Thursday, October 06, 2005

Middle Managers, Bureaucracy, and No Birds at Microsoft

Wow, out of all the crazy blogs in this mixed up world of ours, C|Net went and gave this little Mini-Microsoft blog a moment of recognition in their Blog 100. Thanks! (I have to admit to complete narcissism given I navigated there and gave into a "I wonder if I'm listed... OOO!" moment.) It's like someone turned the expired 15 minute clock back a few minutes and I unjumped the shark.

And what respectable blogging company! And if this blog is a new discovery for you, I have to let you in on the big secret: you need to visit the pages and read the comments. That's the heart and soul of the blog.

Okay, quick post: there are two Microsoft bloggers I'd like to give highlight to: SteveSi and KenMo.

Steve really didn't like that Business Week article. I'm mean really didn't like. He made the following offhand comment in his blog:

BTW, I’ve received some mail about the recent article in Business Week on Microsoft. Right now I will choose not to comment on it until I see if the writers and editors choose to correct or comment on some of the plethora of factual errors.

I'd love to hear his side of what was wrong. In lieu of any corrections, Steve went and started some pro-active blogging, even around two of my favorite duct-taped covered punching bags:

  1. Ineffective Middle-Management Suckups, and
  2. Bureaucracy. Threat or menace? Either, both, or neither? Or it depends!

I'm conflicted. It's incredibly cool that Mr. Sinofsky is a senior VP blogging about such topics. I don't want to throw snarky comments at his postings because I want him to continue this line of public dialogue (kudos to him for being rather cool in the comments that appear in his posts). But I disagree with where we are as an entire company... I'm not as sure about Office as a gauge. Better than Windows? I don't know how much of an accomplishment that is. The one comment I'll follow-up on is process and getting code done effectively and the feature crews that Office is bragging about. The one group I tend to deal with tells me that feature crews sound great but it ended up doubling their amount of effort to get their code in and stressed their dev and test team to the limits (somehow, the program managers were spared undo stress...). Meetings bloomed out of control. The feature-crews also stole time from their testers so that there was zero ad-hoc and zero integration testing. The gears are all given very detailed attention. How well everything turns together was not. Is that better? It seems like a fine idea that needs to be turned down a few notches so that people can do their jobs and not check off where they are on the process map.

If you're in Office, Steve has opened his door to comments and feedback. You've got to take advantage of that! You have a direct line to a motivated leader out to prove Microsoft got game. Drop him a note, start a conversation... let me know how it goes. Oh, and before moving on, I noticed that Mr. Sinofsky said he might address performance evaluations in a future posting: yes, please. I'd love to hear Steve's take on Stack Ranking and The Curve and why that's as good as it gets.

Second blogger... job opportunities galore! Scoble and KenMo. Yes, Ken, I've read "Searching for Answers - A Challenge for Mini-Microsoft." I absolutely loved the post given your description of the 'No' Birds persona. I've complained about such people in the past here (explaining how hard it is to actually ship a feature and get it out the door, usually at DCR time, with all the "cut this to make my life easier" hurdles you have to jump over) but now I have a name to slap on them. I hope you don't mind if I lift this snippet:

No Birds

2 1/2 years ago, I was asked to be the technical leader for a new team that would build from scratch a world-class search engine. Google already had a huge lead in quality and market share – and many people within Microsoft said "no way" or "Ken, you’re taking a no-win job" or "MSN doesn’t have the technical skills" or even "you’re going to have to use Linux…" I call these people the "no-birds".

Now, it’s important to distinguish the no-birds from people who are constructively criticizing. No-birds are usually very creative and intelligent people, but their efforts are misguided. All they care about is shooting down ideas. They take pride in talking loudly, getting listened to, and are content measuring their impact based on any change in a plan – even if it’s just making things so confusing that nothing gets done. They secretly are happy when things are screwed up. They are worthless.

Nice. I don't think I'm a 'No' Bird but perhaps that's the kind of thing such a person can't self-assess... anyway, when it's actually appropriate for me to consider looking elsewhere I'll look to see what http://career/ has to offer in your area and do some informationals if the fit seems right. I look forward further postings in the meantime about what MSN is doing well.

What's exciting about KenMo's posting and the visibility and defense that SteveSi is posting about is a constructive reaction to the negative press and hard questions that have come up. I'm going to re-iterate: Microsoft has problem in that we've got layers of bureaucratic process of questionable focus. This is a opportunity for groups that think they are part of the solution vs. part of the problem (real or perceived) to grab the spot light and show the way to the promised land of lean, efficient, customer pleasing, profit making, shareholder delighting corporate salvation. And don't forget "agile." And I hope at that point groups determined to remake themselves look around and say, "Hey, we sure don't need all these people to do that!"

 

P.S. A question for Lazyweb: I know you can go to a symbol looking for MSFT at Yahoo or say Money Central to find the major shareholders for Microsoft, some with hyperlink info. Is there another spot that you favor for looking up such information with far more detailed contact info?

 

82 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very cool, Mini. Congrats on the C|Net kudos. I would definitely have to give you a 4.0 for that recognition. Here's one for you - if you were employed in Premier-FSG, that 4.0 is the highest perf score you could get. Ever. This org has redesigned the scale but - (oops!) - forgot to inform HR. As our GM put it to an engagement manager in the group, "We don't do 4.5's." News to me. I'm shocked.

So, does that mean 4.0's are really 5.0's, now that the new scale only goes from 3.0 to 4.0 for FSG? (For argument's sake I'm leaving 2's out of the new scoring system we have because technically, if you're a 2.5 or less you aren't going to be around to care about the newly defined range. Plus, I don't think 2's are mandated by the curve.)

Another keen thing the GM personally declared just for this group: If you get a promotion, the best score you can have assigned to you on your next perf review is a 3.5. Seriously. I do not lie. I know a few 4.0's who fell victim to this preposterousness. It's a slap in the face. These excellent performers are polishing their resumes as I type.

Professionally speaking, I feel gypped...as does the rest of the top performers in FSG getting ripped off by these fly-by-night (but stuck to fly paper) "rules." Unfortunately, the rules exist in reality - just not on paper (kinda like the whole stack-ranking thing, there's no "formal" system), so upper management will probably deny they exist, if asked.

My question for everyone out there in Mini-land is this: who manages the managers? It's not HR. That's obvious. HR is a provision designed to protect managers, not employees. How do managers (like this GM) get away with single-handedly modifying the employee handbook? It's not just the invisible ink, trust me. Someone's not doing his or her job. There is just no accountability anymore. I've been around for 9 years, and I'm not going to put up with this much longer. I've tried to fix things, but change is virtually impossible to effect from my level.

Anonymous said...

HR is a provision designed to protect managers, not employees.

HR's job is to protect the company from liability. If manager was exposing MS to a potential lawsuit, they'd be in hot water with HR faster than you can believe. That said, they are not your friend either.

In the end, I don't think it matters what your review score is. VPs/GMs/PUMs do what they like. If they like you, they'll promote you and do whatever to make the numbers fit their model. I recommend you not take it too seriously. This is hard when we've been conditioned to try and get A's most of your life. Review scores are not grades. They're justifications.

