were friendly with.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question:

How many of you have been told by your boss something like, "Great job, dude! You're solid 4.0!" all year long, only to have sudden last minute complaints show up on your review to explain the 3.5 that you ended up with in the stack? Gotta love these out of the blue criticisms after only a year without a word of them!

Everyone I know that's been at Microsoft long enough has been side-swiped like this. Or how about being the new guy on a team after a re-org? Or how about, "Geez, you got the 4.0 last year - we needed to spread it around?" Sound familiar? Oh, and then there's the flat-out lies that HR pushes to ICs about the stack (or non-existence thereof).

I don't know about keeping the stack, but we should at least drop an entire system that requires lies and untenable truths from start to finish.

Step said...

You still must have a formatting issue, I saw this same thing happen on my blog (using same template) when I mistyped a two tags last week.

Anonymous said...

How many of you have been told by your boss something like, "Great job, dude! You're solid 4.0!" all year long, only to have sudden last minute complaints show up on your review to explain the 3.5 that you ended up with in the stack? Gotta love these out of the blue criticisms after only a year without a word of them!


I had a manager that all year kept telling me great work, you're doing great, keep it up. Review time, I got a 3.0 and ripped a new asshole about non-performance.

The problem with stack rank is that nobody knows how you are doing all year until the final numbers come up. Nobody can tell you what you can do to improve because nobody really knows.

The lack of raises isn't my biggest issue with the review system. My issue is the lies and bullshit management tells you to try and justify why you aren't a good worker when you know better. Two years of a "trended 3.0" will kill anyones morale, especially when your manager is honest enough to tell you that you deserved better.

The last company I worked for had a rating scale that was an honest rating of the work you did. The raises weren't always the best, but I always received an honest review and knew how I could improve.

I'm probably stuck in the lower ranks because I refuse to kiss managements ass.

Anonymous said...

How many of you have been told by your boss something like, "Great job, dude! You're solid 4.0!" all year long, only to have sudden last minute complaints show up on your review to explain the 3.5 that you ended up with in the stack? Gotta love these out of the blue criticisms after only a year without a word of them!

Everyone I know that's been at Microsoft long enough has been side-swiped like this.


That's the trending you down shuffle that's been described by Mini. The Phantom Curve strikes again. It's happened to me too.

If you ask, HR hides behind the curve (relative ranking).

There could be improvements to any system that tries to determine or arrive at that distribution and how people are paid, but to pretend that there is not a top n% and a bottom n% is to ignore the variation in humans.

No one is opposed to teamwork, but to ignore the differences in people is silly.


HR lets managers have free reign over their direct reports when it comes to ranking them.

Everybody is trying to get rid of IC's that they feel don't contribute adequately.

If a manager is doing a poor job according to most of their reports, there is no push back from the IC's that will reflect on the manager's review score.

That's why there is the bloat in middle management. Things get a little too cozy to evaluate from the top down.

Who the F cares about stack ranks? Sure, maybe there's a better way to dole out ~3% raises, maybe not.

Who are they going to promote? The people with the consistently higher stack rank scores.

If you want a popularity contest ruling those decisions, the company is going to rot as more and more people more qualified at politics than producing product accumulate at the top.


2002:

http://news.com.com/Microsoft+scraps+server+OS+plans/2100-1001_3-965546.html

Microsoft characterized the deadline change as something that customers would welcome.

"Another major Windows server release in the Longhorn time frame does not meet the needs of most of our customers," the representative said. The delay "is a response to what our customers are asking for."

2003:

http://www.computerworld.com/softwaretopics/os/story/0,10801,79520,00.html

The Longhorn client operating system is due sometime in 2005, according to Valentine. But it's too early to tell if there will be a Windows Server 2005 release, he added. "We'll do whatever makes the most sense and is easiest on our customers," Valentine said.

With Longhorn targeted for 2005, the successor to Longhorn, code-named Blackcomb, is now loosely pegged for 2007 or 2008, said Valentine. "We think that these waves can't be consumed any faster than two- to three-year cycles in the enterprise," he said.

Until yesterday, Microsoft officials had said that Longhorn wouldn't ship before mid-2004 and that Blackcomb wouldn't ship before late 2005 or early 2006. The dates that Valentine supplied yesterday clearly extend those predicted time frames.

http://www.longhornblogs.com/scobleizer/default.aspx

Friday, October 31, 2003 4:07 PM

What is Longhorn?

What is Longhorn? Really short version before I hop on a plane to go home:

a) a new User Interface. (code-named Aero). Nicer looking, more productive.
b) a new file storage system. (code-named WinFS) Easier to search for files. Allows for new views on files, people, and data. Lets you build “associations” between data and people.
c) A new set of APIs. (code-named Avalon, now called WinFX). Much more productive for programmers. Offers new user interface capabilities.
d) A new way for software/computers to talk to each other (code-named Indigo). The next version of SOAP and Web services.
e) A new way to communicate (code named RTC). The next version of collaboration and IM functionality.

We'll be talking about each of these areas more soon.

http://www.windowsitpro.com/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=41183&DisplayTab=Article

This week's reshuffling is a visible example of Group Vice President Jim Allchin's desire for engineering excellence; the executive says he has worked for months to figure out how to best structure the company to deliver the highest-quality Longhorn release possible. "[The Windows Core Operating System Division] creates a very visible center of gravity for advancing the engineering excellence of Windows," he said. "It's basically a new improvement in the processes of how we're building the core parts."

Longhorn, Microsoft's most ambitious software product to date, will likely ship in late 2005 or early 2006. Valentine says the reorganization won't affect Longhorn's ship date. "This [reorganization] isn't a statement about Longhorn's schedule," he noted. "It is about the way we build products." Other executives reiterated Valentine's comments about the Longhorn schedule, noting that the reorganization will simply improve Longhorn's quality and security.

2004:

MIA

2005:

http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,121914,00.asp

"So there's no more Longhorn, we're now officially Windows Vista," Brian Valentine, senior vice president of Windows Core Operating System told the cheering crowd.

"That's what Windows Vista is about, bringing clarity to the world so you can focus on what matters to you."

Marc Bernard said...

We've just started stack ranking at SuperMegaCorp, and so far the motivation is tanking, as expected.

I've been wondering what the company expects to do if it really works? How long can you keep it up?

While we're on the subject of Deming's points, there are a couple more articles here.

Keep your stick on the ice,
Marc

Anonymous said...

I'm probably stuck in the lower ranks because I refuse to kiss managements ass.

This is a reason why:

1. I work as a consultant
2. I work for small companies where I can talk to folks above me (CEO, CTO,...) directly and in a friendly manner

I just didn't want to become another no name number or anonymous developer somewhere inside building XX.
Life is too short to deal with that shit so I moved on.

It's a whole new world now...

Anonymous said...

"Have you ever been to the shareholder's meeting for Microsoft? Well, if you're a shareholder and you want to experience the meeting... perhaps have your concerns heard between bursts of sunshine and smoke..."

Haven't been to one but have listened to all since about 00. Your comment about sunshine and smoke is right on - the entire event is about how great everything is going. In fact, for the past 3 years, they haven't even mentioned the stock. Can you imagine? It's the only way that shareholders (the owner's of the company) benefit and MSFT management doesn't even have the guts to mention it? More amazingly, attending shareholders for the most part accept this bullshit w/o so much as a whimper -I guess the bagels are good. The only time I recall the stock coming up has been in the Q&A where, if I recall, shareholders have twice asked why "everything being great" hasn't translated to a stock that can even perform at the market. The answer from Ballmer on one of those occasions was "well you know, stocks go up and stocks go down". I shit you not. For the record, the person asking the question in that case had (by my calc) about $3M in the stock circa 00 and had watched it cut in half. Hmmm...I wonder whether he was satisfied with that answer? In any event, with the complete failure of the one-time to reward long-term holders, the stock having underperformed for another year and now sitting below where it actually was before any of the "cash" announcements, the recent decision not to increase the dividend, etc., unless Baller et al pull another rabbit out of their hat between now and then (which I bet they'll try), this meeting is going to be like no other Ballmer has attended. I think patience amongst MSFT investors is finally running out.

Frank Gilroy said...

Hey there. I don't work for Microsoft but I work for an equally large and annoying company (Motorola). I have been trying hard to "get out" and find a company that "does things differently" and have found that there are a few companies out there that follow a means of corporate governance call Sociocracy to be quite interesting. I'm trying to get a job at a small company in my area called Ternary Software (www.ternarysoftware.com). The CEO of that company has a blog called Enlightened Business that I recommend you take a look at. enlightenedbusiness.blogspot.com.

TheKhalif said...

The Longhorn client operating system is due sometime in 2005, according to Valentine. But it's too early to tell if there will be a Windows Server 2005 release, he added. "We'll do whatever makes the most sense and is easiest on our customers," Valentine said.


Well, one of the ways to see the bad direction MS is heading in is, WinFS, which actually can increase peoductivity was pulled, while NVidia and ATI have to give up control of video memory so people can have floating 3D icons on their desktop.

WTF?

Anonymous said...

We must eliminate the stack rank at MS, which only exists in order to group people into a quota of ratings (I was once a manager who contributed to the inevitable chalkboard exercise). The ranking starts ahead of reviews due to timelines (management teams submit up to GMs who combine these into a rolled up stack rank, then roll up to a VP who combines GMs roll ups, and so on - until the curve is satisfied). Reviews have become after-the-fact time wasters for employees and managers. Let me assure you that if you are promoted, you will automatically lose a .5 point because you are being rewarded one way and the .5 point can be dolled out elsewhere. If you are new to role you will also lose a .5 point because it's easy to say that you're assumed to be lower than others who have been in role longer.

I suggest that the first step must be the written reviews, with employees writing on achievements vs. objectives, with metrics and examples to back up the achievement. The manager assigns ratings to each objective with description on why the rating was selected - with no quota to worry about. No overall rating submitted by employee or manager. A performance panel (selected like a jury) pours over each review and assigns overall rating to each employee. Managers can be called into panel discussions to clarify objective ratings (if what manager put does not jive with what employee wrote or metrics). Rating + time served = performance bonus.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that the first step must be the written reviews, with employees writing on achievements vs. objectives, with metrics and examples to back up the achievement.

Metrics are great, but there are many aspects of writing quality software that are not easily measured. Because of this, only easily measured commitments make it onto a review. There is no escaping it - leads and managers need to dig down with things like code reviews to measure the nearly immeasurable with a human mind. We need to instill into each and every dev good craftsmanship and pride in it! This is more important than any other commitment that a lead or manager can have, and identifying devs that cannot be improved or encouraged to take pride in their work should be the most important step to weeding out the workforce. You're not going to get there with metrics that are so simple as to be readily apparent.

jeffysspot said...

some good reading here

Anonymous said...

