Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Extreme Results

Folks read MSFT Extreme Makeover, right?

Website: http://msftextrememakeover.blogspot.com/

Feeds: http://msftextrememakeover.blogspot.com/atom.xml and http://msftextrememakeover.blogspot.com/rss.xml (it's still the old Google Blogger so you're not date vexed if you read your RSS feeds in Outlook 2007).

Latest post: well worth a read (long like Sinofsky, not near as dense): MSFTextrememakeover For want of a shoe, or time for a new rider.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mini, a Devil, and Fine Whine

'So,' I wondered to myself, trying to get comfortable after a couple of weekends of digging and planting and valiant blackberry fighting, 'what kind of headlines do we have in Mini world?'

(1) Ballmer calls Google's growth plans 'insane' :

"They are trying to double in a year," Ballmer told a crowd of Stanford Graduate School of Business students on Thursday. "That's insane in my opinion."

(2) A comment on the Microsoft TCN award event in San Francisco:

In case people didn’t realize, the Microsoft award weekend event this past weekend in San Francisco was a big huge L68+ Partner boondoggle - 2nd annual boondoggle - for the Partners and their spouses to network and enjoy extravagance after extravagance, all expenses paid.

And give out some achievement awards and invite the nominees and their spouses to enjoy the extravagance, too (just, shh!, don't tell anyone else - seriously!).

Once upon a time, we invested money in making the employees happy as part of sharing "Hey, we appreciate you and the hard work you do. Let's party!." We had great entertainment at the Company Meeting, for instance. Now we supply the entertainment ourselves with employees up on stage singing to us. Great. Yes, let's save all that money for the Partners so that they can go to the Fairmont and enjoy Penn & Teller and meet George Lucas.

Sure. We'll eat cake.

(3) A multi-studded comment including this bit on the Career Compass tool:

Career Compass:

HR hates it as much as the rest of the company, they just don't want to piss of their fearless (and ex-developer) leader. Its true purpose is to provide documentation for use when employees start suing for being terminated or held back due to discrimination, and to provide ammo for the "why you will never reach Partner level" discussions that are going on all across the Collective.

About then, there was a little *pop* on my left shoulder and there stood my personal little editing Devil. "Oh, baby," he chuckled, bending down and rubbing his hands together, leaning in closer, "sometimes this stuff just writes itself!"

"Shouldn't you be out with Master Shake and Meatwad?" I asked. He jumped down and zoomed up to full size.

"You know I don't like those Frylock jokes. Hey, here's something else. Do you have one of the freebies - Seattle Weekly or The Stranger, or the Sunday paper?"

"Yeah, yeah," I started shuffling through the newspapers. He said to look for page twenty-seven or eleven and to read the groovy Microsoft Maps ad to him. "Here we go: '6 o'clock drinks. 6 miles from work. 6 doors down from that hammering statue thingy. one search.' Oh, I get it, six-six-six."

"They're not even making it hard. And you'd think someone in the paper's advertising department would say, 'Gee Microsoft, uh, you sure you want an ad with those three sixes lining up?' Ho-lee-crap! Anyway, I'm going to run downstairs and get a bottle of Col Solare. We're going to enjoy this post!"

Well, let's see. Mary Jo Foley already covered the Ballmer comment pretty well, though I was going to say something like Ballmer shouldn't be throwing black chairs around his overly crowded glass house. It's become exceptionally tough to recruit exceptional talent once Google gets in the picture. I know of more than one recent offer that the recruit initially accepted and then dropped once their Google ship sailed in.

As for the big award event - which in no means, according to leadership, was a L68+ Partner event (bull) - I really don't want to beat that poor dead horse again. First of all, I know some exceptional Partners. I might be an out-of-the-box thinker, but they think and deliver in an extra dimension compared to me and have obviously worked hard and had success to reach a Partner level. I'll have to have at least five more years of varied and harrowing adventures inside of Microsoft before I feel like I can have an honest conversation about being on the bench and being considered at that level. And it will probably really, really suck to be a Partner by then.

As for Career Compass: now here, we have a problem. And by problem, I do not mean something that can be solved by adding another process or tool to solve it. The Commitments Tool combined with the Career Compass is a cluster-f multiplied by a train wreck. Somewhere, some excellent folks got together and came up with a theory regarding how all the careers at Microsoft could be boxed up and measured with very specific calipers. And then they made a database and a tool on-top of it. And in the midst of Microsoft desperately needing to be efficient and agile day-to-day, we pooped out this time-sucking, burdensome, poorly aligned process and tool that messages people that they need to dedicate a huge chunk of time to managing their careers and laying down a database stream of just how limited they might be. All while the competitions, unencumbered by such inspired dreck, passes us by.

Yes, now we all have our own personal bureaucratic system to manage.