Anonymous said...

Agreeing with the previous poster: the ratings are for your benefit alone, to tell you which big bucket you ended up in (roughly). They're useless for anything else despite what HR thinks. Plenty of senior level folks get 3.0s and absolutely huge bonuses.

If you're not in the 4.0 bucket then the only thing you should care about is finding out what the higher rated people did that you didn't (either actual achievement or just perceived). If your lead can't tell you that in reasonably concrete terms then you are indeed being gypped.

Shivendra said...

I loved reading your blog - and am contemplating a Mini-Hewlett-Packard Blog now..

Way to go!

Happy clicking,
Shivendra

Anonymous said...

Regarding Office and feature crews:

As an IC dev in Office, feature crews have been a great experience for me: Different parts of Office have done feature crews very differently, but generally speaking, any extra "homework" caused by feature crews come from the small crew itself, not from higher up.

That means groups of 3 to 10 ICs and leads have the ability to streamline their process (or not), without waiting for upper management to do something about it. Being a dev, most the complaints I hear about Feature Crews are test-dev "paperwork" that could be lessened at the IC or lead level if those with complaints would just speak up.

I've been in Office long enough to know that it's really good at running post mortems, taking useful data from those meetings, and making non-disruptive-but-effective changes to its process for the next cycle. All that is facilitated by the fact that most re-orgs don't really affect the make-up of Office teams, and the different groups Steve talks about have had time to learn their roles, and do them well. I look forward to seeing where feature crews take us in the future.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am field salesperson and just started reading your blog when it was pointed out to me by my customer(!)
Although it seems very Redmond-centric, the following trends are ones we also see in the MSNA field organization:
1) Middle management "bloat" - check
2) Eroding faith in Steve's ability to lead - check
3) Cynicism about the curve, the ratings system and anything HR is involved in - check
Keep up the good work mini -- we all want to turn this ship around.

Anonymous said...

If you ever decide to check out MSN give me a holler, anonymously if you want.

-- Dare

Mark said...

I happened by your blog as a result of your listing in the Blog 100 (Congratulations - just make sure you can get your head out of the door tonight!)

I'm glad to see grades/scores/appraisals in Microsoft are just as mad as in the rest of the corporate world. I was an appraising manager for a while. I once had an appraisal round where someone in senior management had decided that in order to "raise the bar", everyone had to take a points drop. This left me having to tell people "You've done really well this year and as a result your score has gone down". What message is that supposed to be sending? In the event, I just told my guys to forget their scores and focus on my feedback. For my organisation, the score is largely irrelevant, provided you're not in the bottom 10% in which case things are looking bleak ...

Anonymous said...

Hi Mini,

I saw Michael Howard speak recently on the SDLC, and I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on how much of that's bureaucracy, and how much of it is useful?

Anonymous said...

The reason why you all want to work at Google: http://investinsearch.blogspot.com/2005/10/google-has-more-buying-power-than.html

Anonymous said...

http://blogs.msdn.com/techtalk/archive/2005/09/25/473808.aspx

Or second, you can just retreat to your office and complain to your peers (bottoms developing a victim complex) and just gum up the system by passive resistance to the efforts of the team, or worse. When individuals do that it is perfectly rational, but it is not productive.

If you complain, you're a subversive?

If you develop a victim complex then you are just demonstrating why you are a follower and why your opinion might not be as highly valued as you think it is.

If you develop a victim complex, it is because you think your opinion is highly valued? Huh?

Absolutely positively no one has ever been fired for having a dissenting view. Absolutely positively no one has ever received a poor review for merely having a dissenting view.

OK O.J.! Absolutely positively 100% pure spin!

Those things happen when you express a dissenting view by failing to contribute what you’re supposed to contribute in your role.

I guess, when it all goes horribly wrong, you could say "I was only following orders.".

You’re human and you do have to be excited by your work and every employee deserves that. Sometimes groups go in a direction you don’t agree with. It might be when that happens that it is time for you to get a different perspective and try something new. There is no crime in that. I’d encourage you to find a logical break in the action and to do so without going out in a ball of flames.

Translation - leave quietly.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it's impossible to leave quietly, even if there is a break in the action. Ever had your permission to interview denied? Nice, hold your miserable employees captive at the expense of their careers so that YOU can attempt to look good to YOUR manager. What's that sound, is it the sound of a shot in the foot?

Anonymous said...

When I was at Microsoft I was opposed to a certain type of new technology the GM proposed (it was a painfully lame pet idea with very little practical use). I was vocally opposed, and offered alternatives which would have made the group profitable (god forbid). Now the group is implementing many of my ideas, but when I made the comments I was warned by my manager and on my review was a line indicating that, yes, I was right, but that I had (and I quote) "left a bad taste in people's mouths".

Most people above the dev-test-pm manager level don't want to hear your ideas and they certainly don't want a squeaky wheel. It gets in the way of their empire building. Microsoft used to be an open place, now it's just a corporation. If you think any differently, you're brainwashed.

PS - Yes, I'm sure there are exceptions. I just haven't seen them.

Anonymous said...

"Absolutely positively no one has ever been fired for having a dissenting view. Absolutely positively no one has ever received a poor review for merely having a dissenting view."

The first part is true, they're just 2.5'd and let go for performance reasons even when they don't deserve it (I know several people who had this happen). The second one is simply false. Anything you do that makes your manager look bad puts your review score in jeopardy. Anything. If you dissent and are vocal about it and it reflects badly on your lead, you may have cured cancer but your still going to get a poor review.

Anonymous said...

"The first part is true, they're just 2.5'd and let go for performance reasons even when they don't deserve it (I know several people who had this happen)."

I was a lifetime 4.0 and current 4.0 when I was "asked to leave" because I raised issues. This wasn't unique. I saw it happen to literally dozens of people before me (not all 4.0's but all at least 3.5s) and know of it happening to several since. His comment is just flat out incorrect and shows how divorced even well-meaning snr mgt can be from the day-to-day realities at lower levels.

Anonymous said...

"And of course numerically, if you only have 6 levels of an organization, then management is outnumbered by non-management approximately 3:1"

3:1? Are you kidding me? Given that it's an average and there's got to be lots of managers (at least in the field) with 5-7:1 or more, just how many "managers" are there at MSFT with no one to manage?

Where are my troops? I must find them so I may lead them...

Anonymous said...

What? Its Microsoft's 30th birthday today? And nobody mentions this? A good chance to put things in perspective - where will Microsoft will be at 40? Middleage slow or Mini and dynamic?

Happy B-day MSFT! ;)

Anonymous said...

"P.S. A question for Lazyweb: I know you can go to a symbol looking for MSFT at Yahoo or say Money Central to find the major shareholders for Microsoft, some with hyperlink info. Is there another spot that you favor for looking up such information with far more detailed contact info?"