"If Bill instituted a $500k/yr cap on compensation, think of how many morale and leadership problems would just vanish..."

What would vanish would be the entire leadership group since the majority are exercising several times that much in stock every year. On the other hand, maybe that would be a good thing from both a leadership perspective and a general employee morale perspective.

TheKhalif said...

Metrics are great, but there are many aspects of writing quality software that are not easily measured. Because of this, only easily measured commitments make it onto a review.

This is a problem through every job in IT. Is it better for an Admin to patch everything quickly or to avoid the need for patching somehow?

Is it better for a tester to have a totally manual operation that forces him to stay 11 hours or for the tester to automate aspects that cut his hours to 8?

These are the things that are being replaced by stack rankings and directly lead to keeping the incompetent people around while the real workers leave or are forced out .
Lord Bill and Sir Steve need to reevaluate what is going on at the lower levels.

Anonymous said...

Is it better for a tester to have a totally manual operation that forces him to stay 11 hours or for the tester to automate aspects that cut his hours to 8?


I had a manager tell me once that he didn't want hit people to work more than a 40 hour week. To do more meant that you were not working smart. Come review time, he tells me I would get a higher score if I worked more overtime.

Figure that bullshit out.

Anonymous said...

While the whole notion of "stack ranking" is ridiculous, it rivals when compared to the incredible gap in pay between "us" in the trenches and "them" looking down upon us. The continued "things are going to get better" "look at the fat pipeline of products we have" rhetoric is getting really old. Talk is cheap. Before the review period started I heard about the increase in both base pay and bonuses for all. Review happened, not much changed. While we compete with our peers for a 3% raise, the executive- types reserve the 10% increases for themselves. Sure Mr. Ballmer can say that morale is at 85% (an all-time high) but, from where I sit - there are a lot of people stuffed into that 15% who are not happy.
Other than the good health plan - where is the incentive to shine?

Anonymous said...

Wow, exec compensation increased by 8.5 to 15 percent, according to http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/242636_msftpay29.html

Wasn't the average employee increase 2%?

Anonymous said...

Here's the problem, when people get 3.5s and 4.0s and they know that there are people on the team who deserve a score as good as they got (or better), they don't say anything. Managers can't say anything because they have to tow the company line. So the only people complaining are the people who get 3.0s (or worse). The problem is that most of the people at Microsoft are selfish and scared of risking their jobs (which is, to say the least, sad). I'd like to think the email campaign to Lisa Brummel will work, but it would have to be anonymous because otherwise a bunch of suck ups who got 4.0s would risk their suck up status.

Basically, the stack ranking model depends on honest people. Most of the people I've worked with at Microsoft aren't honest enough to pull it off.

videoguy said...

I don't work for MS and never worked for MS before. This blog has interesting stuff. I see MS is no different from other companies.

Coming to stack ranks, I couldn't agree more with the stuff written here. Couple of months back, I had the same experience. My boss said I meet expectations and I need to improve my visibility. This is after I worked my butts off working on redesigning a shitty legacy code I inherited, not to mention training new guys about our code so that they can fix bugs etc. Now I am disgruntled employee who wants to put his 8 hrs per day and I don't care if our product really ships or shines.
Previously I used to be proactive and signup for anything to get the product out. In retrospect, I think that made people started taking me for granted. Now I make my boss schedule time for anything thats outside my project description. Everyone started taking notice. Now he knows that he just can't promote one of his "slick willy"s using others hardwork. Now I am improving my visibility thing by doing less and talk more about how doing something is very difficult. Or I spend more time on powerpoints
with time estimates for my tasks really really padded well. Needless to say, I am also looking for a job outside as that is what I learnt (from reading this blog) would further my career than wasting time here.

my 2cents.

TheKhalif said...

This is after I worked my butts off working on redesigning a shitty legacy code I inherited, not to mention training new guys about our code so that they can fix bugs etc. Now I am disgruntled employee who wants to put his 8 hrs per day and I don't care if our product really ships or shines.

This kind of occurrence is all too common nowadays as a dearth of lazy "politicos" move into the workplace. Rather than push for and pay for more educational programs or defining static, measurable goals such as, how many people on your team can count onyou for answers about your area, or how many serious vs. cosmetic bugs you find, or for dev, how many elegant solutions can you document for difficult issues, or how many of the standard design patterns are evident in your code?

Code reviews are great but can a lot of times become instantaneous stack rank sessions where elegance of solution may be given a back seat to whether you used a methodology like your lead.

In a lot of cases you find devs having to listen to unqualified mgrs who are woefully behind the times and would rather increase their political position vs their knowledge of the latest techniques.

It makes you wonder if there's a correlation between bad management and late or cancelled products.

Anonymous said...

I am not convinced the stack rank is the real issue. I left Microsoft late last year after five long years as a GM and other various roles as a L67. To me, the change occured in the 2000-2001 timeframe. Before that, it was all about Microsoft. How do we make Microsoft better, bigger, faster, take over the world etc. Then, at some subtle point, the Microsoft world shifted and it became all about 'me'. Microsoft no longer mattered, what did matter was what 'I' was getting from it and how do 'I' stay out of the dreaded 3.0 category of death. At that point, the fight to get into a comfortable position within a comfortable group where you were buddies with your manager started, and the empire building began. If you were an entrenched member of a team, you could count on the 3.5 and 4.0 in perpetuity. If you were new to the group, an outsider, or new to the company (regardless of experience) you had to fight longer and harder to get attention and the 3.5 or 4.0 review. At that point it started becoming obvious that it was not a fair system, and the gaming of the system became worse, until you have the system and situation you have today.

Peer reviews will work, as long as your manager can pick at least half the reviewers, you pick the other half. Any new review system also has to take ultimate power of opinion from the manager and force them to account for all of the peer review results in their ranking and rating. Their opinion counts, but only as a minority percentage.

I left after being forced to report to a manager/VP with little management experience. I have over 25 years of management and VC experience, and I was simply not willing to do the stupid things he insisted I do that had either no value or no reason behind them. I ended up with a 3.0 as a result, because while my peers and team loved what I was doing, he couldn't come to terms with my methods. So I left. I am now the CEO of a very successful VC backed startup.

So who is the winner? Certainly not Microsoft.

By the way, the 'manager' ended up leaving Microsoft several months later.

Anonymous said...

"How many of you have been told by your boss something like, "Great job, dude! You're solid 4.0!" all year long, only to have sudden last minute complaints show up on your review to explain the 3.5 that you ended up with in the stack? Gotta love these out of the blue criticisms after only a year without a word of them!"

I've never worked at MS, but this comment is spot-on at many companies. The blade cuts the opposite way as well: canny but lazy employees will perk up and perform, perform, perform in the ~3 weeks prior to review dates. They know the mgr's memory does not stretch backwards a full year.

And the problem becomes obvious - the feedback loop is too large; the truck is swerving down the road with too much distance between correction inputs. No wonder the cargo is being thrown around!

Secret: managers hate reviews too. Huge amounts of anxiety & depression loom at review time. How do you get good at & competent with something you only practice 1x-2x/year?

A trend is forming, an answer looms ...

Managers manage people. If you aren't managing your people, everything else is getting lost too.

Answer: more reviews. Tighten the loop. Make this quick, make it transparent to both worker & manager. Review every other week, on a checklist agreed upon by mgr & worker. We should be able to get thru the checklist in 10 minutes per person unless there are points of contention (and upping the frequency will quickly wear these points down one way or another!).

Result: regular feedback between mgr and worker. Neither one is surprised by what pops out in the yearly salary adjusting review. (And beleive me mgr's are surprised by their own reviews more often than you'd think!) Managers become good and confident at doing the reviews in a fair & competent way. Workers have the confidence of knowing their performance is documented and major reviews stand on that documentation.

Now all this is good, but it must flow all the way up the chain. Mgrs need to be rated not only on basic ability to work with their teams, but on the overall production they coax from their teams. Three years work followed by a reset which tosses 50% of said production = clear failing grade for the manager.

Anonymous said...

Code reviews are great but can a lot of times become instantaneous stack rank sessions where elegance of solution may be given a back seat to whether you used a methodology like your lead.

In a lot of cases you find devs having to listen to unqualified mgrs who are woefully behind the times and would rather increase their political position vs their knowledge of the latest techniques.


Yes, that's a sad truth. Microsoft has promoted so many idiots into the lower to middle levels of management that can't write code for anything more complicated than their favorite interview question. I remember doing some code maintenance on some really stinky code - found out my manager had written it before getting promoted to spend his 10am to 5pm days in continuous meetings where he can polish his baffling with bullshit skills. Having him review code would be a waste of everyone's time at best.

This is it. This is the crux of all of Microsoft's problems. Microsoft is not at all interested in the individual skill and diligence of their devs. All Microsoft cares about is that they accept the corporate propaganda and play the game right. This attitude then works its way right up into management. I have no clue how to fix this though. I am convinced that any solution will take a lot of time and effort of the best people that Microsoft can get their hands on to weed out the garden, but I just don't see that kind of will for change from management.

Anonymous said...

This is a bit off topic but I was wondering if Microsoft plans on working with a web-based Office suite. Times are a changin'.

Anonymous said...

It'd be cool if someone could link the 'Day in the Life of a Developer' letter that was mentioned.

Anonymous said...

On this topic from Mini:

Where are the Lone Gunmen when you really need them?

The fact that folks could believe, or at least see as plausable, that this whole blog is some underhanded scheme designed by some secret cabal of Microsoft management really is a damning condemnation of Microsoft managers. Everyone is so used to them being lying scum that there is very little that would amaze.

TheKhalif said...

This is a bit off topic but I was wondering if Microsoft plans on working with a web-based Office suite. Times are a changin'.


Some people may remember "software-as-a-service"

Anonymous said...

This is a bit off topic but I was wondering if Microsoft plans on working with a web-based Office suite. Times are a changin'.

Outlook Live...
http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/newsroom/msn/factsheet/OutlookLive2005FS.mspx

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2005/jan05/01-20OutlookLive2005PR.mspx

Anonymous said...

Fine thread here. As mini said here,
http://minimsft.blogspot.com/2004/07/microsoft-stack-rank-as-popularity.html
it's possible to increase your rank if you work it directly (rather than, or along with, doing your real job well). I've been ranked very high, and fairly low, in the course of a career at HP (which has a similar approach to ranking), and my standing has had a lot to do with how well my accomplishments have been understood and appreciated by my manager. I've generally left it to them to figure it out, and that passive approach is a gamble on their ability and motivation. Except that it's a zero-sum game, so those who do not promote themselves are battling, whether they know it or not, with those who do.

But it's still a dilemma whether to self-promote or not. It's a slippery slope with loss of integrity and back-stabbing lurking near. Worse, in a culture where backstabbing works, it's all the more important to not do it, and to try to "be the change you believe in" as I think Gandhi said.

