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 ).

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.)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Mini... Is That You?

I'm busy packing and organizing and trying to be efficient and lightweight about what I'll be huffin' down the long road with. I keep looking at the books about how to grow beyond using industrial-era performance reviews (yes, anti-stack ranking books are out there). I don't think I'll be able to fit the books in so they'll have to wait until I get back. But I am printing out for reading later some various anti-stank ranking articles I found, especially this one over at Curious Cat:

Microsoft Company Meeting 2005 follow-up: what, did I go and drink the Kool-Aid? Baby, I didn't just drink the Kool-Aid, I shot it into my veins! At a superficial level, I enjoyed it through-and-through. And I was looking for a fun, superficial experience. It does make me very excited about what we will finally be shipping for our customers.

I was enjoying Lisa's speech until about 2/3s of the way through, and then I felt I was just being talked to and zero content was coming my way. It ended with a "trust me" vibe to it. Some folks have mentioned rumors here about a major comp revamp coming. It would have been great to mention that, if that's the case.

As for Mr. Ozzie: where I was sitting, the murmuring of people having low-level conversations grew louder and louder as he talked and people stopped paying attention. He wasn't engaging the folks around me with whatever he was strutting around about ("De cloud! De cloud!"). Sorry, Ray, you need to earn our respect with results right now. Lotus Notes and the saved-from-the-brink of bankruptcy Groove isn't endowing you with much currency.

Liddell? Straight talker. And I loved the little Maori tribal-chant-soccer game video clip. That was just so not Microsoft that it came back full circle. I'd much rather see our leadership lined up, squatting and chanting in unison to that, just as long as they bugged their eyes out and stuck out their tongues. I'm sure Steve would get on board.

Ballmer: the whole whaka-whaka-Eye of the-I Love This Company-whaka-Tiger was tedious. How is a tiger relevant to us? Tiger OS? Steve Jobs has got the eye of the tiger right now. But Steve's the man for getting people riled up and there's no stopping that. It was great that he told his little story about the mid-year review and how we all need to find our bit of cruft to stop doing so that we have more time to be effective. But a story disconnected from an initiative to cut back on middle management bureaucracy goes no where.

As for the missing ship dates I was bemoaning, one comment reflects:

I guess Mini's surprise at the company meeting confirms some of the outside speculation: that he is a low-level flunky outside the main product groups. Otherwise explain how he didn't know the dates and didn't know this stuff was coming. Relax Mini and let the people who actually know stuff run the company.

Whew, I'm sure you could have squeezed a be-yotch in there somewhere. Dude / Dudette, listen: like most everyone, I have plenty of access to the internal websites with all the projected dates about the milestones and RTM and what's supposed to be done when. More access than I need. But that's all internal and subject to slipping and slipping and slipping some more. I wanted VPs (and our presidents) to commit before the rest of the company what they'd be shipping when. They failed to do this. What exactly is it that they are accountable for?


Managers: Mr. Sinofsky has a nice weekend posting up: What do managers do and how big should my team be? The first time I read it was after a long ride and I rubbed my eyes trying to pull together the main points of the article. Okay, I like managers with eight reports. Much better than the two of three reports I commonly see. Smiley faces! I like smiley faces. I think there might be something in there trying to justify the layers by saying that startups are able to flatten the org as compared to a big corporation. I'll have to read it again later when I'm more hydrated.

No ranking here: A comment noted the following:

Hey, Mini-MS: The review system is already fixed. There is no stack rank and there is no curve.

Microsoft testified as much in a court of law:

Ms. Willingham also said the company did not ask its managers to give a fixed percentage of their employees any given score. "We don't force that curve to look any certain way," she said.

Microsoft has no formal "stack rank" policy, she said.

Surely Microsoft wouldn't lie in court would it?

Microsoft has been doing lifeboat / stack-ranking drills for a very long time. Though I remember, probably around the time this article was written, HR was running review meetings for employees and review meetings for managers. I went to both. For the employees, HR was up there emphatically saying, "There is no curve." They stated as fact to everyone in the room that there was not a curve. Then I went to the managers meeting. What did we talk about? The curve. Especially how it sucks when you have a small, great team yet someone is going to get that 3.5 and worse someone's going to get that 3.0. The manager asked HR: how can I keep my great team together when I have to demoralize part of it by fitting the curve? HR: standard response of how employee's performance is relative to their peers. That wasn't going to help keep his team motivated, let alone together, for creating great software.

If you ever want to hear a bunch of Microsoftie managers start spewing, ask them whether they feel they've ever handed out review scores they felt were unfair.