Not sure who Lazyweb is? But I'm pissed_off_shareholder and have been looking for that info as well because I'd like to make contact and ask these folks why MSFT is about the only company I can think of with as poor a 5 year record of performance where shareholders haven't organized and made their displeasure known. Have not been able to locate a detailed source, but have sent an email off to Bagholder relations and will advise if I get anything useful back (I doubt it). In particular, I wanted to find Pension Funds and/or large non-employee holders who seemingly should be as pissed off as me. If you're interested, in one of the annual bagholder meetings (I think it was the last one but might have been the one previous), there was a guy during the Q&A session who gave his name and represented some Washington State-based Pension fund with some 50-100M shares. Can't recall the Pension Fund or the contact but both should be recorded on the audiocast from that meeting. Might be a good place to start...

Anonymous said...

Our team was recently yanked out of our product group and joined to a new "centralized services" type of org. I've been through plenty of reorgs. They're always accompanied by a chorus of cheerleaders drinking the kool-aid. But this time, our soon-to-be ex-great-great manager (my manager's manager's manager) sat down with us, said "this is why I was against the change, these are the arguments the uppity-ups used to sway me, this is what I think of it now but I could be wrong so if it doesn't meet all these promises, you come back and tell me and I'll fight the fight again."

Damn. Actual honesty. Treating us like adults. And y'know what? That approach stripped 9/10s of the resistance from me -- I'll give this a go and try to make it succeed. But it pains me to leave the chain of a middle-manager who offers the ICs such respect.

But being dumfounded by such treatment highlights how rare it is...

accu-chek said...

kind of impressive, if I think about a moment! go on!

Anonymous said...

Microsoft Search SUCKS big time. All the money in there is a big waste. They don't know one thing about Search. Search is as much an Art as its Engineering.

Search for who else but "amitabh srivastava" using Google and MSN search. Google brings up lot of links on first page that are relevant even letting reader know he is IIT grad.

Now look at MSN results. They are all over the place.....More than half of them are from Microsoft internal sites!!!(What the heck! search only searches in internal sites first???) Does the search team know that there is something called ranking???? The results even bring up on FIRST PAGE one hapless Amitabh Srivastav from Jharkhand arguably the most backward state in India. Needless to say the search technology itself is backward....


If the search cannot provide good answers to search about their so called STAR as mentioned by Ballmer in Businessweek article what else are they good for.

Microsoft should seriously consider being brought over by Google to make Googlesoft unless they accept their limitations and try to improve them.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely positively no one has ever received a poor review for merely having a dissenting view.

Yeah, right.

In my FY05 mid-year review, my manager told me to my face that I was tracking to a 4.0. A few months later, I made an "emperor has no clothes" statement in a "private conversation" with a colleague. Without an e-mail message, conversation, or even a performance improvement plan having been set up, my manager ambushed me in my written review. He/she quoted confidential e-mail messages and conversations in the written review, and he/she gave me a 3.0. He/she had this look on her face that pretty much said, "I am f**king you over right now, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it." He/she was actually satisfied with his/her very personal attack against me.

If that is the kind of situation we want to happen in this review process of ours, so be it. If not, we need to make changes such that managers can't punish employees for expressing opinions and then hiding those punishments behind bogus "competencies." Anyone who has been treated this way will know exactly what I'm talking about. It's unconscionable--and there's nothing you can do about it but sign the review.

P.S. Lesson learned that you could learn from in turn: Be VERY careful who you trust at this company. Before you tell someone anything that could be remotely construed as critical of your organizational hierarchy or management chain, be sure that you know that you know that you know that the person hearing your words can "put them in the vault." If they can't, don't tell them anything other than the most innocuous stuff possible.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, Mini, better call him Steven not Steve (despite the SteveSi moniker) 'cause that's what he's called. Plus we wouldn't want to confuse him in your posts with the "other Steve" (of the Ballmer variety).

Anonymous said...

Hey Mini,

Your hero Herbold on his book...

http://www.marketwatch.com/tvradio/playerfull.asp?siteid=yhoo&dist=yhooBB&guid=%7BAD465D93%2D52D4%2D449E%2DAC6A%2D842C7D76698E%7D

Ben Canning said...

Feature Crews are a pretty simple idea - when you have 700 developers checking into a code base, it becomes very important to test each 'chunk' of code in private builds before checking into main so hat the stability of the core is maintained. 'Feature Crews' really just codified this practice, and provided some tools to make it easier for devs and testers to work together on PR's. We tried to minimize the process overhead - yes there was form to fill out to set a crew up, but the check-in tools allowed the dev to automatically close a crew during checkin. No formal meetings are required, although the spirit of the process is that Dev/Test/PM are forming a tight loop and discussing issues frequently. If that's bureaucracy I guess we're guilty as charged.

Partially as a result of Feature Crews, Test found bugs at 3 times the rate of prior versions during development because the main Office build was not constantly broken. So we were able to push integration testing up sooner - that was, in fact, the whole point. Now testing can spend the integration phase of the cycle actually doing integration testing, rather than spending half of it getting unit testing done.
And we've been able to produce a dogfoodable build at every development milestone that most folks in Office use every day - again, something we've not been able to do before.

As with any new process, Feature Crews have warts and things we need to improve - merging the toolset with the main dev scheduling tools will be a good start that we'll look at for the next cycle. And at the end of Milestone 3 we probably overused them as a measurement tool (my fault, primarily), so we'll need to rethink how they fit into the project management toolset so we can avoid FC's becoming homework. Overall though we're pretty happy with them.

If anyone wants to discuss further offline, or has suggestions for ways to improve Feature Crews, I'm at bencan_at_microsoft.com. I am one of Steven's Ineffective Middle Management Suckups. :)

Anonymous said...

For all those managers trying to imply in one way or another that concerns about agility, execution, leadership, etc. are either overblown or unjustified, I submit the following:

Microsoft Corporation
Last 24.59 Change -0.14

52 Week Low 23.82


Meanwhile:

insider selling

Sorry, you were saying?...

Anonymous said...

"If anyone wants to discuss further offline, or has suggestions for ways to improve Feature Crews, I'm at bencan_at_microsoft.com. I am one of Steven's Ineffective Middle Management Suckups. :) "

Well, you show up and provide background/context that might help others to better understand the overall picture, while still acknowledging that mistakes were made and even taking some personal accountability where appropriate. All the while leaving the door open for suggestions on how to get better. As a shareholder, I think maybe we need a few more ineffective suckups just like you - maybe even one as CEO. Kudos!

Dumbass Reporter said...

Great blog, Who da'Punk! Congratulations with CNET!

Bill Gates was the first person I slammed when I opened my blog.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

"Have not been able to locate a detailed source, but have sent an email off to Bagholder relations and will advise if I get anything useful back (I doubt it)."

Further to this, here's the reply - which in fairness was at least prompt this time:

You can view a list of Microsoft’s top institutional investors online by clicking on the following link:


Top Institutional Shareholders

Kind of useless since I specifically told them I'd already looked there.

As you will see TIAA-CREF Investment Management, a pension fund, is one of Microsoft’s largest holders. Please keep in mind that some pension funds may be the beneficial owners of the stock, but the shares are managed by institutional investors. Therefore, it is the institutional investor that files the holdings and not the pension fund. Unlike institutional investors, individual holders are not required to file their positions with the SEC. Thus, Microsoft is not able to provide a list of its individual shareholders.