Not sure how many of you watch the CNBC business channel lol, but they've recently showed former CEO of GE Jack Welch saying "I'd argue that you're the cruelest, biggest coward who ever lived if you don't tell people where they stand." Maybe they're not THE biggest cowards, but he's dead on: managers who fail to frequently, accurately and directly tell their reports how they're doing (in mgmt's eyes) have failed at their fundamental job, because that's how trust is broken and without trust, nothing else can thrive.

BTW there are ways a 1st level manager can build a high-performance team amidst bell-curve ranking rules, and trust is vital. The team has to acknowledge each others' work EVEN IF it might result in losing a ranking notch. In my experience, most people will do this because or or when they realize the resulting power and joy of the job far surpasses the ranking and money coming from disdaining a colleague. I know those are 8x10 glossy words, and it is very difficult to pull off, especially amidst layoffs and hard times. But it is possible.

Anonymous said...

In Olympics if a Soccer/Basketball team wins everyone gets Gold Medal. Imagine a Stack System in Soccer/Basketball.

How many assists would u get then????

Software is now a team effort just like soccer and unless PM/DEV/QA all work together no good software will ever come out.

Individual great performers like Michael Jordan/Diego Maradona/Joe Montana
John Elway
Dan Marino
Steve Young
will still be there but it has to be a team effort.

The ideal system would be Deliverables/Goals vs. achievement from top to bottom.

I guess that means we should know what are the goals of steve ballmer, BillG, VPs etc. also apart from fighting over missing towels in Gym.

Maybe MBAs like Steve can only run other MBAs. Softies are different and they need to be treated differently, rated differently, stacked differently etc. I guess no MBA school teaches how to lead softies as opposed to Sales/Marketing guys.

fCh said...

Even though it's been a short time since I found out about minimsft, some distinct feelings are shaping up:

1) Most visitors were attracted here by the recent news-reporting on minimsft;
2) Personal stories on bad experiences at the (former) Company seem to abound;
3) Suspicion is running high;
4) External viewers are left wondering about the extent of the unhappiness at MSFT;
5) Developers seem to be the ones complaining the most--and I am wondering why we don't see more variety;
6) Socialism is alive and well even when those complaining approach 6-figure salaries--so, it may be a human trait afterall;
7) The Company, at least at the moment, seems to favor cohesion at the expense of "creativity;"
8) Some of the subjects are quite recursive;
9) For an interesting potential parallel, have a look at this link: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Utilities/printer_preview.asp?idArticle=6123&R=C6EC3426D
10) Had I been managing MSFT, I'd have done something with, and about, many things that have come up on minimsft.

Cheers, fCh

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if this blog is just MS VP tool to hear voice of their own employees.

Anonymous said...

Maybe MBAs like Steve can only run other MBAs. Softies are different and they need to be treated differently, rated differently, stacked differently etc. I guess no MBA school teaches how to lead softies as opposed to Sales/Marketing guys.

Maybe MBAs learn a lot about managing and nothing about leading. Perhaps the decline in American business leadership skills can be traced back to the origins of MBA programs?

Anonymous said...

The comments that were posted a few up about managers getting promoted up the chain but not having the core coding skills to do more than conduct an interview were spot-on for me.

I left Microsoft about a year ago, and before that I reported to a dev manager who one day called me into his office. We sat down and he told me that the previous evening he had reviewed the code of a dev who worked for me. He said:

"I have to admit, it was a big wake-up call for me doing that code review last night. I realized that I can't read the code your team is putting out. I never learned C++, and I don't know ATL, and I'm going to really have to rely on you to make sure the quality is good."

This kind of blew me away, because up until then I had no idea how far behind he had fallen. I think there are lots middle managers across the company who are in this same situation. I think some of these guys should take some time to work as ICs for a year or so to get back up to speed.

Also posted the link to Jim Collin's site said...

I just finished reading the book Happiness, which has some data in there about employee happiness and performance related pay. You can search inside it at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1594200394

Search for employee, and read p157-160. Some quotes:

"People must be evaluated against their peers... If every body agreed on the rankings, it would not be bad. But studies have shown quite low correlations between one evaluator's rankings and another's"

"The growth of performance related pay has been associated with a measurable increase in stress..."

"...by upping financial incentives, we diminish a person's internal incentinves to give of his best and live up to the name of his profession."

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of periodically cycling managers back into an IC role. At least that would churn the management ranks a little more and it would give them a better understanding of what they are asking ICs to do.

There is so little growth that people tow the party line instead of admiting that there are problems. Brutal honesty (at least internally) used to be one of the biggest strengths of Microsoft.

Has anyone written a post-mortem on the longhorn slip????

360 reviews would be an improvement if (as previously stated) at least half of the reviewers were chosen by the IC based on who they are interacting with on a daily basis.

Forcing managers to spend at least part of each 1:1 talking about goals should be required if measurement is to be based on those goals.

Managers need a lot more training before they are allowed to manage. Very low manager review scores should require an immediate move to the "6 week internal job search" position.

ICs should not require manager approval before interviewing with other groups.

Stack ranking should never be done prior to written reviews by the IC and manager. Has anyone ever seen a system where stack ranking is performed by people completely outside of the team?

GMs should be able to approve re-leveling of ICs if a manager feels that they are incorrectly leveled.

And if I were Bill for a day, I would focus on those charities and leave Microsoft alone. His meddling is considered the kiss of death by a lot of groups. He is very smart, but he makes mistakes too and it is very hard for people to correct him or to continue against his advice even if they know that it is the right decision.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious that MS knows about this blog and sees all the comments posted. One would think that a caring company would address the issues brought up in this blog, but since nothing has changed the only conclusion that can be drawn is that they just don't care. It has been known for years that stack ranking exists and that the bell curve forces good employees to get mediocre reviews. And those fortunate enough to get good reviews only get a 3% raise. All the employees want is a fair review system. When MS is sitting on billions in cash and is raking in billions every quarter employees have every right to get upset at a 3% raise.

BTW, the executive pay info Mini linked to is interesting. Seems that Bill and Steve both got an 11% raise last year.

Anonymous said...

"He is very smart, but he makes mistakes too and it is very hard for people to correct him or to continue against his advice even if they know that it is the right decision."

Yes, it's called Group Think. It's often cited as the reason behind the bay of Pigs fiasco - no one was prepared to tell Kennedy what they really thought. Being a fan of history, Gates should have taken measures to ensure that the same isn't occuring when folks deal with him.

Anonymous said...

The issue I, and I imagine everyone else in the company, has is the circumstances that were allowed that led to the reset and that no one was held accountable after the metal had stopped screeching and the fires died down.

JimAll made the decision to take on XP SP2. I imagine he also made the decision for the main Windows group to take on Server 2003 SP1 instead of Sustained Engineering.

If someone is responsible, it's Jim, because you can't have the Windows group take on something on the scale of Windows XP SP2 (which easily could have been called Windows 2004) and have it not impact the Longhorn schedule. I think Jim made the right call.

The assertion that somehow Microsoft piddled away investors' money on Longhorn is silly. By taking on XP SP2, we were securing the platform. If we hadn't, there was a critical mass of exploits that could have turned the public's perception about Windows. The bleeding had to be stopped first.

In general, the second guessing of arguably the most successful and profitable company in the history of the world just smacks of sour grapes if you ask me.

Maybe we should engage in a witch hunt and track down all the developers that checked in code without it being fully tested.

Oh wait... that describes every developer in the company.

You're FIRED!

Anonymous said...

Hey...

I've never managed a team before. My greatest contribution to my team is my incessent complaining about the stack rank. I browse the web for most of the day, and then complain about how much work I have to get done. I can't even manage my own personal finances.

However, I'm going to tell everyone how MSFT should be run. Every get ready to listen to me! I'm about to say something very important!

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should start a witch hunt on all managers who forced those developers into a schedule pulled out of their asses? Most of the time developers have only a half of the time it would take to do a feature right. So guess what happens? They check their code in "as is" and spend their time polishing turds checked in by others under similar circumstances. Developers who can say tell their managers to fuck off or be reasonable are few and far between.

Anonymous said...

In an attempt to offer something helpful . . .

I think that for those of us in Redmond working on shipping our components on whatever product in whichever division it would help to have peer review. Not necessarily from peers on one's own team, though; dev/test/pm peers. And maybe include their bosses. I'm not saying this should replace stack ranking or what-have-you, but it could at least supplement it. Those are the people who know best the kind of impact I have on the component, product, and the company.
I'm not entirely opposed to stack ranking, but it would also be incredibly helpful if at any given time we could know where we rank and how we're expected to improve. That would make it easier to meet management's expectations and would also result in fewer surprising comments on that annual review to explain away whatever the score was. I consider the lack of a system like that to be bad management.
Working on a core product team, I don't know how to correlate customer sat. numbers with most of what I do, but if there were some way to include that I'd be happier at review time. Somehow helping some huge (HUGE!!!) customer on something outside my current position doesn't count toward my review. And even if it were within my current position's bailiwick it still strangely doesn't count because that's not part of my "comitments" except as counted as "community" time. Oooh - helped keep a customer who pays us big money on Microsoft software? Well - that's not your job. I rank that as more important than anything else I'd done all year whether it was in my job description or commitments or not.

I guess what I'm saying is that the current (now largely cascading down from management) "commitments" model doesn't really fit the actual commitments of my job. beyond that, I'm not allowed to scrap those and determine (with my lead) what my own commitments ought to be. And the ones I'm stuck with are vague and, frankly, not actionable (yes - I just wrote "actionable" - I know it's not really a word). I assume others are in similar positions, based on talks I've had in the hallways.

Anonymous said...

The assertion that somehow Microsoft piddled away investors' money on Longhorn is silly. By taking on XP SP2, we were securing the platform. If we hadn't, there was a critical mass of exploits that could have turned the public's perception about Windows. The bleeding had to be stopped first.

So this is a good thing, right? Apple ships the new OS-X with all sorts of great features while Microsoft fixed a large part of the security holes in XP SP2? Given the circumstances, sure it was the right call. But was it a good thing that it had to happen?

In general, the second guessing of arguably the most successful and profitable company in the history of the world just smacks of sour grapes if you ask me.

Look, Microsoft rose to market dominance not by skill alone, but by some inarguably anti-competitive practices that it has been forced to abandon. Only time will tell if Microsoft can survive without them.

Anonymous said...

In an attempt to offer something helpful . . .

Thanks for this post. I understand your feelings about the present state of commitments all to well. The fun part about these posts is to hear others state the obvious flaws as clearly as this.

Anonymous said...

How many of you have been told by your boss something like, "Great job, dude! You're solid 4.0!" all year long, only to have sudden last minute complaints show up on your review to explain the 3.5 that you ended up with in the stack? Gotta love these out of the blue criticisms after only a year without a word of them!