WSJ: Where did that Wall Street Journal article come from (along the article)? I saw it briefly as I ate my cereal Friday morning and had to cover my mouth so that I didn't spray my screen. Talk about a fluffer - er, fluff - piece. Interesting that in Business Week Ballmer was saying how Vista wasn't ever delayed and not acknowledging the Longhorn Reset and then they go and discuss how at that reset event we walked away from most of the Longhorn features and suddenly it was critical to get the lab, automation, and process around quality code and builds working. A recent comment notes:

If that WSJ article is correct, it paints a very unflattering portrait of MSFT, its snr mgt and in particular BillG. Rather than being the one raising hell to fix the problem, he comes off as the guy who is trying to avoid fixing it while simultaneoulsy making it worse by pishing WinFS.

Here's something interesting that was noted in my inbox. Years ago, when Longhorn was just fouling up its 2003 ship date, a smart dude had recently transferred to Windows and endeavored to change Windows bizarre and truly Rube Goldberg check-in, build, and release system. I've been told that he even reviewed Windows horrible state, along with solutions, with Bill Gates. Whatever happened to this innovative idea and its champion? There was lots of talk and zero changes to the system until the catastrophic events of the Longhorn Reset. And the dude went to go work for Google.

He didn't just complain, Steve. He tried actively tried to make a difference. Why didn't it all happen until it was a crisis? How much shareholder money could have been saved? Talking about our own personal mid-year review getting scrapped is one thing. Visibly supporting and empowering the people trying to do it, and punishing the inhibitors, is another.

BW: Jay Greene has an article Less Could Be More At Microsoft reviewing what might happen post chair-shuffling.

Dividend? Schmividend! The one thing we heard from the post-FAM analysts is that Microsoft stock would improve if Microsoft provided a consistent, good dividend. Eight-cents? I don't even know if that buys a piece of crappy Bazooka gum anymore. Most disappointing.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Microsoft Company Meeting 2005

(Updated: reposted with Post-Company Meeting immediate reactions.)

Pre Company Meeting

So I'm getting ready for the Microsoft Company Meeting, ready to get to campus early and jump on a bus and get my morning box lunch, feeling deep sympathy for all the admins who get to SafeCo field sometime after 7:00 am to guard spots for their groups.

Do something nice for your admin this next week. And if you're smart, do something nice for your admin every week.

So in your dream Company Meeting, what would you like to see? Here, I'll share a few:

Dates: I said it once, I'll say it again: I want some dates for all of these innovations stuffing our pipeline. But wait, aren't date-based releases bad? Look, Vista was no longer about being a feature-based release after the Longhorn Reset. If it's not making the date, it's got a "Cut!" fate. Plus, our customer pay us good money to license our software and we need to give them value for actually getting around to shipping something on occasion.

Review System Overhaul: we announce that the "rank and yank" stack rank review system and The Curve is a thing of the past, where it belongs in the industrial era. For 2006, we'll have a new, fair, review and compensation system that is appropriate for a 21st century company that endeavors to hire the best, smartest, "A+" people. (I said endeavors.)

Management Flattening: as part of the reorganization, each of the three new businesses were taking on the mandate to flatten their organizations to reduce bureaucratic middle management and get the decision makers close to the front-line contributors.

Mea-Frickin-Culpa: no, it's not always been this way. No, it's not just that we have a culture of criticism. Yes, something has reached a critical stage where the best of Microsoft is peeling away from the company, some severely disillusioned with what a lumbering, slow beast it has become. All I'd be happy to hear is, "There is something wrong. We know what it is (tell us). We're going to fix it and here is how."

Dissent: No, I have no grand plans of organized dissent. How many dissenters are even out there? Fifty? One-hundred and fifty? A few thousand? Beats me. All I can say is don't clap if you don't want to, throw in a boo or a hiss. If something outrageously false is said, kick in with a "eeeeenk!" wrong buzzer. I guess that's my dream: when all the bogus claims of success and everything being alright is echoed through SafeCo field, the audience goes "eeeeenk!"

Post Company Meeting

One word: Wow!

Short phrase: I think our customers are going to be delighted silly this coming year!


  • Investors realize that we can ship and what we are shipping is well worth investing in Microsoft. It's their way of saying, "More, please!"
  • We never forget that a lot of what we're shipping is a year or even years late and commit to never letting this happen again.

I love Microsoft and I especially love the Company Meeting. I am so thankful that it's back and hopefully will happen again every year. Any vestiges of doubt or ennui get blown away once you actually see what we are on the verge of shipping. My only worry now is that we're shipping so much that some really good stuff is going to die on the vine out of lack of attention.

As for my wishes above: zip. We have Vista's ship-ish date as: before the end of next year. There was a slide showing all the software being shipped this next year, and both Vista and Office 12 were emblazoned with "Beta." Beta than nothing.