In other words, forget it - as expected. Will listen to that audiocast over the weekend and see if I can secure that local pension fund name/contact I mentioned. With the stock in the toilet and still showing weakness and the shareholder meeting coming up in Nov, timing is ideal for a major holder to finally stand up and give Ballmer both barrels. Enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

"Ever had your permission to interview denied? Nice, hold your miserable employees captive at the expense of their careers so that YOU can attempt to look good to YOUR manager. What's that sound, is it the sound of a shot in the foot?"

11 months of stop-loss (not allowed to move on) and counting. HR told me that stop-loss should be 30, 60, but never more than 90 days, but that management has final say. And say he has.

Anonymous said...

Any discussion of "feature crews" needs to be appropriately critical. There are many reasons why testers might be entering more bugs, and many reasons why the main build might be more stable. For example, the rules for checking into a branch may be more lax, so devs check in buggier code, so testers file more bugs. As for builds, most devs check into a branch, which only RI's once in a while, so there are effectively fewer checkins into main and thus fewer build failures (at least until a milestone deadline).

As with many initiatives like this, there are disadvantages that the initiators discount or don't consider. For example, there may be fewer build breaks in the main branch, but for the devs working in feature crew branches, they may experience more build breaks than they did last cycle. And has anybody tried to calculate how much time branch managers spend integrating and reverse integrating? Plus, branches add a layer of complexity that didn't exist before--what if I need to fix a bug that's in a different branch than the one I'm enlisted in? What if I need to check in to a different branch? What if I depend on code from a different branch? Instead of waiting for their next checkin, I'm waiting for their next RI, or I have to deal with transferring diffs. Even something as simple as telling a tester when a bug fix will be checked into main becomes extremely tricky.

These are the kinds of issues that I haven't seen addressed or even discussed by management.

Ben Canning said...

To the anonymous poster talking about branches - I agree with you that branches can cause problems, but the branches aren't a function of the feature crews - they arose as a separate initiative driven by a few teams who felt their productivity on a per developer basis was improved by having a branch. I'm not a believer in branches personally and would like to find a way to avoid them next cycle, but we'll have to figure out a way to meet the needs of individual dev producitivity if we do eliminate them. Believe me, we talk about branches a lot.

I wouldn't claim that feature crews are responsible for all good things in Office by any stretch - you are right to point out that there may be lots of reasons test is finding more bugs earlier. I just haven't found a good explanation for it besides the change to feature crews.

Of course there is no free lunch - FC's introduce cost and slow down individual dev checkins. So does Big Button, probably even more so. But by and large I think the benefits have outweighed the costs. We trade a slowdown in checkins for one developer for an increase in producivity for hundreds who don't have to deal with a broken build as often. And we push reliability upstream, where it belongs.

If you think there are costs we're not seeing, please follow up with me directly so we can figure out how to address them. The whole point of my job is to get roadblocks out of dev's way, so I would really love to hear concrete improvements we could make that wouldn't sacrifice quality. There are lots of folks thinking about the next generation of these tools that would love to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

It's unconscionable--and there's nothing you can do about it but sign the review.

No you don't. You absolutely do NOT have to sign your review. Spread the word at MSFT. I wish I'd known this. When the SQL Server product team wrecked my review average and gave me an undeserving 3.0 for my FY04 review, I reluctantly signed my review, even after a discussion with HR about the unfair score (a waste of time). HR failed to inform me then that I'm not required to sign squat at review time. I found that out from my next manager when he told me "They really screwed you over on your last review...."

Anonymous said...

"What's exciting about KenMo's posting and the visibility and defense that SteveSi is posting about is a constructive reaction to the negative press and hard questions that have come up."

Mini, I'm not in the business of giving advice generally, but here's my two bits.

1) Don't go to work for Search. MSN is completely disfunctional, it's actually a piece of crap. If Ken knows your identity and hires you he'll make sure that everything is hunky dory for you so that you'll write nice things about him. The fact is, Ken, like virtually every other GM out there is an empire building waste of space. MSN Search is a serious piece of crap, if I were Ken I'd be stepping down in shame, not asking people to interview with his team.

2) Quit Microsoft. You're too smart to work for them. Most of the sheeple I worked with are only thinking about who they can screw to get ahead in their career (yes, I worked for MSN).

3) Any one who tries to convince you that stack ranking is fair is a liar. Notice these guys (Ken, Scoble) never mention it in conjunction with mentioning you. Why? Because if they did they'd have to lie and say they believe it's fair or they'd lose their empire building capabilities.

Don't trust any of these people mini, keep your head down and continue writing the blog.

Anonymous said...

"No you don't. You absolutely do NOT have to sign your review."

Not sure what you say is true. A friend of mine was given a 2.5 in his review which he refused to sign and was eventually fired.

Anonymous said...

I didn't sign my 04 review (an undeserved 3.0) and my former boss was out of his job in a few months. Sometimes it really gets people's attention.

Anonymous said...

Mini - "I'm really concerned about the patient and think that w/o major intervention, he might be on life support or even die"

Ken - "I'm going to give Mini the benefit of the doubt and assume he cares about the patient. Further, I'd like to point out that over here in the hair department at least, we've been doing a bang up job. Sure, our hair isn't as luxurious as that of our competitors, but hey, at least it's not stubble anymore. So let's not spend a bunch of cycles on the overall condition of the body. Things in hair are awesome and we can put out an extra seat for you -just please stop posting"

WTF?

Anonymous said...

A good manager will work with you until you're both happy with the feedback (often it's just a wording issue). However, ultimately, nobody cares if you don't sign your review. Your PHB can tell HR "I've given the feedback but they still wouldn't sign..." and that's pretty much it unless it's an endemic problem with them. Plenty of folks don't even write their review let alone sign it.

90 days is pretty much the limit in terms of permission to interview and even then your manager is supposed to show "a critical business need" or you're on the 2.5 list.

Forget your manager and your HR rep, they clearly don't know the rules. Email your managers manager and cc: your senior HR generalist (typically a few levels up from your normal HR person). That will generally put enough of a spotlight on the situation to get it fixed.

If that fails either talk to your GM or VP (again cc: your senior generalist).

If that fails then stop working so hard, tell anyone and everyone that you've lost your motivation because you want to leave but no one will let you. Guarenteed they'll let you go before you demoralize the whole team (or fire you)

Anonymous said...

Lol, Mini - I don't know how lean you'll get MS, but you sure couldn't get it much meaner.

Anonymous said...

I have some questions for the taking about the MS review form:

In the review form, employees are asked to provide a self-rating. I have always given myself 4.0’s in the self-rating, and to date I have gotten a couple of 4.0’s and a couple of 3.5’s as my official review scores. I am not clear why MS asks employees to input a self-rating, other than perhaps to try to trick humble unsuspecting new employees into inputting a lower score so that their manager can just agree with them.