Everyone I know that's been at Microsoft long enough has been side-swiped like this.


This is EXACTLY what happened to me this review cycle. I was told in my mid-year review I was tracking to a 4.0. Between that mid-year and my final review, I was not told one time by my manager that I might not be tracking to a 4.0. So what happens? She compiles information from private e-mails and conversations, puts it in the review as "evidence," and docks me to a 3.0.

Our reviews are not about "performance" or "competencies." Our reviews are about whose ass you kiss and who you complement repeatedly up the ladder. "Boss, you really nailed the presentation. You are amazing." The more ass you kiss, the more points you earn, the larger the bonus and raise you bring home with you.

So you have to ask yourself: Is compensation why I work? Or am I here for our customers, stack ranking be damned? It's a decision we must all make consciously.

Anonymous said...

So guess what happens? They check their code in "as is" and spend their time polishing turds checked in by others under similar circumstances. Developers who can say tell their managers to fuck off or be reasonable are few and far between.


Developers check their code in "as is" and testers get screwed on both sides of their schedules between the developers checking in bad code and test managers pressuring them to pull schedule estimates out of their asses before the dev code is even complete.

Anonymous said...

Developers who can say tell their managers to fuck off or be reasonable are few and far between.

Developers who tell their managers that get the, "failure to meet performance expectations," memo and get fired. No wonder they are so few and far between!

Who da'Punk said...

Kevin Schofield has a deeply written post: "Curves and Stack Ranking Are Not Evil". Small snippet:

Let's start with stack ranking. The exercise itself, in a vacuum, is actually very simple: it's the lifeboat drill and ideally it's done after all the managers have already determined everyone's performance review scores, promotions, bonuses, etc.

Emphasis on ideally. In all the groups I've been in, the stack rank happens first and then out of that folks are bucketed by level and fit into the compensation curve.

But that is an interesting ideal, in the short term.

I don't agree at all with the curve part of the post. But I'm very glad to have the conversation out there.

Anonymous said...

Outside of the services org, the company has avoided the types of major layoffs that we've seen at competitors like IBM.

I've been at cocktail parties and out of work events where senior management has hinted that there was a need to cut headcount at MS, and that some sort of culling was definite in the near future.

But how to handle it and when to do it? Realistically, we need to wait until the products RTM. Also, mgmt needs to cushion the blow. The closest thing we've had to layoffs of any scale were in the services org during Saratoga, and atleast those folks were able to 'explore new opportunities' in other orgs.

So how to do it? I'm sure it was at that time one of the execs ran across Tom Sawyer on his kids' 'summer reading list' and had a moment of inspiration.

Unfortunately, we're not being tricked into painting a fence, we're being tricked into thinking that not only do we want layoffs - we *need* layoffs.

The number of people - not the management, not the integrated innovation cluster fuck - is the problem for all of our ills.

But we say we have the smartest people on the planet working for us. How could anyone possibly trick us into thinking that we need a layoff?

Bring in visceral subjects... like the ridiculous stack ranking. Get people all riled up. Have the value driven from the comments - of real (duped) employees. Build a sense of community, build a sense of connection with MiniMicrosoft. All the while, repeating a mantra that we need fewer people.

But it gets better - when the mainstream media gets duped, it's the coup de grace. That scored some a 4.5 on their review.

With this much success for the blog, does it make management a little more cocky? Too cocky? When you have VPs in various orgs talking about how they read MiniMicrosoft and actually advertising the blog to those unaware of it? Am I the only one who sees this for what it is?

There's a culling coming folks, and you've been duped into thinking it's good for you.

If there was ever any question about whether or not the company hires the brightest people, I think it's been settled.

Bravo!

And for whoever came up with the idea, get them over to marketing ASAP. This is probably the one thing outside of XBox the company has ever marketed that's worked as design.

Anonymous said...

Who on this blog is saying that we need to layoff employees?

Almost everyone who has posted here would like the management's head on the guillotine :-)

And if we are going to lay off large drove of middle manaement..go for it Steve!!

Anonymous said...

"I've been at cocktail parties and out of work events where senior management has hinted that there was a need to cut headcount at MS, and that some sort of culling was definite in the near future."

Heck, Steve has been talking about needing to cut staff openly since at least the 2003 company meeting.

You are right, the problem isn't too much headcount. The real problem is the poor management.

When we were growing at 20% per year, many people were pushed into management with no skill or experience or training in how to manage. We have done an injustice to these people. As a result, they don't know how to manage and have caused a lot of damage.

How do we fix it? Can we give them the training that they should have had years ago? Will we write off their institutional knowledge and fire them because the training cost is assumed to be too high? Or will we continue to close our eyes and ignore the problem?

Anonymous said...

One thing no one pointed out earlier - at least theres ONE good thing about the stack rankings. And that is the fact that you can write your review in <1 hr. Maybe its obvious to everyone now, but in my first two years I spent days mulling over phrasing and paragraphing - then I wised up.
I did bust my ass this year, I wrote a sparse review about 1/3 the length of my mid-year (whats the point right? the scores are already in) and ended up with a 4.0.
On a related note, was it just me or was Ballmer's "eye of the tiger" speech at the meeting a tad bit underwhelming? For one thing they could've skipped that awful DJ crap. Oh well, I guess I'll be using the word "agility" a few times in my mid-year...

oadfji said...

Unlikely he's actually going away, otherwise he just made it a whole lot easier

Mini's lead is OOF.

Anonymous said...

Hey...

I've never managed a team before. My greatest contribution to my team is my incessent complaining about the stack rank. I browse the web for most of the day, and then complain about how much work I have to get done. I can't even manage my own personal finances.

However, I'm going to tell everyone how MSFT should be run. Every get ready to listen to me! I'm about to say something very important!


Hey...

I got promoted to management and think my savant-like skill in programming and kissing ass some how makes me an expert in managing people. I manage up all day long and then delegate my work to others who are unfortunate enough to work for me. The stack rank works for me so it can't be flawed.

I'm going to tell everyone their concerns are not important 'cause they're not mine.

Hurray me! Buy me some new knee pads. Mine are worn out.

Anonymous said...

"Hey...

I've never managed a team before. My greatest contribution to my team is my incessent complaining about the stack rank. I browse the web for most of the day, and then complain about how much work I have to get done. I can't even manage my own personal finances.

However, I'm going to tell everyone how MSFT should be run. Every get ready to listen to me! I'm about to say something very important!"

Hey,

I'm a manager. I have no real qualifications to be that. I never proved myself anywhere else and I wasn't even the best at what I did here previously - in fact, far from it. But, I do excel at making everyone above me feel superior. Interestingly, this appears to have helped my star rise immeasurably. As for the greatest contribution to my team, wtf? Why would I waste cycles on them? They aren't doing MY review. What I do is support all ideas coming from those who are - including the ones that even I can tell are stupid. Then I turn around and dump all that crap on my reports who'll generally support it because I do THEIR review. I really don't understand why they can't just go along and get along. If they did, then they'd get promoted too and like me, have a super clean desk, and leave every day at 5pm. They'll even have time to manage their own personal finances because you can only send so many emails or attend so many meetings in a day to look busy so might as well fire up Money. Plus, you'll be getting paid way disproportionately so even if you can't manage your finances well, there'll be lots more where that came from.

Ooops, gotta go. I see one of my pesky reports coming to bore me with some long-winded problem again. Better drop by my boss's office instead and tell him how brilliant his latest process additions were.

Anonymous said...

"That doesn't include the stock awards for the three named divisional presidents. Based on yesterday's closing stock price, Johnson's fiscal 2005 stock award was worth $17.87 million, while Allchin's and Raikes' were worth $22.25 million each."

When asked about this seeming disparity amid increasing signs of employee unrest, the execs involved said "Let them eat cake".

Anonymous said...

This blog started a year ago with one motto:
"Fire'em all"
"Fire'em all"
"Fire'em all"

Now, with all the internal unrest and bad press it has caused, they're shifting the goals to employees morale, stack rank and bad management.

Hey guys, you screwed it.
PR and HR should all be fired.

Anonymous said...

"Now, with all the internal unrest and bad press it has caused, they're shifting the goals to employees morale, stack rank and bad management."

"It" being the blog? Were you dropped on your head as a small child? MSFT's problems were obvious internally and externally long before this blog ever started. But I guess it's always easier to shoot the messengers than deal with the problems...

Anonymous said...

It's not just the dev dudes who are pissed, us in the field get shafted on the stack ranking as well. I'm on an account that consistently increases revenue, consistently increases deployment and is about to sign an EA renewal worth over 30% more than the current one.

In my review, where I got a 3.0, my manager said it was because he didn't know what I was working on.

WTF?

What the hell is his job? Why didn't he talk to the Business Manage I work with? Why didn't he ask me at mid-year? WHAT THE FUCK DO WE TALK ABOUT FOR AN HOUR EACH MONTH ON A 1 ON 1 CALL?

Some people should not be managers or at least they should be the special ones here at MS that have no direct reports.

Anonymous said...

"What the hell is his job?"

Why, to take credit for whatever you and the rest of the team does of course.

"Why didn't he talk to the Business Manager I work with?"

Because that would require him to care, to expend effort and of course to actually know/go see a customer who would likely just ask where the hell he's been all year. Yuk.

"Why didn't he ask me at mid-year?"

Because your ranking wasn't his concern. His ranking is his concern. So he naturally figured yours would be your major concern too.

"WHAT THE FUCK DO WE TALK ABOUT FOR AN HOUR EACH MONTH ON A 1 ON 1 CALL?"

Clearly not about what you're up to or more importantly (if you expect to get a better than 3.0) what he's up to.

Clue in and change teams. Your days with the company are numbered under this mgr. His future on the hand, is unfortunately very bright indeed.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I love the "don't know what you're working on" comment. I got the same thing this year. My response is, "what do you care?". Fact of the matter is that I'm getting the job done. My job execution isn't for "you" my manager it is for customer/team/partner, etc. Ask them just once and they'll all tell you that I'm doing my work, but no, you'd rather plead ignorance so you can screw me in a review...and I have NO recourse. The sad thing is that many managers do NOTHING to add value, they barely manage well, and on top of that they squeeze their ICs more and more just to justify their own existence.

Anonymous said...

It was mentioned... He is very smart, but he makes mistakes too and it is very hard for people to correct him or to continue against his advice even if they know that it is the right decision.

and

Yes, it's called Group Think.

I think these two have nailed it on the head... Due to stack ranking and other factors, MS is a bunch of ass kissing yes men/women.

Not only that, it seems that everyone in mgmt from Bill G. down, will randomize the ranks with their pet problem of the week.

Anonymous said...

Here is a very tactical question WRT the recent org changes. Why would Simon Witts and Sanjay Parthasaranthy's orgs still exist under Server and Tools when they are sales, marketing and evangelism orgs that cross divisional boundaries. Why not move them both under the sales org?