There were lots of good words from Lisa and from Steve about adjusting and what to focus on (e.g., finding your own personal mid-year review that you can do without). Good words. Actions, of course, speak louder. However, those good words can be used to your advantage to cleave through useless process and meetings and to focus on the customer and on the code.

The software looks fantastic in my opinion and I was pretty impressed that given how much they showed not much at all went wrong (the main thing that seemed problematic was Steve's clicker to advance the PPT slidedeck). The XBox 360 makes my heart beat fast and my fingers quiver. And I understand it plays games, too.

I'm probably going to stop posting here for a while just so that I can start writing my own gadgets for and look forward to them working with Vista. I'm energized and cautiously optimistic.

And I hope all the folks who do the real work of Microsoft are energized, too, and feel empowered to start managing up and kicking bureaucracy's butt around the building and to focus where we can have the best impact. We don't ship process. We don't get "Ship Its" for process. We ship software products. If whatever you're doing or required to do isn't focused on that, it can go join the old mid-year review on the junk pile. But it's up to you to start heading it towards that junk pile.

(FYI: I'm preparing for some OOF-age so updates here might be on the light-side.)

Your Wishes and Reactions?

What do you hope happens at the Company Meeting? What are your post Company Meeting thoughts?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Comment Overload at Mini-Microsoft

A short, paste-happy content-free prelude to the Company Meeting... first of all, what happened last night reminded me of an offhand comment I had made to Business Week's Jay Greene: "I fear getting Slashdotted." I was concerned about the vitriol level of the comments here exploding into a noisy spectrum. Well, the small Slashdot blurb showed up last night. It could be that things were saved by Google's Blogger having a server problem and the blog just being wonky when not completely offline (perhaps from being Slashdotted - if so, sorry! Nice load experiment, eh?). But then I didn't know how many people prefer to comment within the original Slashdot posting itself. Lesson learned.

In the end, I'm pleasantly surprised at the low number of bothersome comments. And I'm super pleased at the number of new Microsoftie comments. Too many good ones to truly appreciate them all in a short period of time. It will take me a while to read them in depth, let alone pull together any new patterns.

Some recent Business Week posts:

Todd Bishop over at Seattle-PI has the Ballmer Q&A and Ballmer Q&A: Online Extra. Two precious questions that sent my socks flying (after many sock-flights out of my scruffy loafers over the past week):

  1. Q: Microsoft has been criticized for becoming too interdependent and bureaucratic as it has grown larger. Is this a bid to become more nimble and responsive in that way?
  2. Q: Is Microsoft today not agile enough, in your mind?

See, I couldn't have imagined Ballmer or Gates being asked those questions a couple of weeks ago, no matter how much I dreamed about it. The answers still don't satisfy. Here's the thing: how about some follow-ups, like a tough job interview question. Q: Can you give me a recent example of agility in action at Microsoft and how it created a superior software product? And you've got to (channeling Ballmer) drill into it, drill into it, drill into it over the next months as the commitments of these executives are realized to meet one of the main stated goals of this reorg: to be agile and efficient. Start building up the facts to show the proof. Cause... you know, folks aren't going to let this one slip away and fade from memory.

Interesting recent bits from the comments:

This blog really needs to be studied carefully. But not by Microsoft employees or even employees from other companies. Not by management either. It needs to be studied by psychology students so they can see what a serious case of DENIAL looks like. It's pretty clear that you're fully aware that SteveB, BillG, and the other upper execs are way less than competent. And that this reorg is totally pointless. Yet you continue to hope that somehow these morons, these proven failures, will magically fix things and MSFT will be great again.

Well, I guess de-Nile is not just a river. Another:

I worked for Microsoft for 15 years, and left a month ago, because of all the stuff that has been written in this blog - bureaucracy, useless level of management, product integration deadlock and so on. Seeing JimAll leaving and being replaced by a salesman, just reensure me that I did the right thing.

Jim's a polarizing figure. Either folks think he walks on water or that he's a walking disaster. Another 15-year marker:

I worked at Microsoft for well over 15 years; I left because the company was fundamentally not set up to grow people to taking on new levels of responsibility. One of the earlier comments stated that many of MS’s managers are not good business people. The fault, if true, is not with those people, but that Microsoft has not given those people the opportunity to take responsibility for their businesses.

Contemplating the "rank and yank" stack ranking system and how Ballmer indicated we move on 6.5% of Microsofties a year:

I am contiually baffled at the folks who believe that forced ranking is a necessary evil. WHY? Give me one good reason why it's necessary at all. Since when is it impossible to pick out the low performers without a ranking? This is a cop-out by people who are too lazy to set realistic goals by which to compare an employee's performance.