Has anyone reading this blog (other than managers) ever benefited from the self-rating portion of the review? Also, on the flip side, has anyone ever had an experience with their manager making a huge stink out of a disparity between the employee self-rating and the manager rating?

While I have your attention, the following are the three wishes for MS I would have if I were so lucky to find the genie in the bottle:

-- WHAT I WANT: MS implements an external hiring freeze until the stock price reaches $35 (other than perhaps the rare exception to hire people who are truly the best and the brightest in the world). WHY I WANT IT: Other companies have successfully implemented hiring freezes as a way to control growing labor costs (benefits shareholders) without penalizing employees with other measures to reduce labor costs (such as the current practice at MS of ridiculously low non-COLA based salary adjustments). This change would do more to help MS employee morale than anything I can think of because it would (a) allow more room in the budget for better bonuses/salaries, (b) provide employees better opportunities for career growth if managers are required to hire internally to fill vacant positions, and (c) provide a boost to employee-owned stock since presumably the stock price would go up due to having a leaner organization.

--WHAT I WANT: Rather than the stack raking system as it exists today with which managers can assign any review score they want, implement a review form that requires managers to provide more detailed feedback. I am thinking something akin to the manager feedback form currently in place but designed for employees. WHY I WANT IT: As background for folks external to Microsoft reading this blog, the manager feedback form asks employees to indicate their level of agreement with ~40 different positive statements about their managers. For example, one statement on the form is something like “My manager provides me clear direction”, and employees can indicate whether they Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree with this statement. If a similar form were designed for employees with statements like “The employee works as a team player”, the review scores for the manager’s employees could then be stack ranked based on who has the most number of Strongly Agrees and Agrees. The advantages of this method are that it forces managers to provide employees more meaningful feedback about employee performance, employees can ask managers to provide specific examples if they are given a Disagree or Strongly Disagree rating for a particular statement, and, if a manager has a team of exceptional employees, the review form can reflect that each employee did an good job, with the Strongly Agrees indicating the employees’ strengths.

--WHAT I WANT: Lay-offs or pay reductions at the upper management level. WHY I WANT IT: I think the excessive compensation at the VP level has been well-documented in this blog. What I am talking about with this wish is the excessive numbers of General Managers and Directors at MS who got into their positions during Microsoft’s heyday when money was no object but now have very little useful purpose. As long as Microsoft continues to pay these folks as much as they are getting paid, these people will never leave the company of their own free will since they would never command their salaries at other companies. Fair is fair, and, if MS expects employees to be paid at 66% of the market rate, I think the same should go for GMs and Directors. Shareholders, are you on board with me?

Anonymous said...

Of course, KenMo will get a LOT of feedback especially when his blog requres Passport to post comments, which in turn, wants your credit card in order to ensure that you are adult to sign on to MSN. Or maybe to know your real name. That is Microsoft-controlled system. Yeah, right. If Ken wants feedback, he should allow truly anonymous comments. MSN Spaces is useless until it keeps insisting on stupid Passport stuff. Anyway, Ken, why would I want to work for another Microsoft business that is playing yet anothet catch up? Work for MSN? Why? Maybe I should just work for Google - they are market leader, they are not catching up and it appears they also pay better. Why MSN waited for Google to become market leader? WTF *every* divisioan at MS waits for someone to beat the crap out of them to begin moving? WTF PMs kills every decent idea until COMPETITION comes up with it and then PMs are happy to increase their visibility with "fighting" that competions?

Anonymous said...

>>I am not clear why MS asks employees to input a self-rating, other than perhaps to try to trick humble unsuspecting new employees into inputting a lower score so that their manager can just agree with them.
I've been told that the stack ranking process often start with a ranking based on the self-rating that's given by each employee. So if you give yourself a 3.5, it's highly unlikely someone will push you higher.
>> Also, on the flip side, has anyone ever had an experience with their manager making a huge stink out of a disparity between the employee self-rating and the manager rating?
My last manager berated me for rating myself .5 higher that what I 'deserved'. I was forced to lower my rating before I submitted the form. Needless to say, I got the lower score when it came back

fCh said...

"While I have your attention, the following are the three wishes for MS I would have if I were so lucky to find the genie in the bottle:"

Aren't your 3 wishes rather self-serving. It seems MSFT has some low-level contributors (IC's) who don't deserve even that much...

Anonymous said...

"where will Microsoft will be at 40? Middleage slow or Mini and dynamic?"

On the current trajectory? Out of business.

Anonymous said...

It's unconscionable--and there's nothing you can do about it but sign the review.

No you don't. You absolutely do NOT have to sign your review. Spread the word at MSFT. I wish I'd known this. When the SQL Server product team wrecked my review average and gave me an undeserving 3.0 for my FY04 review, I reluctantly signed my review, even after a discussion with HR about the unfair score (a waste of time). HR failed to inform me then that I'm not required to sign squat at review time. I found that out from my next manager when he told me "They really screwed you over on your last review...."


You do not have to sign your review.

You can also appeal a review score. However, HR tries to imply that you will get a lower one if you do so.

You can also write a rebuttal to a review and have put in your file with the review.


I am not clear why MS asks employees to input a self-rating, other than perhaps to try to trick humble unsuspecting new employees into inputting a lower score so that their manager can just agree with them.

When they have trouble ranking employees, the first ones knocked down to a lower score are the ones that gave themselves a lower score.

Anonymous said...

"WHAT I WANT: MS implements an external hiring freeze until the stock price reaches $35 (other than perhaps the rare exception to hire people who are truly the best and the brightest in the world)"

Not a great idea. Then every smart new grad or experienced professional goes to the competition while groups that are growing are forced to look for candidates internally - where you know every mgr with half a brain will use that opp to try and pass off his deadwood. Also, not very practical. If India is in growth mode for example, do they just sit on their heels and lose competitive position because there's too many people in Redmond?

"WHAT I WANT: Lay-offs or pay reductions at the upper management level."

A better wish would be real snr mgt accountability because with that, you'd automatically have far less mgrs based on current pathetic results. And frankly, even if the remaining ones got $20M stock bonuses, atleast maybe they'd deserve it - unlike Raikes and esp Allchin. MSFT mgt is so entirely out of touch with reality that they just awarded themselves an avg 8-11% pay increase as MSFT underperforms the market for the 3rd year in a row and has delivered a negative return over the past FIVE years. And if that wasn't enough, they then decide not to increase the dividend even though its currently well below the S&P average. Can't get much more in-your-face than that - and looks like shareholders have finally had enough and are dumping big time.

Anonymous said...

You can also appeal a review score. However, HR tries to imply that you will get a lower one if you do so.

You can also write a rebuttal to a review and have put in your file with the review.


I have a friend who challenged a review in writing. My friend's boss ensured that my friend never exceeded a 3.0 again after that. And now my friend can't even get an informational interview within the company. Plenty of vindictive folks at this company (this is only one of many examples I could cite).

Anonymous said...