Anonymous said...

Like many people here I think the review process could do with some updating but I happen to like the general principle of differentiating rewards. For me at least it's worked our very well, I've always gotten a review I felt was fair (more or less) and I've never kissed anyone's ass, actually quite the contrary. Despite protestations to the contrary, most people at Microsoft (and especially our peers!) can spot an ass-kisser a mile away so it's unlikely to get you very far.

I think a couple of folks have pointed out the bigger issues than the stack rank process and that's the quality of our managers. Simply changing the process won't do much if you've got the same people in place that were causing the problems before.

Maybe the first thing that should happen is to do a massive manager feedback survey and move the bottom N% of managers in to IC roles, flattening a bunch of teams along the way?

Anonymous said...

Come on! If your manager doesn't even know what you're working on then it's no surprise you get a crappy review. If you care, do something about it! Contrary to popular belief it's not their primary job to track what you do, it's yours. Most managers are good enough to have frequent 1-on-1s so this is easy but if they don't then you need to set this up and insist it happens. If you don't then you have only yourself to blame.

Anonymous said...

for all of you who have mentioned getting screwed over at review time by being given a lower (or much lower) review score than you were told you were tracking too...

This not only sucks, it pisses me off. It means your managers aren't doing their job - and unfortunately, as most of you have figured out, little is done with it. I was a manager for part of my career at Microsoft, and my mantra was "no surprises at review time." I made sure that all my employees (I had an org as big as 30 people) always knew where they were tracking. If they were borderline, I'd tell them. I rarely had an employee complain about their score - when they did, we would resolve the issue quickly. If I had a case where someone was a borderline and they got the lower score, I'd make sure they got as much bonus and raise as I could give them - usually as much as they would have gotten with the higher score.

Anyway...absolutely the biggest change we need to make is to hold managers accountable. The bulk of managers are routinely given 4.0's - if we're going to do a curve, make middle management fit the curve as a whole - that will weed some of the cruft out.

Anonymous said...

Spoken like a true manager. Nobody is saying that they are working in the dark. But I've found that even after status reports and 1:1's your manager can still claim ignorance. And the skill of the management chains has degraded so much that they can't even understand the "what" in what you're working on due to lack of intellect.

Anonymous said...

Not only that, it seems that everyone in mgmt from Bill G. down, will randomize the ranks with their pet problem of the week.

I know from personal experience this happens *a lot* and it's a big problem. Still, managers make this worse by not pushing back enough and simply committing to the impossible, dooming themselves to overwork and innevitable failure somewhere down the line. Good managers know how to be honest with our execs.

Anonymous said...

Well spoken like someone who's gotten a crappy review (unjust IMHO) from a bad manager and actually done something about it.
You probably don't realize how much influence you have on their review. Gotta love the manager feedback score.

Either your manager does this with everyone in your team, in which case it should be pretty easy to not have them be a manager much longer. Talk to them, tell them they suck (perhaps not litterally), tell them what you want, be specific, give them feedback on their progres. If that fails (sounds likely in your case) then talk to their manager and give them your examples, ask them what they're going to do about it. If they're incompetent too then talk to their manager or their peers for help. Hopefully it's not the case that your entire management team is clueless.

If your entire management team is indeed clueless or everyone else in your team says your manager is great except you are indeed basically screwed. If it were me, I'd move. Life's too short and the job is too hard to tollerate a crappy manager for long.

If you really want to piss them off then work your ass of for 6 months before June, get a 4.0 and then leave giving "crappy manager" as your reason of leaving. HR won't ignore that whereas they will if you leave on a 3.0

Anonymous said...

"Why would Simon Witts and Sanjay Parthasaranthy's orgs still exist under Server and Tools when they are sales, marketing and evangelism orgs that cross divisional boundaries."

Maybe their stars are fading? In Witts case at least, long overdue.

Anonymous said...

Despite protestations to the contrary, most people at Microsoft (and especially our peers!) can spot an ass-kisser a mile away so it's unlikely to get you very far.

Oh, but it does get you far.

We had a team meeting in the building 16 atrium several years ago.

A dev manager was looking up at the general manager on the stair case and laid it on thick for several minutes in front of the whole team. He wasn't saying anything to the team. It was just praise for the GM.

Finally, after the GM looked around and saw the look on everyone's face, he told the guy that it was enough.

That guy got promoted a lot.

Anonymous said...

In your organization, how many people actually pack the bags and leave MSFT?

Well, in our division we have at least 7 people, i.e. ~3% leave MSFT. I bet this number will be interested enough for HR to chew on it. Look around the people you knew, have you received the "my last day..." mails recently?

Anonymous said...

>>> The closest thing we've had to layoffs of any scale were in the services org during Saratoga, and atleast those folks were able to 'explore new opportunities' in other orgs. <<<

Yes, the formal layoffs have been small, but I'd say that several hundred people have been managed out of services over the last 3 - 4 years.

In that org, you can pretty much assume your manager is shooting against you. You want to keep the conversations to 'yes' and 'no' answers, giving him no ammunition to be used against you.

That org is completely coming apart.

Anonymous said...

I don't work at Microsoft. I've never worked there, and I never want to. And I kind of hate their guts, both for their monopoly-leverage business practices and because I dislike the style of their APIs. Fortunately I have spent most of my career in embedded systems, where I don't have to deal with them very much.

But most of the way through reading the comments here, a light went on. The problem really is Steve Ballmer. (Disclaimer: The only evidence I have for this assertion is a synthesis of various posts I have read on this blog. Hear me out anyway.)

First, someone posted about when the shift occurred. It seems to correlate with Ballmer taking over (not at the same time, however. Ballmer came first, then came the breakdown.)

Second, there's all the talk about incompetent managers who only know how to do politics up the ladder, rather than how to manage the people below them. How did all these managers get into their positions? Well, they were put there by the managers above them. And who put those managers there? Well, the managers above them. That is, bad management, too many managers, too much politics, all of that falls down from top management. It's not that people who don't know how to manage are getting promoted into management, and they are the problem. It's that people who don't know how to manage are getting promoted into management, and the ones who promoted them are the problem. So where's the root of this problem? Either Gates or Ballmer.

Why do I pick Ballmer over Gates? Because he got where he is by knowing Gates from Harvard. That is, Ballmer got where he is by connections, by knowing people - by an essentially political process.

Here's what I think happened. Microsoft got too big for Gates to run. He was smart enough to realize it. So he needed somebody else to run the company. He picked Ballmer, and that was a mistake. Ballmer can't manage a technical organization; he can only run a business one. And as long as he can keep Gates happy, Ballmer will continue to run (and mis-run) Microsoft.

Just my observations, based on what others have said. Take it for what it's worth...

MSS

nozomi said...

Ummmm....as one who deploys, fixes, and uses your stuff, I have to say that your manglement made the bed, now you have to lie in it.

As someone astutely pointed out, XPSP2 should rightly have been called 'Win2004'. The bloated mass of creeping featuritis called Windows Vista, let alone all of the security hassles and other fun stuff, is enough to get me to buy a Mac.

Nonetheless, the stack ranking system does not 'inspire anyone to work together to get the best results for customers'. It's obvious in the products MSFT ships (or doesn't ship), the endless series of service packs/critical patches/hot fixes, the wacky licensing schemes dreamed up by the extortionists in the marketing department.

I think we're all getting tired of MSFT management...

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blogs since I decided to apply for MS for career change.

The problem that you guys are seeing is a problem in any big company.

What is your fucking point, y 'all?

MY LIFE SUCKS AT MS:
- Lotta politics in my team
- My review system sucks
- Longhorn baby got RESET
- Not enough shipments
- Ballmer should be in my team - infinite number of times :-)
- My manager cant code/cant review because he is not vey good or so outdated.

GOTO MY LIFE SUCKS AT MS

DAMN!!! SHAME ON YOU GUYS!!!

If you are so pissed off, why wont you quit and move on - atleast all you dissident morons will leave and the company will become a Mini MS.

Why is it so difficult for you to digest Ballmer's comments on 85% satisfaction within the company?

Majority of the people are pissed because Ballmer introduced the review rating system. It sucks! Got it. But does it mean there is no work going on in MS.

How would you expect MS to be creative/innovative/blah blah if you smart people cannot get your act together?

Here is my take on your problem ...

You try to change the management from within. Honestly the point has been noted and I have seen in Scoble's channel 9 that even Baller acknowledges the shipping routine has demoralised the company.

What I dont understand is your overall software engineering process?
If you guys write code that will be stitched together by another program and if thats how you developed Win XP SP1 and products before, it is cool, but frankly it just doesnt work that way. Did it? Why send numerous patches if it worked and win XP SP2 on top of that?

I really have a huge respect for MS as an organisation.

MS was never creative or first in the market, but MS never let anybody lead for a long time. The reason was, I thought people were synched up with the goals and priorites of the company. Looks like now it is not.

My point is, dont spend any more time talking about review system. Your thoughts are going into a black hole and it is high time, you guys got sucked into it as well.

Look at what your MED group is doing. It was a good marketing/strategic tactic to partner with Palm for Treo for Win Mobile 5.0.

I also heard rumors that iTunes may be supported in Win Mobiles.

If all you morons dont like Office/OS updates, then what the heck are you guys doing there?
Dont forget your flagship product is Office and Windows.


ATLEAST FOR A CHANGE, GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME and IT BETTER BE GOOD.


I really liked Ballmer for what he said in the video. His thought was he expects the employees to do well in front of customers and represent their company well. Same goes for blog too. Dont forget this site is not only being read by your fellow MS morons, but also by BW, Google and other such companies.

Can one of you spineless morons setup a meeting with Bill G/ Steve B, and go over your ideas of better review system and strategic evaluation of peers. Looks like you wont do it anyway.

My last request, please somebody email me personally so that I can send my resume to you guys. Write a note in the blog. This is on top of your daily diet of cribes.

Anonymous said...

"If you are so pissed off, why wont you quit and move on - at least all you dissident morons will leave and the company will become a Mini MS… I really have a huge respect for MS as an organisation."

Ummm, bipolar and abusive behavior such as this is not welcome at Microsoft. Please take your insults elsewhere because as much as we might sound like morons to you, our culture is such that we collaborate on anything and everything, and this blog provides a great venue for us to vent and work to fix what ails (or determine that it's best to leave). But if hearing our opinions is so uncomfortable that you use shutdown language to get us to stop... please take your resume elsewhere because it's tough enough to get rid of people like you once aboard.

TheKhalif said...

The problem that you guys are seeing is a problem in any big company.

What is your fucking point, y 'all?

MY LIFE SUCKS AT MS:
- Lotta politics in my team
- My review system sucks
- Longhorn baby got RESET
- Not enough shipments
- Ballmer should be in my team - infinite number of times :-)
- My manager cant code/cant review because he is not vey good or so outdated.