In my 10 years at MSFT, I've seen exactly four employees terminated for performance reasons: Two got caught stealing. One did literally no work for over a year. One got managed into a no-win situation. A great contributor who I later hired into my group.


The 6.5% forced attrition number is total BS. It doesn't happen. I have the same experience as a previous poster - I can count the number of people I've seen fired for performance reasons on one hand.


I'm a manager of a small team I was put in charge of 2 months ago and I "inherited" an utterly useless person. Almost all of the candidates I give no-hire I would rather have than this one, but I have no chance in hell of firing her. Why? Unions, lawsuits, bullshit upon bullshit. She got a 3.0 this year (former manager), a 2.5 last year but former manager had no balls. So now I'm stuck with an employee who is worthless, taking up a headcount and I can only give her a motivating speak in my 1-1s if I don't want her to be downright destructive. My god, if only I could actually speak right out of the bag and fire this dead weight! I may sound tough, but this really pisses me off...

Have a few years of 6.5% reduction of workforce (not backfilled) would be great. Perhaps the reductions are happening outside of Redmond. How about giving us some visibility into our reductions?

Bing! Alright, the fifteen minutes are up. Back to work.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Microsoft: reorg, reshuffle, consolidation?

Thank goodness, I felt like we've at least been thrown a bone. Microsoft certainly needed a reorg - something like a good, vigorous shaking of one of those snow-globes. Now, how it's all going to play remains to be seen. But I hope that as part of the good shaking that some of the cruft breaks off and gets swept out and some of the cream rises to the top.

(Believe me, that's a much better metaphor than the enema one I initially started with late last night based off of the initial reorg disclosures in the comments here.)

And Jim, on your slow, shuffle out, don't let the door knob hit you where the dog should 'ave bit you (loud electric guitar chord with some wow-wow). Jim's continued participation in managing Vista just really doesn't make sense to me but I guess it's some kind of face-saving move vs. a public chewing out based on what happened with OS formerly known as Longhorn.

My only cynical take on this reorg is that it can be used as a Three Card Monty to break the continuity of accountable and hit a reset button to start the clock ticking all over again. Is it just shuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic (or HMS Blackcomb)? It certainly makes me want to shut up and stop typing and just play a wait and see. One comment from last night had a great insight regarding some of the background to the reorg:

And contrary to others on the board - I actually believe that our challenge in leadership is not having too few people who understand technology - in fact I believe we have too many people who have never had to run a business or figure out a P&L or find a new profitable business venture - JimAl? He probably can't even tell if a P&L is upside down! BrianV? I think the world of him in terms of being an engineer, but understanding how to run a business and make money doing it? He's out of his league. KJ, Raikes, Robbie Bach, Orlando, BillG & SteveB are really our only broadly effective business leaders - I believe we need more of these kinds of guys not less. You'll recall, that as much as BillG is technically smart, he is even more "business smart". He invented an entirely new business model (independantly purchased software) and built a huge partner ecosystem to make that model succeed. Steve knows this and that's why we have a new COO from Walmart and why tomorrow's reorg is going to put business leaders running our businesses rather then techies. We need more business savvy people like Bill and Steve, not less.

Regarding Ballmer & Gates' take on the reorg: why does it all have to be forward looking, positive reasons for doing the reorganization? What's wrong with a little bit of backward looking honesty as to why it was best to do a reorganization? Was Windows a mess? Was MBS adrift and in need of a strong Office integration strategy? Were mistakes made? Admit at least there were and are problems and that the reorganization is going to be effective in dealing with those problems and that executive management will be held accountable for making sure that is so.

At a high level, the reorg appears to be musical chairs at our to be very, very well compensated executive level that really don't have a lot of impact on the hard work of designing, implementing, and testing great products. Now's just a fine time for ripping through some of these orgs and unleashing our old-time promoted-up-through-the-ranks Microsofties into our more dubious product groups just to get them back on track or out of here. But right now, I have zero idea how this affects anyone other than those few individuals mentioned in the reorg today. I have hopes, but not much more.

So, I can't look at this reorg too cross-eyed because we've been overdue. It seems subtle, though, and not as sweeping and drastic and as, well, innovative as it could be. But now, wow, you've really got my attention for the Company Meeting this Friday.

I watched the webcast. My first feeling, after it was over, was: You know, if they did something similar to this every other month or so, I don't think I'd feel all that much like posting here. There's a level of disconnect, a gap, between us and leadership that something like the employee webcast helps to close. Some old-timers have been posting comments here and to their own blogs noting all the times they've met with Steve and Bill and how incredibly impressed they are with their smarts and abilities. I'd like to see that more often than to rely on their public facing interviews which seem so disconnected from reality it makes me wonder which company they are working for.