If you really refuse to sign it, HR will give you a hard time but eventually give up, as it doesn't really matter if you sign it or not. I recommend that you sign it and enter a rebuttal if your management won't remove anything you find to be unfair. HR will help you do this. First, though, I'd say that you should appeal to your manager's management if your manager won't remove that unfair stuff. I am a middle manager and I know of a situation in the past where a manager gave someone some unfair comments, and that was used as part of the reason to push that manager out of the group (unfortunately not fire the person from the company - it's always easier to pawn them off on another group).

I also want to say this: if, as a manager, you don't believe in a score you think you need to give because of the curve, you can find a way to not give them that score. If you think you need to give them a 3.0 but you think they deserve a 3.5, you can find a way to give them a 3.5. It requires a backbone, and requires work in making the case to upper management, but I've done it. In short, it requires the manager in question to actually care.

Anonymous said...

Mini, I think you need to give more specific examples of where you see useless process. I would be curious as to where you think we should cut process.

I'm a Dev Manager in MSN. I don't see any useless process. All I see is my team cranking out code as fast as we can... innovating as fast as we can... shipping software every couple months. In the past year, we have launched a completely new backend for Hotmail. We are embarking on a next generation backend now, a totally new architecture.

I'm not seeing any middle management getting in my way. All I see is my VP, GM and PUM asking the world of my team, supporting us, and telling us "Go."

Similarly, we are working closely with dev teams on Ken Moss' MSN Search team. We are sharing technologies, with devs working directly with other devs in totally different orgs. I don't see any middle managers getting in the way or burdening us with useless process.

I'm curious as to how my experience differs from your experience, as I'm sure scenarios are different depending on where you are in the company.

Bill Hoffman

Anonymous said...

Bill, mini is talking about ratings and performance evaluation system - not about cranking the code as fast as possible. And innovating as fast as we can is just another story...

JASG said...

For those who will take the risk, the rewards are there. But that implies that people have to be outside their comfort zone and can not use the bureaucratic process to stay safe. All companies, not just Microsoft deals with this process daily. Right now Google is on a risky course, but have the resources to take those risks and manage them. Palm, Oracle, Applied Materials, all had to redevelop their tolerances to risk, and redevelop their organizations, to adjust its wildly successful strategy before it became exhausted. This is where many organizations are now; we have to revise the legitimacy that the bureaucratic process delivers, and take those wild pies in the sky ideals, and develop the next big idea, not by incremental changes, but by leapfrogging the current technology.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who challenged a review in writing. My friend's boss ensured that my friend never exceeded a 3.0 again after that. And now my friend can't even get an informational interview within the company.

I'm sorry but your friend is not telling you the whole story. No manager can stop you from having an informational interview, they don't even have to know (you don't need permission for this level of interview). Also, the interviewing manager doesn't have access to you review scores (unless you tell them).

Anonymous said...

"WHAT I WANT: MS implements an external hiring freeze until the stock price reaches $35 (other than perhaps the rare exception to hire people who are truly the best and the brightest in the world)"

Not a great idea. Then every smart new grad or experienced professional goes to the competition while groups that are growing are forced to look for candidates internally - where you know every mgr with half a brain will use that opp to try and pass off his deadwood. Also, not very practical. If India is in growth mode for example, do they just sit on their heels and lose competitive position because there's too many people in Redmond?

I would agree that it makes sense to bring in the crème de la crème of new grads and experienced professionals. The concern I have with your argument above is your statement “groups that are growing”. Xbox is “growing” but has yet to turn a profit. MBS is “growing” but has yet to turn a profit. I think that the real problem is that MS has a tendency to keep its deadwood around for much too long, and managers take the easy way out by hiring externally which results in empire building at the expense of profit. Maybe instead of a “hiring freeze”, there should be a strict limit on the total number of headcount at MS so that managers and MS have more incentive to work toward getting rid of its deadwood and hiring only great people, with a preference toward internal candidates.

"WHAT I WANT: Lay-offs or pay reductions at the upper management level."

A better wish would be real snr mgt accountability because with that, you'd automatically have far less mgrs based on current pathetic results. And frankly, even if the remaining ones got $20M stock bonuses, atleast maybe they'd deserve it - unlike Raikes and esp Allchin. MSFT mgt is so entirely out of touch with reality that they just awarded themselves an avg 8-11% pay increase as MSFT underperforms the market for the 3rd year in a row and has delivered a negative return over the past FIVE years. And if that wasn't enough, they then decide not to increase the dividend even though its currently well below the S&P average. Can't get much more in-your-face than that - and looks like shareholders have finally had enough and are dumping big time.

I think the way to enforce senior management accountability is through lay-offs and pay reductions at that level. Agree with your point on Raikes and Allchin. I think it would be interesting to first do a sweep of the MS address book to count how many GMs and Directors there are at MS who have no reports at all. I also think it would be interesting to then do a sweep of the MS address book to count how many GMs and Directors have fewer then 10 total reports underneath them…and I mean total reports not just direct reports.

Anonymous said...

Succesfully appealing your review score is I think a very rare event. You'd basically have to show HR that your manager messed up procedurally or there was an obvious case of bias (hard to prove). Mostly this is just because by the time you get your scores back all the money has been allocated and a VP will need to get involved so changing a score requires a bunch of paperwork that no-one really even wants to think about.

A written rebutal sounds like a great way to go, at least then if you change groups later your new manager will have your side of the story in writing.

In cases where your manager forgot about some important contribution you made you may be able to get them to agree to "add" it to your next review score. I'm pretty sure his isn't allowed HR-wise but some managers will do this since it's much easier for them to adjust things next time than it is to change a current review score.

Anonymous said...

The self-rating is mostly so managers can talk to you about your review early in the process, before things are locked down.

For example, if you honestly think you're a 4.0 and your manager is thinking of giving you a 3.0 then clearly there's a problem somewhere. Good managers will come talk to you about it early in the review process - using phrases like "I don't think there's enough detail in your review..." or "what about this thing you screwed up...?". This is your cue to talk to your manager asap because you're probably not going to get the score you think you deserve.

Of course many people over-rate themselves (and why not!) and a few severely under-rate themselves and are overly self-critical. Good managers need to be able to spot this and adjust\correct for it but that requires experience which I fear many managers at Microsoft don't have.

Anonymous said...

"Also, the interviewing manager doesn't have access to you review scores (unless you tell them)"

In my experience, all hiring managers ask for your last 3 review scores before granting an informational.

Anonymous said...

"WHAT I WANT: MS implements an external hiring freeze until the stock price reaches $35 (other than perhaps the rare exception to hire people who are truly the best and the brightest in the world)"

Rather than a hiring freeze I think Microsoft just needs to allocate resources properly. Most of the time teams have a certain number of people on them because that's roughly what they had last release. Managers then add work to keep everyone over-booked so they can go complain to their managers that they don't have enough resources while they work everyone in to the ground.

Real project managers who understand customer needs and can decide up front what features need to be implemented by the devs don't really exist at Microsoft. PMs, who should be doing this, are motivated to add as many features as possible because the review rewards are mostly based on how much you "produce" not whether what you produce actually matters to customers.