GOTO MY LIFE SUCKS AT MS

DAMN!!! SHAME ON YOU GUYS!!!

If you are so pissed off, why wont you quit and move on - atleast all you dissident morons will leave and the company will become a Mini MS.



Well since you see that people are leaving and things are getting worse, obviously leaving it to the peopel who "get along" is a part of the problem. From the way you talk you create new script languages and new design patterns.
How owuld you feel to see credit for your work go to someone else while you are shit on at review time?

Anonymous said...

"Why would Simon Witts and Sanjay Parthasaranthy's orgs still exist under Server and Tools when they are sales, marketing and evangelism orgs that cross divisional boundaries. Why not move them both under the sales org?"

Why not make a sales VP head of a product division?

Doh!

Anonymous said...

>When MS is sitting on billions in cash and is raking in billions every quarter employees have every right to get upset at a 3% raise. <

It is amazing how many people on this board have such a sense of entitlement. The billions that MS is sitting on is stock holders money. Payroll and Comp is is in alignment with the rest of the industry. The industry has been pretty flat the last few years. Many of our direct competition has been laying off thousands while MS attrition has been below industry average. Given the fact that the industry has been having challenges the last few years, MS has fared very well especially given the fact that we haven't been shipping. Increasing payroll rith now with out significant growth will only drive the stock price down and impact our market cap negatively. That is a fact. Microsoft is one of the few Fortune 5 companies that has not asked employees to eat some of the medical costs. MS employees get 100% coverage If you look at the rise in Medical costs in the last 5-6 years that is pretty amazing. Medical costs have a tremendous impact on operating costs. Do some research. Microsoft's total comp package is still one of the best in in the industry. If you don't like it go interview or work for another company and find out for yourself.

Anonymous said...

"Ummm, bipolar and abusive behavior such as this is not welcome at Microsoft."

Except of course in senior most management:

Ballmer Throws A Chair At "F*ing Google"

Anonymous said...

The people whining about getting 3.0/2.5 rating are a bunch of losers. If you are going to yhoo because you cant/dont work - good riddance - MS is better off without such losers.

The whining people essentially want to get paid without doing any work and get raises for bitching/moaning.

No one asked you stay back - you are employed at your own choice. If you arent happy - go find work elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blogs since I decided to apply for MS for career change.

Hey babe, talk to us a few years after the change, ok? The worst part of the current Microsoft is working together with some really great programmers and realizing that ALL of you are not having your talents properly used to the benefit of Microsoft. Seeing really good people leave in really harsh ways after getting ground to chalk by idiotic planning that NO ONE thought made sense except for the idiot managers that, "planned," it. Watching really bright young guys from places like MIT get so burned out that they go back home to their parents.

When you have put in some time in Hell, baby, then talk to us! Otherwise STFU. I have almost 20 years experience and have worked for some very large companies, and Microsoft in its current incarnation is the WORST of all of them. When I put in the long hours, it isn't for the idiots running the company, it's for the really great coworkers that I have.

Anonymous said...

"The billions that MS is sitting on is stock holders money."

Correct, which is why it should be paid out or used to reduce shares outstanding vs being horded.

"Payroll and Comp is is in alignment with the rest of the industry."

Pullease. "Based on yesterday's closing stock price, Johnson's fiscal 2005 stock award was worth $17.87 million, while Allchin's and Raikes' were worth $22.25 million each." You'd have a hard time finding CEO's making that much and Raikes' contribution? Minimal IW growth (actually negative if you adjust for currency). Allchin? Vista years late in part because it takes him 3 years to realize he's got a major problem? Or how about Burgum vesting ~$5M+ while Bus Sol goes from "$10B by the end of the decade" to $10B in 43 years? MSFT senior comp is totally out of alignment with the industry and completely disconnected from actual performance.

"The industry has been pretty flat the last few years. Many of our direct competition has been laying off thousands while MS attrition has been below industry average."

Translation: smart companies have dealt with the slowdown by getting leaner, while Ballmer has gone on a hiring binge with the result that MSFT has gotten bigger/fatter/slower.

"Given the fact that the industry has been having challenges the last few years, MS has fared very well especially given the fact that we haven't been shipping."

Fared well? Negative cover stories in BW and Forbes? The slowest growth in corporate history? A stock that's underperformed the indexes every year for three years and now trails them by some 70%? Yeah, the company's doing great.

"Increasing payroll rith now with out significant growth will only drive the stock price down and impact our market cap negatively. That is a fact."

It certainly has so far.

Anonymous said...

No one asked you stay back - you are employed at your own choice. If you arent happy - go find work elsewhere.

Yes, that's correct, and employees like Mark Lucovsky are agreeing with you.

Anonymous said...

In my mind, there isn't a sense of entitlement because of the cash pile but rather the rewards top executives see. If Microsoft can afford 11% pay raises for Bill/Steve (How's the stock price again?) then they can pony up more than 3% (By the way, cost of living is over 3%) for the people who actually get shit done on a daily basis.

The biggest theme I see on this blog is this: Microsft was founded by a couple of really smart people who had a passion for changing the world. At some point, it changed into a group of people who don't really care anymore. I know that I don't care about the long-term at MS. I'm staying because I'm out pacing the cost of living increases and I like what I do. However, I look around and see products being driven into the groud by bad schedules, bad devs, bad testers. I've stopped trying to fix things the broken ship and just worry about making sure my cabin has nice drapes

Anonymous said...

Not sure, what I was trying to write:), but I meant to say that it was the result the various themes on this blog that are causing apathy among the employees.

Anonymous said...


When you have put in some time in Hell, baby, then talk to us! Otherwise STFU. I have almost 20 years experience and have worked for some very large companies, and Microsoft in its current incarnation is the WORST of all of them. When I put in the long hours, it isn't for the idiots running the company, it's for the really great coworkers that I have.


Dear Granddaddy of working in hell,
I have 6 years of work experience in telecom related field. 3 years in the biggest political bureacracy of all times (Moto) and now doing challenging/cutting edge work for a smaller but exciting company.

Gentlemen, you guys are just a piece of broken record. You say the same thing, over and over non-stop. Great energy, lots of excitement about anti-Steve, anti-Ballmer and anti-MS.

What are the major problems that affects the developer community as a whole in MS?

Only 2 things I could think of ...
1) You work your ass off and you are not being rewarded very well. Bell curve shit, which I still dont understand, but to bottom feeders like me I relate this to relative performance assessment among all groups, across different product divisions in MS.
2) Compensation - pay raise, performance related bonus, stock options, shares, etc tied to 1) above and overall compensation of MS employees. To the best of my knowledge, MS never paid good sum of money to engineers. Mostly did with options, poor MSites your stock is tanking at or around 25, for quite a while. Dont know how many of you guys are under-water.

Product shipment getting delayed, yada yada give me a break. Steve B. makes billions, ofcourse fellas, he is the CEO of MS. What did you expect? The last time I checked, MS is still earning 1B $ every month. What is your problem????

Microsfties bitching in this blog are neither loyal nor do most of them express ideas to change the company from within. Ofcourse in a pure capitalistic economy there should be no loyalty and each man is to himself.

What I see here is developers venting out their frustration on points 1) and 2). If you are so pissed off, get out of the company man. Let the young guns do things for a change.

You guys have a no-nonsense approach towards interviews, right? FUCK YEAH!!!! Look around your offices and the guys that you hired. If you got too many 2.5/3, is it because there were too many bad managers OR too many bad developers. And the reason for that is Steve B/Bill G decide to grow the organisation big and blah,blah...

Looks like the oldies and the 2-3+ MSties complain. So is the real work done by a new guy straight from a school or an experienced guy trying to prove his credit.

In all essence I categorically disagree with all of you about your comments on Steve B/ Bill G.

See the Scoble video on Steve B.( in the time you vent your frustration, video only takes 10 minutes of your cribing life:-)
In Steve's own words - who innovates? Does IBM innovate? NO. Does ORACLE innovate? NO. There is GOOGLE however. Well there are always companies that innovate and it is their time.
You guys came out with X-Box and standing in the 2nd place after PS2.
You guys came out with Windows Mobile Platform - look where you are at right now - Smart phones, windows mobile and embedded computing in automobiles.
Stop your bullshit with Win OS and Office. It only helped people's lives better. It was truly an innovation and no doubt about that. People are only pissed off at Windows, partly due to MS monopolistic big brother attitude.

Well apples and oranges are round, you start in one point and end at the same point, but you do take a down swing some time. And this time it is just blocking your ass. So give it a mmmphhh and let the shit out.


Well if I have to speculate on the marketing strategy for Web OS, how is that in any way going to kill Windows? People still need to get to PCs. Do you think my mom/dad are going to use Linux OR Apple MAC? Who can afford an Apple G8 man?

And even if GOOGLE comes out with an web office suite, how difficult will it be for MS to supplement it OR beat it?

So shut up. In your own words, STFU to you and to all you morons who blog here.

Man I am very passionate about your company man. I watch your channel 9 videos and people are so excited about their work, the offices are so colorful.

Why you guys doing this? Is it so pathetic? Everytime I come and read this, I am constantly doubting myself if I am making the right move to apply for MS. Infact MS is the only one that I am applying. And fucking TechCST recruiters (vendor morons) dont even reply.

Live your life in hell, but live with dignity. Dont bad mouth, if you cannot speak like a man, dont shit like one.

Regards

Anonymous said...


mmm, bipolar and abusive behavior such as this is not welcome at Microsoft. Please take your insults elsewhere because as much as we might sound like morons to you, our culture is such that we collaborate on anything and everything, and this blog provides a great venue for us to vent and work to fix what ails (or determine that it's best to leave). But if hearing our opinions is so uncomfortable that you use shutdown language to get us to stop... please take your resume elsewhere because it's tough enough to get rid of people like you once aboard.


Sir/Madam,
First I thought I owe you an apology. But now in retrospect, you dont deserve ONLY CONTEMPT from me.

Look who is collobarating on anything and everything ...

Well if you are that good, why dont you use your real name and stand up for yourself?

If you guys collobarate on anything and everything, why didnt you guys start this blog website on msdn.blogs.com as MS-Mission Impossible.blogs.com OR MS-Good, bad and ugly.blogs.com.
Oh I forget, since Mini started this forum elsewhere.


Let me tell you something, I will take this from Mini, because his comments make sense and he doesnt use foul language and in all his posts he posts various useful links for people to read and comment on. Truly a unique individual!!


The others like you are just on a ride with an Anonymous ticket and you need to be rebooted OR even worse Ctrl+Alt+Del ed very soon.

Shutdown language - man dont me laugh.