So, at around thirty-nine minutes into the webcast, SteveB talks about the negative press from Business Week and Forbes. Snippets near that:

  • "This is a great company. This is a company, though, that can and does and needs to improve. It's a company that has always needed, could and did improve."
  • "We shouldn't undersell what we have here."
  • "Last week, or last weekend, was not - it wasn't my most fun time of my twenty-five years at Microsoft. But at the same time, what did it say to me? Okay, for the first time in twenty-five years, all of the discussions we've had internally, about how we go be better, now the press wants to kibitz on. That's okay. As long as we do what we do best. We go out, as we keep improving. Just keep improving. Driving harder. And when we look back, a year from now, after this incredible pipeline has come to market [...] we'll be in a very different spot. [...] Do we have a corporate culture problem? No."

BillG's comments were more around the long perspective that we've been underestimated before and Microsoft perseveres and gets back on top. But what's coming to the rescue? The innovative pipeline. Chances to improve what delayed loading up that innovative pipeline and become leaner and efficient? Unknown.

I want to believe.

p.s.: with a small bit of attention (15 minute count-down clock is around 1:17) some offensive and just way off topic comments have tripped my Bozo meter. I will clear those out, over time, just to reduce some of the noise.

Update: blogger seems wonky - trying to publish a second time. Okay, third try a charm?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Microsoft Company Meeting... I'm looking for some dates!

(Whew, I'm worn out and scratched up from a long weekend. As the Mini fifteen-minute clock counts down, the comments are coming in at a much higher rate than usual. Yes, I wish Blogger provided a comments web feed as well. Some of the comments are sprinkled through some of the older posts, too, as folks find something particularly relevant to provide feedback to. If you're just subscribing to the web feed in your RSS reader, you need to actually peek in on the posts to see a lot of the discussion.)

Microsoft's Company Meeting is this Friday at SafeCo Field in Seattle. To some, it's a huge waste of time and money with little benefit. For me, it is a heel-clicking time to re-energize and re-focus on who we are and the great potential we have. I've mentioned that I find the Company Meeting an opportunity to drink the Kool-Aid and submit to the rah-rah brainwashing... and I'm quite sure that there's going to be plenty of opportunity for that.

I printed out Mr. Ballmer's Business Week interview Friday to re-read. By the time I reached the last page, my eyes were swirling hypnotic spirals and, just like that Malkovich plunging into the Malkovich portal scene in Being John Malkovich, the only word I could hear people utter was "innovate." Innovate, innovate innovate innovate innovate. Innovate? In-no-vate?!?

A few good, hard, long shakes of the head back and forth I was back to normal.

I'm sorely disappointed with Ballmer's answers. Not about me - whadjaspect? - but rather that there was a lack of honesty in the answers and a total sense of pure-politician evasiveness and redirection. I guess it usually works. Just answer the freaking simple questions directly! It's like he has three talking points and all he can do is mutex them into some variety that seems like an answer. One commenter refers to Good to Great author Jim Collin's web site, specifically the Confront the Brutal Facts page. I know that Ballmer could do this honest assessment in a series of bullet points admitting that we're late, we're shipping a lot less than we wanted to, and that we've got some big kinks in our process (along with way too much process). Instead he tips the hat to saying Microsofties are highly critical and have high standards.

So right now I'm feeling a bit bummed about the Company Meeting because I think between the recent Ballmer company-wide memo and this interview, I pretty much know the innovative flavor of Kool-Aid we're going to be served. But what would I want? What is one small step that I'd ask for executive leadership to provide this Friday?


Give me dates. Okay, 9/22/05 11/22/05 for the XBox 360... I know that one. VS Whidbey: really, really soon now (I haven't checked my email this weekend, maybe the weight-impaired escrow agent has sung). How about all the flavors of Vista? How about Office 12? Give me dates all around for the big chunks in this pipeline of yours. You commit to them and your VPs commit to them. I want us to announce come-Hell or high-water dates so that the accountability clock can start ticking.

You announce those dates, I will stand up and clap.

So I'm glad that the Company Meeting is coming after the Business Week article and that there has been time for people to react to the BW article and the Forbes article. Those folks who have read them I'm sure will be looking for honest answers and will be squinting with skeptical eyes anything that seems too much like an amazing steam of innovative hype pouring out a huge pipeline of great passion.

What are you looking for going forward from our leadership?

I'll put up a Company Meeting post Friday for folks to share their post-meeting assessments.

Commenting on some of the comments and such... some folks didn't expect much more out of Ballmer. But all I can say is that his hype pipeline is so shallow that it doesn't take that much concentration to see through it. Oy! Any bit of criticism can expect to be met with all the great delayed software we've finally managed to scoop up and ship.

