I showed up on campus Monday to find most flat surfaces at eye level adorned with neon stickies:
REMINDER: Windows Vista & 2007 Office System Launch Today - Jan. 29! 1:30 pm.
Saying that our corporate nightmare is over is over-the-top, but having Vista (oh, and Office 2007) out there and shipping and for sale finally makes RTM real. The Microsoft launch event was fine, though everyone in Cafe 34 was gasping in pain as it appeared that the Uno Live demo was falling apart, only to have it re-appear working. Head shaking and groans turned into relatively shocked cheers. It was one of those fractal-emotional moments that probably summed the ride over five years.
I liked the "Wow" commercial, and I hope we have more tangible advertising. Personally, I'd love a DVD inserted in the big monthly magazines with slick content showing how Vista and Office works and lots of raw content to play with.
Also with this past week, two departures: Jim Allchin and Bryan Lee. Seeing some of Mr. Allchin's internal emails I can only say I certainly haven't, in comparison, pushed the envelope here with criticism of Microsoft vision and strategy; too bad he wasn't, ah, in a position to effect change when it was needed. Mr. Lee has been griped about in the comments here before and it looks like someone is, via graceful career aikido, tapping a piece of paper on his back with "Hi! I'm responsible for Zune!" as he slips out the backdoor.
I was recently talking with a fine individual on the Mini-Phone and the flow of conversation turned to reflecting on the changes at Microsoft since summer of 2004. The changes I note that happened:
- Open discussion and criticism about bumbling bureaucracy which has led to flattening in some of our major organizations (and certain managers either moving on or transitioning back to individual contributor duties) along with adoption of agility and efficiency.
- New leadership for Windows (Sinofsky, DeVaan) coming from an organization relatively well known for making sure the trains run on time.
- Hard questions being asked in public of upper leadership and that same leadership recognizing that Vista development didn't go well and swearing never to do that again.
- A revised review cycle meant to do away with a harsh curve-based quota system. Well. Sorta.
- Bread and circuses around towels and dry cleaning.
- Increased transparency - far from complete - on the inside of Microsoft.
- Continued support for employee transparency via blogging, videos, and other direct engagement. I don't know of any other company Microsoft's size and influence that has put so much trust and support behind its employees to talk directly to the world, and doesn't freak out and bring down the banhammer for the occasional bit of schmuts in the eye.
- HR leadership engaged with the employees and the employees discovering / rediscovering their internal voice to challenge the way things are and work together on solutions.
- Some refocus on the consumer market with the Live moniker.
- A mostly new IE team that came together and re-invigorated our essential web browser and platform to make IE7 stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the competition... if not on some wobbly, repentant knees (hey, we didn't start the fire).
- The stock has cracked $30 and stayed above that mark.
- We've ballooned in employee size by nearly 15,000 people - 25%! - beyond reason and beyond need.
- Oops! I guess Wall Street really doesn't like being surprised about a billion here and there. Hello!
- It has become clear that Microsoft is a two-tiered company with-respect-to compensation, with the Partner L68+ ranks of the company raking in rewards under dubious goals, especially in the midst of long-term depressed stock performance.
- Our internal review and career management continues needing a serious beating from the common-sense stick.
So what are the big levers left to pull to help ensure that Microsoft in on a good course and stays on a good course? I kind of felt like enough-was-enough before and slipped into a sustaining mode here. And other than discussing Limited II things have been quiet. Right now, things that I personally keep an eye out for:
- Hiring: stop it. Just please stop it. Unless it's an A+ super-hire, walk away and refocus all hiring energy into internal hiring and redistribution of people inside of Microsoft.
- Internal job moves: this process has to be as easy as me deciding I want to work in a group that's personally interesting to me, talking to the the right people, doing whatever interviewing they need, and then I start my new job over there. Their budget goes up to accommodate my overhead. Yes, all of this is "me me me" based, neither permission nor stated intention based. I have a new position before I even involve my old group to say goodbye. There is too much drama and stress and bridge burning around internal job moves, and this results in unhappy people being mis-aligned with what they want to be doing. This is not good for business and long term, strategic growth.
- Research: I've come to recognize that MSR is actually doing some things that I'm really interested in seeing in our customers' hands (or, more specifically, my hands). Is this as effective as it could be? Where's the leadership and ownership to ensure the deep investment we have in our researchers is translated into exceptional returns in what we deliver?
I'm still not sure if that's enough, though, for generating interesting posts and discussions in the meantime. What big levers do you believe still need a good pulling for Microsoft to get on the path of a lean, mean, efficient customer pleasing profit making machine? And, you know, not so much the messes and the stains but the positive changes that not only solve problems but create new opportunities.
Oh, and one last thing: let's touch on risk averse, unhappy people just suffering through their Microsoft J.O.B.
Not happy doing what you're doing? Full of criticism of how Microsoft could be a better place for little ole you? Risk averse to looking for a new position in Microsoft or outside of Microsoft, perhaps knowing this is as good as it gets for you? Within a dispassionate environment pulling down a direct deposit and satisfied that's the way it's going to be?
Well, you're my original core demographic group.
The group that I want fired and moved on and out of Microsoft.
I'm willing to bet a dinner for two at The Herbfarm that Microsoft would produce better results slimmed back to a size of 35,000 well-positioned passionate people than 70,000+ with marginal interest and alignment to what they want to be doing. And even if we do have 35,000 passionate people embedded now, they spend their days encumbered with the grind of a huge, unfocused machine. We end up with feature strategies splattered about like a Jackson Pollock. I want the abundance of mediocre resources that produce mediocre results replaced with a restricted set of high quality, happy, motivated, well compensated people producing out-standing results given the focus required to use what we have most effectively. We'd be at measure-twice and cut-once vs. let 'er rip and ship!
Maybe there's another way there. I'd like to know it. But right now, I still believe the biggest challenge left to our long-term success - post Vista - is dealing with our burden of too many employees. It's time to start spinning off and spinning down large groups in Microsoft to what's reasonable.
Updated: typos fixed. Thanks! Updated again: fixed another typo. I had it right in my mind, but somewhere between my mind and the game on the TV it got dropped. Lesson to self. Updated... sigh. Time to go to the blackboard and write out I won't type while watching the game... a few dozen times.