You are the geniuses who decide to put shutdown under start. :-)

#include "Vent.h"

Class UserID
{
public:
virtual void ExitStrategy() = 0;
};

Class Anonymous: public Class UserID
{
public:
void ExitStrategy()
{
DoIEvenCare();
}
};

Class Moron: public Class UserID
{
public:
void ExitStrategy()
{
IWontQuit();
IWontWork();
IWillLazeOffMyAss();
ICollobarateonAnything();
}
};


Class Mini: public Class UserID
{
public:
void ExitStrategy()
{
IWillChangeMgmtStrategyBeforeIGetFired();

}
};

class MSVent
{
public:
static void KillMiddleManagement();
static void WantFreeTowels();
void KillReviewSystem();
void ThrowMeABone();

private:
Anonymous m_MS_Anonymous;
Mini m_MS_Mini;
Moron m_MS_Moron;
};

Anonymous said...

>Translation: smart companies have dealt with the slowdown by getting leaner, while Ballmer has gone on a hiring binge with the result that MSFT has gotten bigger/fatter/slower.<

Why arn't you working for one of those companies then?

Anonymous said...

I think some people contribute more and they should get more. Are you saying that that's bogus, or that the execution of that idea at MS today is bogus?

I think eliminating stack ranking is a separate problem from MAKE IT EASY TO FIRE POOR PERFORMERS. Why not focus on that problem first?

Also, are you saying that stacks are bad or that the percentages in each bucket are bogus? I mean, Microsoft has to have a bottom 10% it could do better without... do you want the system to focus on that?

Anonymous said...

>Fared well? Negative cover stories in BW and Forbes? The slowest growth in corporate history? A stock that's underperformed the indexes every year for three years and now trails them by some 70%? Yeah, the company's doing great.<

The company has done well given the fact that the High Tech industry as a whole has been in slow growth mode.

http://www.fortune.com/fortune/technology/articles/0,15114,1024072,00.html

FORTUNE - Technology

TECHNOLOGY SPECIAL REPORT
10 Best Tech Companies to Work For
Which technology companies made the cut on our annual ranking of top employers, 100 Best Companies to Work For?

High-tech can also mean high worker satisfaction. Both small and large companies made our top ten, from behemoth Microsoft, to tiny chip supplier Xilinx. Employees at Microsoft love the stock grants, health benefits, and the company's match of charitable donations, while workers at Xilinx are awarded stock options upon hire and a profit-sharing bonus

Instant Winner said...

So much "stuff" to read, trying to figure out what this blog is about :)

Instant Winner

curiouscat said...

>>> What I would deeply appreciate is real-world experience from people living with stack ranking alternatives. <<<

I strongly suggest chapter 9 (Performance Without Appraisal) of The Leader's Handbooks. by Peter Scholtes. You mentioned Deming. When asked "If we eliminate performance appraisals, as you suggest, what do we do instead?" Dr. Deming's reply: Whatever Peter Scholtes says." (page 296).

Abolishing Performance Appraisals by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins also provides great practical examples.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you just quit?

I've been thinking about this a lot. Why not just quit.

I want to believe that MS is a place where great software development can happen. Sure, there are pockets of problems, but there are also a great number of smart people.

I've been there through some great times and believe those are possible again. But, it is a company struggling with its size and age.

I keep hoping for that moment of clarity when it all gets figured out. I want to be there when it crosses the plateau and takes off again.

So, the jury is out. I might quit. Or, I might get that next nudge that helps me get past the current noise and give it another chance for the next year.

fCh said...

With all due respect to Deming, how large/successful of a company has he managed?

With all due respect to those complaining about the MSFT ranking system, abolishing ranking altogether doesn't sound realistic, does it?

Aren't we talking about too much feel good factor at the expense of a functional organization? MSFT is undergoing the pain of its transformation/growth. It's a test for all of you who are professionally involved with the Company.

October and November are notorious for portfolio adjustments. We'll see whom the market will place its trust on...

Cheers, fCh

Anonymous said...

"The company has done well given the fact that the High Tech industry as a whole has been in slow growth mode."

You seem to be confusing the company doing well with employees being treated well and/or at least well relative to select peers. The company has not done well. Growth last year was the worst in corporate history and slower than almost all of MSFT's main peers/competitors. Relative to 00, gross margins were down 2%, SG&A up 44%, operating margins down 25%, ROE down 25%, etc. And of course we have the chronic shipping and execution problems. Most importantly, the owners of this company (shareholders) haven't seen a net return since 1998. How much longer do you think the tea party can continue until shareholders demand change? And don't kid yourself, while that change will undoubtedly focus on bringing more (any?) accountability at the top, the first thing that will result in is significant decreases in headcount.

Anonymous said...

"Why arn't you working for one of those companies then?"

I soon might be. But in the meantime, why are you so scared to address the message that you ignore it completely and focus instead on the messenger? Guess what Dorothy, you can click your heels together and hope all of us raising issues go, but the problems will still be there. Problem is, the only people left to solve them then will be people like you who don't even want to acknowledge their existence.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Deming, how large/successful of a company has he managed?

After WWII, Deming went to Japan to help their companies re-organize. The Japanese were very grateful for his advice and Deming is seen as a great man by the now massive corporations that arose in postwar Japan. Ideas like TQM which is the foundation of ISO 9000 come from Deming. Deming may not have managed any company directly, but many of the companies that followed his advice are doing quite well.

So how many companies have you managed, fCh? How successful have they been? As successful as Honda, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

>I soon might be. But in the meantime, why are you so scared to address the message that you ignore it completely and focus instead on the messenger? Guess what Dorothy, you can click your heels together and hope all of us raising issues go, but the problems will still be there. Problem is, the only people left to solve them then will be people like you who don't even want to acknowledge their existence.<

You seem pretty bitter. Believe me I am not scared. I have scrutinized and continue to do things very carefully. Go ahead and shoot me down because I don't buy into your negative thinking. It does not bother me but I will say this: Sure there are a lot of things that we can do better but when I compare us to the rest of the companies in the world I think we do darn well. I have been in the workforce for over 24 years and have worked for several companies during those 24 years. In my 6 years at MS this is the best company that I have ever worked for. I have a great manager, I like the cient group that I support, I love the work that I do and I have been promoted because of the results that I have delivered and customer focus not my political savy. I can only go by my experience (which has been very positive) and research that I have done comparing us to most companies in the world and the data that I have. The "click my heals together comment" is a cheap shot. You don't know anything about me and don't know that I have been very vocal in meetings with upper management but my constructive and soloution oriented critiques and I have been heard and actions have been taken My opinions have been valued and respected. Like I said, if you think that there are high tech companies that are better and will compensate you what you think you are worth, then you should probably go there. You are obviously not happy at MS and you seem to lack any faith that anything is going to change.

TheKhalif said...

You seem pretty bitter. Believe me I am not scared. I have scrutinized and continue to do things very carefully. Go ahead and shoot me down because I don't buy into your negative thinking. It does not bother me but I will say this: Sure there are a lot of things that we can do better but when I compare us to the rest of the companies in the world I think we do darn well. I have been in the workforce for over 24 years and have worked for several companies during those 24 years. In my 6 years at MS this is the best company that I have ever worked for. I have a great manager, I like the cient group that I support, I love the work that I do and I have been promoted because of the results that I have delivered and customer focus not my political savy.




SO many of you post about anonymty without considering that maybe anonymity will save someone's job. I worked in the Windows division for 5 years. I left mainly because of the weather, I didn't even know there were stack rankings, so I guess if I complain it'll be about the people who swear they do good work but won't mention it.

I wonder why?

Anonymous said...

"You seem pretty bitter. Believe me I am not scared. I have scrutinized and continue to do things very carefully. Go ahead and shoot me down because I don't buy into your negative thinking."

Too funny. Who was the one telling who to leave the company? The issue isn't about you - I'm glad you're happy. It's about the company generally, employees generally and whether everything that can and should be done is being done. Winning companies compare themselves to the ideal and the best - not to whether they're still okay relative to some others. I don't consider that negative or bitter. For cying out loud, MSFT's problems are cover stories in BW and Forbes and have been for years now. What I am is frustrated that folks like yourself are still debating whether the issues should even be raised - and whether folks like me have the right to raise them - instead of focusing on why fixes haven't been more forthcoming.

Anonymous said...

SO many of you post about anonymty without considering that maybe anonymity will save someone's job. I worked in the Windows division for 5 years. I left mainly because of the weather, I didn't even know there were stack rankings, so I guess if I complain it'll be about the people who swear they do good work but won't mention it.

I wonder why?

Who I am is of no consequence

Anonymous said...

>Too funny. Who was the one telling who to leave the company? The issue isn't about you - I'm glad you're happy. It's about the company generally, employees generally and whether everything that can and should be done is being done. Winning companies compare themselves to the ideal and the best - not to whether they're still okay relative to some others. I don't consider that negative or bitter. For cying out loud, MSFT's problems are cover stories in BW and Forbes and have been for years now. What I am is frustrated that folks like yourself are still debating whether the issues should even be raised - and whether folks like me have the right to raise them - instead of focusing on why fixes haven't been more forthcoming. <

We are going around in circles here. If you are happy and committed to helping fix our problems, I hope you stay. All I am saying is if you think that there are better companies out there and you are not happy and don't see the issues that are are unhappy with being fixed. You should go work for a different company. That is what I would do. Call me a Cool Aide drinker. But I really love the company warts and all. I am committed to being part of the soloution. I hope you are too. We need passionate talented people. Good Luck with whatever it is you do.

TheKhalif said...

Who I am is of no consequence.


Well if you're accusing people of complaining without producing one would think you would at least talk about the great leaps in IT you've made.

Like I said, I didn't even know there was stack ranking per se, but I knew that many managers and devs and testers were woefully inadequate yet seemed to advance while Windows floundered. Sure there were some great things to come out of Microsoft, but there should be more. The reason is because of the inefficiency in management and decision-making. This blog has been around for awhile, has made national news and things still haven't changed so of course people will become agitated and underappreciated. You can't feel underappreciated if YOU know you are not up to snuff comparatively.

Anonymous said...

The facts are the facts regardless if I post my name a fake alias or nothing at all. The same goes for others here. Like I said, who I am or what my name is, of no consequence.

fCh said...

After WWII, Deming went to Japan to help their companies re-organize. The Japanese were very grateful for his advice and Deming is seen as a great man by the now massive corporations that arose in postwar Japan. Ideas like TQM which is the foundation of ISO 9000 come from Deming. Deming may not have managed any company directly, but many of the companies that followed his advice are doing quite well.

Giving advice is one, managing is a whole different beast! While I am not discounting the value of good advice, practice is all that matters. My respect goes to both, but my admiration goes to successful practitioners. To push things a little further, how many US companies follow (Juran's) Deming's advice, and how many software makers do? Myself, I am more a fan of Drucker's metaphors around knowledge workers than ISO 9000, at least when it comes about writing software and such. Yet, even the knowledge worker has not been able to get more empowered save for the higher salaries. Maybe this blog will eventually lead to some empowerment.