Some folks say, "Hey, it's bad all over, stop your gutless anonymous belly-aching!" Or, something like, "I came from IBM, and Microsoft is a much better place than IBM." That, combined with folks complaining about ex-IBMers fu-bar'ing the place up, reaches an interesting critical mass.

Microsoft is better than just about any other company I can think of. Where we're not, it's because we're sinking down to a mismanaged level vs. some of the excellence we used to imbibe and aspire to. Okay, sure, it's not like we had golden past days where Devs, PMs, and Testers held hands as they skipped around the X-buildings, giving each other shoulder rubs as features were designed, implemented, and tested. But it was / is a great place to create great software to change the world.

We're just way off track given our current entangled path, and I don't want to excuse our suckiness based on how bad it might be at HP or IBM or such. We're not that bad off. Yet. Though we might be on-course to see what that's all about.

Mark Lucovsky, world-class Distinguished Engineer and Flying Chair Hurdler, dropped by for a couple of comments, including a snippet of his "goodbye" note. Nice. A small bit:

After Steve's explosion, I discussed the situation with Sergey, Larry, and Eric asking if they still wanted me to join knowing that the war Microsoft is waging on Google will likely intensify as a result. All agreed that we should proceed and allow me to help Google do whats right for our users.

From the Forbes article, I love this small insight from Ray Ozzie:

"No one seems to feel comfortable in their own skin here. It's weird. They still need to succeed." He observes what Ballmer is too proud to say: "The top executives get the potential Microsoft has. But the next tier of employees doesn't because of the stock price."

You know, I think Mr. Ozzie's hanging around with the executives, not the "next tier" and we can get some insight here of what the executives think of that thar tier. And of themselves.

While we're on execs and looking at the Business Week article, the following has been noted in several comments:

Now a new pay scheme, scheduled to go into effect this fall, threatens to make the gulf even wider. If they meet incentive goals, the 120 or so vice-presidents will receive an eye-popping $1 million in salary a year, and general managers, the next level down, will get $350,000 to $550,000, according to a high-ranking source. But the rest of the staff is paid at market rates.

Cri-min-id-ally! I'd certainly like to know if this is true or not. It's a question going to my VP. Given that the article is hot off the presses, I'd pass it by your VP, too. It's a good question to ask as you're trotting around thinking about all the silly cutbacks we endure while our shareholder's money potentially gets misused in this entitlement. I guess our stock just plain isn't good enough for our leadership anymore.

A really great comment takes time to explain old-school BillG Microsoft vs. new-school SteveB Microsoft for folks who don't have the day-to-day exposure to appreciate the differences. I look forward to reading future postings here. A snippet:

Within the last 5 years, almost every manager I had from PUM (2 levels below VP give-or-take) was hired externally. They were hired from companies that move at the speed of wood like Oracle, IBM, HP, etc. They are professional managers, not engineers with reports. And they think like managers. They have no appreciation for what it takes to engineer software. If you explain to them that filling out CheckPoint or spreadsheets for project tracking on *every piece of code you check in* reduces the productivity of engineers, they don't care. They like to see graphs and press buttons. They don't know anything whatsoever about writing code.

Finally, "hey!" to Gretchen and Scoble. To potential hires looking into Microsoft and getting turned off from this blog... well, you know I'm looking for a smaller Microsoft so I'm not exactly selling sweet MSFT lemonade on the sunny side of the street. However, the insights into Microsoft can just as easily be applied as critical questions to any potential employer. So you learn about our scary busted-ass review model. Ask some deep questions of your other offers and see how they compare. And if you do come to Microsoft, you can hit the ground running and start managing up and setting your expectations with your boss.

And, ah, good luck with that.

Updated: fixed horrible 360 release date mis-type.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Troubling Exits At Microsoft - Business Week

First we had the quick, tasty snack of this week's Forbes article on Microsoft's Midlife Crisis.

Now, a cover-story article extravaganza at Business Week:

Jay Greene rocks!

I've got to say, Mr. Ballmer got thrown some really good, hard questions. What do you think of some of the responses? I felt, reading it, so much Ballmer sunshine was being blown up my skirt that I was going to go nuclear.

So there's PDC and people feeling rightfully proud of what they've accomplished and are preparing to ship. It's a victory of technology up and down the Windows, Office, and MSN spectrum. But a good chunk you've got to realize is Pyrrhic: too many more "successes" like Vista and Microsoft will be undone.