It's not than anyone is being malicious it's just that Microsoft is obsessed with metrics and you just can't measure customer satisfaction easily. Often it's not until a product has been in the market for a long while do you know if it's good or not and by then it's too late. You can't go back and change someone's review score, take back their bonus etc.

I think this is why scrapping the current review rating system makes some sense. MSFT is rewarding people for the wrong things.

Anonymous said...

"I'm a Dev Manager in MSN. I don't see any useless process."

What you see is that your org pumps out useless crap that doesn't make money for the company and is making the stock drop. Good job. MSN as a whole is about as useful as Microsoft Bob.

Anonymous said...

"What you see is that your org (MSN) pumps out useless crap that doesn't make money for the company..."

Amen. The sheer amount of useless and unused crap that has come out of MSN since 1995 is astonishing.

Anonymous said...

I assure you that the Bureaucracy the other ills of MS have reached far outside of Redmond. I am in the EPG sales organization and the sheer amount of process that we need to hack through to get anything done is mind blowing. Sieble entries and internal meetings and ROB ( Rhythm of the Business) has become the business. I often feel like I am at the DMV... no wait, they streamlined that..... I often feel like I am at the doctors office... no, they stream lined that tooo....

I know, I often feel like I am in microsoft spending my entire life filling out infopath forms, in triplicate.

Anonymous said...

"I'm a Dev Manager in MSN. I don't see any useless process. All I see is my team cranking out code as fast as we can... innovating as fast as we can... shipping software every couple months"

Yeah right, what we see is your code is being used(use) less by users, market and ROI is -ve. Except for MSN all other portals are making money and defining new areas. I think the problem with MSN is folks like you cranking up garbage code and doesn't even know what it means to the end user.

"In the past year, we have launched a completely new backend for Hotmail. We are embarking on a next generation backend now, a totally new architecture"

Hotmail is supposed to be what google for search (like googling) for email. It should have been hotmailing, instead you make it like one of the most hated, most spam generated POJ.
MSN screwed up hotmail phenominon really bad IMHO

Anonymous said...

"The concern I have with your argument above is your statement “groups that are growing”. Xbox is “growing” but has yet to turn a profit. MBS is “growing” but has yet to turn a profit. I think that the real problem is that MS has a tendency to keep its deadwood around for much too long, and managers take the easy way out by hiring externally which results in empire building at the expense of profit. Maybe instead of a “hiring freeze”, there should be a strict limit on the total number of headcount at MS so that managers and MS have more incentive to work toward getting rid of its deadwood and hiring only great people, with a preference toward internal candidates."

If accountability existed, then growing would be synonymous with worthwile which in turn would equal profitable or at least profitable within a reasonable timeframe. The fact that Xbox, Bus Sol, Mobile and even MSN have been allowed to go for years without being cash flow positive (or consistently so) far less returning the original investment shows exactly that there is no accountability and at the very top. If groups are held accountable for results vs being allowed to waste money forever, then mgrs will have every incentive to a) only invest in areas that make sense b) ensure that their employees are the very best and c) have as few as possible.

"I think the way to enforce senior management accountability is through lay-offs and pay reductions at that level. Agree with your point on Raikes and Allchin. I think it would be interesting to first do a sweep of the MS address book to count how many GMs and Directors there are at MS who have no reports at all. I also think it would be interesting to then do a sweep of the MS address book to count how many GMs and Directors have fewer then 10 total reports underneath them…and I mean total reports not just direct reports."

Lay-offs and pay reductions? How about just outright firing folks who aren't performing - of which there are tons. I'm not looking to 2.5 out incompetent mgrs so they can exercise another few million bucks and hatch a few more lame-ass strategic moves - they should be gone tomorrow. Again, if there was accountability for results, then there would be pressure at every level to only have as many mgrs as required and only pay them what you could afford. The issue here starts with Ballmer. He has to go. Clearly, he's unprepared to take those steps and as a result, the issue just cascades down throughout the org creating the dysfunctional top heavy circle jerk that presently exists.

Anonymous said...

"PMs, who should be doing this, are motivated to add as many features as possible because the review rewards are mostly based on how much you "produce" not whether what you produce actually matters to customers."

Truly scary. If they could get the lag down from 5yrs+ for some products, they should try and tie at least some of the reward to how the product does in the marketplace. That would ensure a healthy focus on creating a product that ultimately was compelling vs one that just maxed out on features so a team could ace its review.

Anonymous said...

For all you Ballmer haters out there I wrote some words to the tune of Men of Harlech. If you remember the movie Zulu, this was the song the British sang to compete against the Zulu chanting. There's a great MP3 of it here:

http://www.rorkesdriftvc.com/myths/myths.htm

To understand one line of the lyrics, you need to have spent some time in the local strip clubs. I'll say no more...

Men of Microsoft

Wisps of stream from Ballmer curling
'Round our ears the curses whirling
As we dodge the chairs he's hurling
Post our resumes

Moans of toiling ICs frying
As their wives and children crying
To see before we're dying
Post our resumes

Shall the world of feeling
Now be unappealing
From unjustice take our drugs
To keep ourselves from reeling

Here's our answer Ballmer-roaring
Fuck you Steve, go back to whoring
Don't let your ass be hit by dooring
Post your resume

Anonymous said...

"In the past year, we have launched a completely new backend for Hotmail. We are embarking on a next generation backend now, a totally new architecture"

Dear lord, you don't see anything wrong with this? The fact that you have to rearchitect your own software is not something to be proud of. I hope you all got bad review scores for producing a backend that couldn't be maintained.

Here's a suggestion for Hotmail, which is ostensibly a web email program: maybe, when you log in, it should show you your EMAIL, instead of the "Today" page which is almost entirely chrome and advertising. It's no wonder everybody I know hates Hotmail and loves GMail.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah right, what we see is your code is being used(use) less by users, market and ROI is -ve. Except for MSN all other portals are making money and defining new areas. I think the problem with MSN is folks like you cranking up garbage code and doesn't even know what it means to the end user."

The problem with MSN is that it's always had Daddy's money to play with. Had that been removed earlier, MSN would have had no choice but to get more focused on both customers and profitability. I don't think it's a coincidence that MSN new found vigor dates back to when financials started being reported by unit.

"Hotmail is supposed to be what google for search (like googling) for email. It should have been hotmailing, instead you make it like one of the most hated, most spam generated POJ.
MSN screwed up hotmail phenominon really bad IMHO"

Instead of wasting cycles on the back-end of hotmail, they should have focused first on enhancing the dated front-end. Apparently that's coming but it really shows the lack of customer-centered focus. How many customers even know the back-end changed?

BTW, if you really are an employee, you might want to consider whether the tone/content of your posts are appropriate given that this isn't an internal site. Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

innovating as fast as we can

It may be a minor point, but this is one of things that bothered me before I left: Abuse of language which I equate to intellectual dishonesty. I suppose there are a lot of people who drink the Kool Aid and like this sort of rhetoric, but it leaves me cold and I cannot help but think of it as condescending.