One more point--contrary to your line of thought. How come Sony isn't doing all that well? Maybe it has something to do with its going from pure manufacturing and quality into "soft" things such as movies and software?

So how many companies have you managed, fCh? How successful have they been? As successful as Honda, perhaps?

I have been having my share--problem is that no one theory can tell you much about charting the tomorrow in the future of a company...

If you'd allow me, I would dare say that my initial question is still un-answered: With all due respect to Deming, how large/successful of a company has he managed?

Cheers, fCh

P.S. I am not sure where those complaining about (MSFT) employee metrics went to school, but I am assuming they were top in their class, and some even came from Ivy League colleges. If my assumptions are correct, I wonder how they ever coped with curve grading...

Anonymous said...

"How come Sony isn't doing all that well?"

That's easy - it's even worse managed than MSFT.

Anonymous said...

"October and November are notorious for portfolio adjustments. We'll see whom the market will place its trust on..."

The market has been making their opinion clear on MSFT for three years now. The biggest portfolio adjustment this year was the S&P rebalance and that's already taken place to MSFT's major detriment. Come Oct/Nov the market will look at Ballmer's promises of an improved product pipeline, correctly anticipate that if/when that comes, it will be 12-18mths before that translates into significant revenue gains, take a look at the price which at 7X sales for 10% growth is expensive, review the dividend decision and mgt's shareholder-indifferent approach generally, and conclude that this isn't a good place to park their money while they wait. Hence, they'll happily pass on adding to their grossly underperforming MSFT positions as they have for the past 3 years with the result being that the stock will once again go nowhere - unless of course there's an earnings miss in which case the stock tanks.

Anonymous said...

RE: firing poor performers, the stack rank doesn't really help that as far as I see it, it just helps poor performers leave of their "own accord."

I think the two problems are very much related - if you're on a team where you have one poor performer and everyone else is solid, what is a manager's incentive to fire the deadwood performer if she knows it's going to make a solid and valuable employee unhappy when he gets the 3.0 instead? If you have a superstar lined up waiting to fill the position, that's one thing, but if you don't, you may not even be better off if your goal is to keep a strong motivated team together.

fCh said...

"How come Sony isn't doing all that well?"

That's easy - it's even worse managed than MSFT.

That's right, but my idea was to illustrate limits to Deming's theory when it comes about different types of companies.

One could arguably say that code writing should still abide by quality metrics. If so, the next question becomes: Should we (also) rank developers according to how many/few errors they let in their software? Opinions?

Cheers, fCh

fCh said...

The market has been making their opinion clear on MSFT for three years now. The biggest portfolio adjustment this year was the S&P rebalance and that's already taken place to MSFT's major detriment. Come Oct/Nov the market will look at Ballmer's promises of an improved product pipeline, correctly anticipate that if/when that comes, it will be 12-18mths before that translates into significant revenue gains, take a look at the price which at 7X sales for 10% growth is expensive, review the dividend decision and mgt's shareholder-indifferent approach generally, and conclude that this isn't a good place to park their money while they wait. Hence, they'll happily pass on adding to their grossly underperforming MSFT positions as they have for the past 3 years with the result being that the stock will once again go nowhere - unless of course there's an earnings miss in which case the stock tanks.

By and large, I agree. My point is that if the investor community thinks MSFT has a problem (some of them even read this blog) this time of the year is the best to tell. They'll vote with their allocations whether or not they trust SteveB.

Cheers, fCh

TheKhalif said...

One could arguably say that code writing should still abide by quality metrics. If so, the next question becomes: Should we (also) rank developers according to how many/few errors they let in their software? Opinions?


The reality of software development is that you cannot develop in a vacuum. Accepted standards are available at any major bookseler and that should be the metric. There is a difference bewteen a bug and a flaw. A bug can be a typo or a mistake in a method. Flaws are basic architectural polems that limit the flexibilty and reusability of code.
Flaws are a much greater problem than bugs. They are also easier to prevent through careful planning. Many developers would rather be "cute" than effective which is eveident in the planning stages and even in the feasibilty and customer feedback stages.
The best developer is the one who represents common principles and not particular implementatons. This is what I noticed was missing at MS.

Anonymous said...

Hey fCH,

You bring up a REALLY good point - The point about curved grading. Unfortunately, most of the whiners here have probably not gone through a B.S. program in the competitive env. of a big name US school or maybe went through it before it got all heated up and stuff.

I say this because when my manager started to introduce me to the whole stack ranking stuff he was like "look here - this is something you have not faced before" to which I was like "dude, all my classes were curved in college and I have been living with them for the last 4 years". I think, like my manager, most of the whiners who think stack ranking is bad, etc. etc. but guess what, things like a curve allow you to differentiate much better among your high performers and highest performers. I haven't been at MSFT long enough to see and faults about it's implementation but so far I can tell you that I have been more than happy with my reviews.

But yeah, I recommend those who think stack ranking - as a process sucks (not implementation) - should go back to MIT/Cal/UIUC/Cornell and take some CS classes in those institutions. If you get a B+ or lesser and can live with, then a 3.5 @ MSFT should be perfectly normal for you. Otherwise MSFT is not the place for you.

Anonymous said...

The thing that strikes me from the mini-msft blog and other comments here is that incompetent people who left the company or are poor performers with 2.5/3.0 are moaning. So, it is not startling that these people are looking for HR mamas for redemption. The HR folks probably couldnt get job in any other field and joined HR after taking labor law class. The low performing crowd is looking for equally incompetent HR beureaucrary to uplift them.

Anonymous said...

My beef with the stack system, and it's probably been noted in the piles of comments, is that there is no way to tell a person they're doing their job, no more, no less. You MUST fit the curve. Someone MUST get a 3.0. The HR folks will of course deny all this. But in the end the comany that tells its employees that it hires only the best forces mangers to tell a third of those people that they are indeed not the best and require us to spin some BS to justify it. Only newbs take the review process seriously, eveyone else just grinds through it. Before you even write a woird of that review or have a 1:1 with your manger your score and loot have already been determined during the "lifeboat drill" where manager figt to get their team their "unfari share." So in the end, who cares? Just kiss enough ass and/or get "visibility" and hope you don't get screwed.

Anonymous said...

"My point is that if the investor community thinks MSFT has a problem (some of them even read this blog) this time of the year is the best to tell. They'll vote with their allocations whether or not they trust SteveB."

The investment community knows MSFT has a problem and have been telegraphing that belief for the past three years. As far as trusting Ballmer, clearly they didn't then (when things looked better), and for sure don't now as growth has slowed to a crawl and Vista's (SQL, etc) development schedule has become a joke.

At this point, Ballmer has little/no credibility with the street as he himself effectively acknowledged at the recent Financial Analysts meeting where he presented the "our view" (rosier of course) vs "your view" to analysts. That isn't going to change in Oct/Nov. At this point, MSFT is a "show me" stock. When/if it can deliver the numbers, then the street will take notice. Until then, everyone who wants/needs it already has it and are generally sorrry that they do.

Anonymous said...

"If you get a B+ or lesser and can live with, then a 3.5 @ MSFT should be perfectly normal for you. Otherwise MSFT is not the place for you."

The School analogy breaks down in several ways. First, at University, much of your grade is based on objective results (i.e. tests). At MSFT, for many teams, your review is highly based on subjective interpretations of your performance. Second, at University, they don't hand out less A's to Biology students because they gave a bunch out to Business Admin majors, or less to your class because your teacher wasn't in the "in group". Finally, generally speaking, when a University says you passed (i.e. 3.0), they don't turn around and try to expel you.

TheKhalif said...

The thing that strikes me from the mini-msft blog and other comments here is that incompetent people who left the company or are poor performers with 2.5/3.0 are moaning. So, it is not startling that these people are looking for HR mamas for redemption. The HR folks probably couldnt get job in any other field and joined HR after taking labor law class. The low performing crowd is looking for equally incompetent HR beureaucrary to uplift them.



What you should be seeing is that the people who get the 3.0s are usually competent. They are UNFAIRLY getting these ratings. If all the incompetent people are leaving then Vista shouldn't be late, right?

Anonymous said...

What is average promotion rate? I heard it is 2-3 years depends on the level (quicker in low level). But those young 67+ guys grow at 1 level per year! Admire.

Anonymous said...

"What you should be seeing is that the people who get the 3.0s are usually competent. They are UNFAIRLY getting these ratings. If all the incompetent people are leaving then Vista shouldn't be late, right?"

It's a concern. A bigger concern imo is how many 3.5's and above get lost to politics. And yes, the current corporate trajectory and shipment problems should lead most thinking people to at least question whether the current compensation system is truly rewarding and elevating the best & brightest.

Anonymous said...

Outside of the services org, the company has avoided the types of major layoffs that we've seen at competitors like IBM.

I've been at cocktail parties and out of work events where senior management has hinted that there was a need to cut headcount at MS, and that some sort of culling was definite in the near future.

But how to handle it and when to do it? Realistically, we need to wait until the products RTM. Also, mgmt needs to cushion the blow. The closest thing we've had to layoffs of any scale were in the services org during Saratoga, and atleast those folks were able to 'explore new opportunities' in other orgs.

So how to do it? I'm sure it was at that time one of the execs ran across Tom Sawyer on his kids' 'summer reading list' and had a moment of inspiration.

Unfortunately, we're not being tricked into painting a fence, we're being tricked into thinking that not only do we want layoffs - we *need* layoffs.

The number of people - not the management, not the integrated innovation cluster fuck - is the problem for all of our ills.

But we say we have the smartest people on the planet working for us. How could anyone possibly trick us into thinking that we need a layoff?

Bring in visceral subjects... like the ridiculous stack ranking. Get people all riled up. Have the value driven from the comments - of real (duped) employees. Build a sense of community, build a sense of connection with MiniMicrosoft. All the while, repeating a mantra that we need fewer people.

But it gets better - when the mainstream media gets duped, it's the coup de grace. That scored some a 4.5 on their review.

With this much success for the blog, does it make management a little more cocky? Too cocky? When you have VPs in various orgs talking about how they read MiniMicrosoft and actually advertising the blog to those unaware of it? Am I the only one who sees this for what it is?

There's a culling coming folks, and you've been duped into thinking it's good for you.

If there was ever any question about whether or not the company hires the brightest people, I think it's been settled.

Bravo!

Anonymous said...

i got a 3.0, first ever at msft, caz i refused to work >55hrs. Maybe in retrospect, I shouldnt have told my manager that I have a family, and need to take time with the kids, but nonetheless, I lost 2-3% of merit increase...so f*cking what!!!....

still managed a whopping 6%bonus..again so f*cking what. I could moonlight at Burger King, or Starbucks, for the equivalent of what the 4.0's on the team got in incremental increases..