Some other quick things:

  • What is Microsoft overhaul to avoid Windows delays all about? Sounds good to me (but I'm still stuff full of sunshine). I'd love to know more details.
  • Rory: you're too kind. But you gave me the final inspiration of what a good button design we could have made for the Company Meeting coming up next Friday at SafeCo Field: the bottom of a Magic-8 ball as the button itself. The question? Will making Microsoft Lean and Mean Save It? The answer floating in a triangle? AS I SEE IT YES.
  • Regarding this blog: most folks realize that while the postings are fun and all, it's the comments and participation and the related links and ideas elsewhere that make the bulk of Mini-Microsoft. If you're just subscribing to the web feed, you're only getting a small taste. Browse through the pages and read the comments to get the full-Mini experience.
  • That's right, it's September 15th. The bonus has been deposited and you're free and clear to head for the exits...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Forbes - Microsoft's Midlife Crisis

Just a quick post regarding the below Forbes article - it makes for a very good read and is on-target with the issues I've posted about and especially with the comments that folks have added to this blog:

Microsoft's Midlife Crisis by Victoria Murphy.

( )


What has gone wrong? Microsoft, with $40 billion in sales and 60,000 employees, has grown musclebound and bureaucratic. Some current and former employees describe a stultifying world of 14-hour strategy sessions, endless business reviews and a preoccupation with PowerPoint slides; of laborious job evaluations, hundreds of e-mails a day and infighting among divisions so fierce that it hobbles design and delays product releases.

I've been asking some folks what it would take for them to consider coming back to Microsoft, to understand the level of change they are looking for. The two big responses I get:

  1. Get rid of the process-ridden bureaucracy that inhibits our productivity and passion.
  2. Throw out the stack ranking and replace it with something intelligent and fair (e.g., peer reviews or such). No curve.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Three Quick Things - Jobs, Dynamics, Monopolies

One: when I suffered through my first stack ranking experience, I was assigned a mentor to deal with my glowering funk. Strangely, the one bit of advice he provided me out of the blue was: "The best way to get a pay raise is to switch companies." And a year later he called me up, needing to staff up at his new company. Sure enough, everytime I switched to a new company a new big fat wad of cash landed in my account.

I bring this up given that if the job market is heating up so much that recruiters are hiring people to stand outside of Microsoft to hawk their openings, you can bet you can get a much better salary now. It's all about surfing the economy's inflection points. (Hint to recruiters: stand outside any entrances leading to Windows.)

While we're on that, have you left Microsoft during the past year or so? Are you in the process of leaving now? For various reasons, I'd like to hear more about it. Feel free to leave a comment here or drop me a note.

Two: regarding the whole "Dynamics" thing, I think this comment says it best:

I work in MBS. This "Microsoft Dynamics" business is such a joke. The division has such serious problems, beginning with the complete lack of leadership from the executives. Solution: waste a bunch of time and money on rebranding. Great. Nothing solved. Customers more confused than ever. [...] I think the next "logical step in our evolution" is firing the grossly incompetent executives and actually trying to have a strategy to *make money*. Anyone who thinks the MBS executives are not complete idiots needs to ask any MBS person about Doug Burgum's rambling, incoherent speech at the MBS Open House a few weeks ago. This is the guy that's leading us. ... Time to get out of that division while the getting's good.

Still no timeline to bringing in a profit? And still no accountability?

Three: Microsoft Bagholder's latest posting glowers, too. Basically it's concerned that if Ballmer's chair throwing tantrums are true, we're just going down the same path of destroying a competitive company at all costs and setting ourselves up for yet another anti-trust proceeding. I've had more than one conversation about that little chair story (usually accompanied by the soundtrack of foreheads being "D'oh!" slapped). Maybe we'll shoot our foot so well this time that the Feds will really break us up this time.

Maybe that will be the best medicine possible.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Dangerous Transitions + 1 Year = Shipped Already

Another year mark: Joe Beda's been at Google for a year. I think all former Microsofties at Google should probably celebrate their first anniversary by getting a cake with a flying chair blazoned in icing. Or perhaps a chair bouncing harmlessly off of the Google logo... hmm, there's a Google-doodle waiting to happen...

And most importantly for anyone looking to network with former Microsofties, Mr. Beda has the following note:

Oh yeah, and my non-compete and non-solicit contracts with Microsoft have now expired. If you are looking for new challenges feel free to send me a resume.

It is post review season and Labor Day. A double reason to contemplate more deeply if you really love what you're doing and whether a big change would do you good. Either you're going to work for change deep inside Microsoft (which has to be part of an outraged cacophony demanding accountability and cut-backs) or you're just going to free yourself up and see if you can rekindle the passion elsewhere.

Updated: formatting tweaks.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Back to Basics

Why in the world did I start doing this, given that there are so many other fun things to spend life doing?