It is not "we are working hard to catch Google and every other company we have fallen woefuly behind". No, it's almost a triumph; we are "innovating as fast as we can go." It reminds me of the language manipulation in Orwell's "1984" or the way Dubya is always bringing up the "terrorists." It is as though the talking points are set at the top and then every person on down falls all over themselves to repeat the words, stretching where they are used and abusing what they mean until they become a mantra that doesn't mean anything at all.

That is the way Dot Net died.

Anonymous said...

\"I don\'t see any useless processes\"

Useless process: shiproom. Twenty something important looking people waste two hours reviewing active bugs. In order to do what? Like if team leads are stupid and can\'t decide what to fix and when.

Useless process: security push with prefix/prefast. Six weeks wasted fixing non-existing problems like running out of memory allocating 32 bytes. No actual security issues found.

Useless process: stack ranking and review writing. Have peer reviews and you won\'t have to waste time of this.

Useless position: dev manager. We have been without one for almost a year and you know what: nothing happened. Leads get together once a week or as necessary and discuss current issues. No need to have position the only function of which is to run stack ranking, pass status reports up and management decisions down. Actual decisions are made by people writing code, not by someone running endless Product Studio queries.

Useless position: PUM. Who needs manager you never see because he is always on the road or on vacation or in meetings with GM or visiting customers or something else. No useful information comes from there.

fCh said...

Useless position: PUM. Who needs manager you never see because he is always on the road or on vacation or in meetings with GM or visiting customers or something else. No useful information comes from there.

Not knowing how developers are structured internally at MSFT, I cannot comment on the other points. Mr. Sinofsky or any other manager at that level can probably do justice to most objections you raise in the name of "useless processes." However, knowing some about being on the road to visit customers, I can tell you are mistaken on this. My anonymous friend, unless you check regularly with your customers, how in the sky are you going to keep those checks coming? Who knows, a little bit of insight on this one and we may be able to turn the whole customer relationship on its head...

Anonymous said...

Let developers, leads and architects to speak directly to customers. No need to have layers of management and PMs to do that. E-mail and Web site with forums is all you need.

Anonymous said...

"In the past year, we have launched a completely new backend for Hotmail. We are embarking on a next generation backend now, a totally new architecture."

Well gosh golly gee. And that new, new backend is going to make my email experience better how? That's what I thought.

For goodness sake, I WANT to like MSN, I really do. But it's terrible. You don't need a stinkin' new backend. You need a DESIGNER who can make it less ugly and more useable. Does MSN do ANY usability testing? You know, randomly get ten people in a room, have them do certain things (shop, get directions, search for something, get stock quotes...) using Yahoo, MSN and Google, and explain which they liked better and why.

Every time I use MSN for something new I find a bunch of obvious areas for improvement (and yes, I do submit them, though I expect it goes into a black hole), and all sorts of ways I like the other guys better. Even when there's something I like it's bad. For example, I love the look of the MSN maps, but you don't even highlight the place you just searched!! So when I zoom out to see that town at a state level, I can't find it anymore unless it's a huge city. Every other map, you know, HIGHLIGHTS the place you searched for.

Do MSN developers, PMs, etc. ever use the tools on other web sites? It seems not.

Anonymous said...

The innovation that you guys are looking for does not come out of any company's regular developers. True innovation comes out of massive research labs that only certain companies like MSFT and IBM can afford to have and top notch universities with brilliant professors with substantial influence and resources.

Think about what 'true' innovation has come out of Google. They innovated in search but their core algorithms were developed while the founders were in university. But the idea of search has been around for a long while before Google became Google.

Gmail - web based email has been there for a long time when Gmail was introduced.

Microsoft's Terra server was there for a long time before Google's maps came around.

And finally their latest 'innovation' in the chat and VOIP space have been in existance for a long time as well.

Same applies to Apple. Their hottest 'innovative' product is the IPOD and we all know now that a patent about that was filed long before by researchers from MSR.

So the 2 hottest tech companies - Apple and Google hardly does any 'innovation' in the field of computer science. Neither does Microsoft or any other giant IT company which directly ships to customers. All they do is take an already well thought out idea with promising results in the form a research and turn it into a great commercial product by polishing up the UI.

What I am trying to point out is that if you only have hard-core devs, then the gap between a cool idea implementing some elegant algorithms and an actually stable and usable product will never be closed. So you need layers of managers to keep things in control.

fCh said...

Let developers, leads and architects to speak directly to customers. No need to have layers of management and PMs to do that. E-mail and Web site with forums is all you need.

Assuming that leads and architects would be willing/able to keep communication between the Company and its customers going, in addition to golfing and other schmoozing, they would also say: I won't implement what you are asking for in the upcoming (3) release(s), yet I am going to get some more money from you.

I hope you agree that when they are that "good" they get coopted in management ;-)

Cheers, fCh

Anonymous said...

Do MSN developers, PMs, etc. ever use the tools on other web sites? It seems not.

Well, obviously they don't look at other sites; were they to do so, they would be jumping off the rooftops of redwest buildings in shame for what they have done. Hotmail? Google and Yahoo have far surpassed the quality of web-based email while Hotmail has become a relic. New Kahuna UI? Please, please someone fix this before it goes out of beta. MSN Search? Apparently the rest of the company uses Google to get back useful results, MSN must be the only employees trying to get answers using our sad, sad engine. Passport? Why do we need so many developers to work on a login scheme?

Anonymous said...

"Do MSN developers, PMs, etc. ever use the tools on other web sites? It seems not."

The best thing you can do to make Microsoft focus on improving the quality of MSN is go work for Google ;-)

Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who used to work in Office but now works in a team that ships quality code, "Feature crews" is synonymous with "Actually testing the code before it gets checked in." So yes, I imagine that the testers are surprised that they have to *gasp* structure their testing instead of do it entirely ad-hoc, and that it *gasp* takes time to find the bugs in advance of checkin... but fortunately, it takes less time than it does to find and fix them afterwards.

Anonymous said...

As an office developer, feature crews are a very good thing. We find and fix bugs much sooner. If it weren't for feature crew testing, it can easily take 2 weeks before bugs are opened on new code that is checked in. Where feature crews are a good thing, they are a solution for the large, monolithic build process in office. It takes at least a week for each build to be released. And then even when the build is released, as a developer, you must hope that you can get a clean build on your own dev machine so that you can check in your next round of changes.

Anonymous said...

"You know, randomly get ten people in a room, have them do certain things (shop, get directions, search for something, get stock quotes...) using Yahoo, MSN and Google, and explain which they liked better and why."

You mean you can actually do those things with MSN? I search for those types of things daily and it would never occur to me to use MSN for any of it. I do use Hotmail but find it extremely annoying and if anything, it has turned me off of MSN.

hrzest said...

A quick question, if someone is still caring about such an 'old' post.

What is the highest level one can be at MSFT as a individual contributor? I mean not managing any people.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"Ever had your permission to interview denied?"

Yes, it's a terrible policy and only serves managers. I'm very high performing (multiple gold stars) yet cannot seek to gain experience in other roles due to my "value" on the team. Very demoralizing. Microsoft HR, please get rid of that restriction!

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