After a year of posting the occasional note here and going off on various tangents, I want to recenter and refocus on why it's important to me to be so public about Microsoft's current problematic state and to foster some level of transparent discussion about what's going well and what's not going so well for Microsoft. I love Microsoft and I know we have the innate potential to be great again and to backtrack away from this path of mediocrity.

To do this, we're going to have to be a smaller, agile company keenly focused on shipping end-user wow'zing software on-time, shedding ourselves of any groups or leaders who can't deliver.

Upfront request: if you think, within these posts and the comments, there is something worth discussing and sharing, I'm going to ask you to do me a favor: spread the word, spread the discussion.

  • One way would be to click on the little envelope icon for this post (or any post you find interesting) and send it to someone you know that would be interested.
  • Another would be to send your own email with the URL to this blog, , along with what you think.
  • Another would be to plain blog about it, perhaps even discussing your own take on Microsoft's health and its vision for the future.
  • And another would be to print a hardcopy of a particular post and put it up for others to read.

So, what are some top-of-mind concerns and action-items regarding Microsoft today?

Fire the Deadwood

Microsoft is bloated, big, and slow. During the dot-com boom-years, we hired a bunch of clunkers and brought in a lot of questionable talent as part of our even more questionable acquisitions. These folks brought in lower-quality new hires. And you'd better believe that this entitle-focused group of clunkers has their best interest at the center of all their decisions, customer and shareholders be damned. What a sweet job and such an easy system beat!

Sub-par performance and sub-par leadership risks every single product we produce and maintain. We need to focus on getting out the low performers and the dead-wood that just don't belong at Microsoft. Start with a 5% cut in employment all around. And make cuts that make sense for our customers, versus, say, dismantling our premier support across the nation or continuing to foster bad attrition.

Cut Middle Management

Middle management is the fertile ground in which bureaucracy and process and metrics flourish. Middle management isn't all dumb, either. It's going to create work to justify being around and to keep itself busy, and usually this is more meetings, changes and revision and addition to process, and broad initiatives.

Now, I don't mean we need to outright fire everyone in middle management (though that would be just swell). What we need to do is redeploy and reorganize and come up with that old fashion loose hierarchy with very few steps to BillG in the address book where managers have lots of people to manage. At least a 5:1 report to manager ratio, with closer to 10:1 being ideal. The best managers should stay managers and the others be given the chance to drop back to individual contributing. And with a large cut in middle management, a lot of useless, time-consuming process would vanish. Win and win.

Hold Leadership Accountable

If you can't ship a fantastic software product on-time in this day and age of the 21st century, you really need to be fired. Sure, the old IBM 360 mainframe operating system was a bear when this structured programming thing was oh so trendy. But Microsoft at this point is pretty much the planet's accumulation of what it really takes to ship successful software. As of late, we've been accumulating a lot of dung.

If you make a bad decision that trips up shipping key products on schedule it should be recognized as horrible failure. SteveB should throw your chair across the room and out the window - with you sitting in it. Chased with a good stream of swear words for you to listen to on your way down. "F------ slipping p----!" That's the leadership accountability I want to see!

Instead, we're doing a fantastic job accumulating deep knowledge in what it takes to screw up software development and rewarding that as how we do business. Whatcha gonna do? Software's hard! Our future leaders, doing all the hard front-line work today, can put $2 and $2 together and see that executives get rewarded for pursuing big risks and complex integrated initiatives but not actually having to deliver the best products on-time (let alone commit to making profits for the groups in the red).

Speak Up and Act

Where's the outrage? You see it sprinkled here and there in some blogs and in the comments here. You definitely hear it with the muttered voices at lunch. But where's the focused, productive outrage at the amazing downslide of Microsoft over the past five-some years into a passionless, process-ridden lumbering idiot?

Where's the employee outrage of seeing leadership that fumbles the ball constantly but is never held accountable? Where's the shareholder outrage at Microsoft's flat share price? Is everyone content and happy? If you can express outrage over political fumbles, you can absolutely express outrage over leadership fumbles.

Next-to-Finally: why be anonymous? Bock, bock? Why not sign my little ol' name to stand by my words? The main reason is I feel (believe it or not) I have something coherent and important to say here. I believe that many Microsofties share similar concerns and have lots comments to contribute. If my posts were wrapped up in who I was and what product I worked on and what kind of bike I rode, well, that message would get lost within some level of dismissive bias. I'm sure you've seen this, if you read enough blogs (especially the arrows constantly fired at Scoble).

I feel, at this time, that posting these ideas and furthering the discussion is a lot more important than the name and the oh-so-handsome-picture gracing my scratched-up blue badge.

Finally: what's on the top of your mind for Microsoft? What are the problems you'd like our leadership to publicly acknowledge and then visibly work to address and change?