"I'm back!" Ooo! Clinking glasses and the nice *pongk* of a bottle of wine being opened. "Allow me to pour. Okaaay, let's see what we've got so far-r-r-r-r-what the hell? I like the Career Compass bit but come-on, Ballmer pissed at Google for reckless hiring and the Partners and their spouses traveling to San Francisco for their second big social event? With the guests and the luxurious accommodations and fantastic awards that's probably nearly 1,800 people for two-thousand a head! That's easily over three-and-a-half million dollars! Take them towels and shove it! No, no, write that down: 'Take them towels and shove it!' Don't you take a sip until you do!"

Tempting. I'd do just about anything for a nice full glass of Col Solare. But then. "This is rabble rousing. And it's a bit of whining. I don't disagree that the Partners have fallen when it comes to fiscal leadership. The stock is flat and their rewards are not in sync with shareholder value. Their rewards should be transparently tied to the measurable results they are responsible for delivering. But to ding them for a party, well... hey, did you read Anthony B. Robinson's column Saturday in the Seattle P-I?"

"The, ah, spiritual columnist?" Sip. "No, doggone it, I somehow missed that."

"So it was titled The unfortunate age of entitlement in America and it's worth a read. And it got me thinking. First of all, since the Microsoft stock sucks and pay-raises and bonuses are the only way to get rewarded in a meaningful fashion, people have decided that they are going to focus their career on being a Microsoft level 68-plus Partner so that they can get what they deserve. The thing is, what, one-percent of the employee base is level 68-plus?"

"Well," he pursed his lips and thought, "more than one percent. So far."

"And people haven't figured out that they are not going to be Partner. Or maybe they have. And they are pissed about not getting compensated well enough. Now conventional thinking is that I never can be compensated well enough and that I deserve so much more for just being me. And to see people in the company enjoying the good life is a personal affront to me."

"So...?" My Devil shrugged.

"So I don't feel like fanning the flames over a party. It was a wasteful indulgence but it's not a defining problem. The problem is that there's a growing gap between those below level 65 and those above level 68. And very little being done to bridge that gap. Stuff like the Town Hall meetings help a lot. Where there is true exchange of what we're doing and why, there's understanding and the banishment of speculative grousing and whining. I think every Partner should have a blog where they post every couple of weeks regarding decisions that they've driven and the reasoning behind it. It would help explain why they do what they do and help everyone else understand and raise their level of enlightenment."

"Hmm, they could make a... process out of that blogging!"

"Funny." I was thinking about adding a Borat accented "NOT!" when my Devil continued:

"The thing I want to know is - and feel free to enjoy your glass, I was just funning with you - so why be so secretive about it? And why defend it saying 'Hey, whoa now, this wasn't a Partner event at all, it was a celebration of technical achievers... just you know, celebrated exclusively with the Partners and their spouses in a luxurious location in an out-of-state city.' Fiscal responsibility my butt! To be truthful, the memo should be rewritten: 'Weenies For You, Shrimp For Me.' And all of this is happening in the middle of what should be the redefinition of Microsoft as a company. It's shameful. And it shows the leadership at the top do not realize that appearances matter. It's a big 'screw you' message."

I enjoyed my sip and looked out the window at the newly planted shrubs. My Devil asked, "What's your little first rule of being an effective manager?"

"If the team has to suck-it up and eat a shit-sandwich to get the job done, I take the first and biggest bite."

"Not very tasteful, but it gets the point across. And do you see leadership taking that bite?"

"No. But whining about it accomplishes what? If I don't like it, I either accept it as the way it is and push up my concerns within the political corporate system or I move on to another company. Hell, I'm like a lot of people with Google executive recruiting and head hunters checking in with my non-Mini self to see, quote-unquote how things are going at Microsoft and if I'm interested in talking. I'm here because I want to be here. Complaining about every offense that comes my way means that I've made the wrong decision in staying. And that I should move on to where I'm not bothered with such silly messes."

"Well," my Devil says, finishing his glass and placing the bottle on my end table, "there's one more step in that direction. Let's wrap this up."

*Poof* Dang, he disappeared before I had a chance to mention the Microsoft Channel 9 article in Wired 15.04 and if, given that Microsoft had a dossier on Fred Vogelstein, my Devil could track down any dossier on me. Ah, well. Next time.

What else? The last post certainly had a number of interesting conversations going on in the comments, ranging from Microsoft Research's place in the company (worthy of its own post), the business of Xbox, and a lawn-mower selling experiment. Hey, I hope Mr. Barr sells it. I'm just not that sure that the comments are an effective Microsoftie watering hole, but, ooo!, there's news with respect to comments! You now have a comment feed per post! I'm sure there's some Blogger gadget I could put in here to make it obvious, but for now you're going to have to use your RSS feed auto-detection mechanism when you visit the individual blog-post web page and subscribe to what should be the third item to get the comment feed.

Some other items from that multi-studded comment above:

A few more tidbits from deep within the management ranks of the company:

Exec reorg: Stay tuned, there's lots more to come. The Blake Irving-Alex Payne-Satya Nadella three-step is just the opening moves in a very extensive executive dance. Look for several more big names (i.e., ones that Mary Jo loves to toss around at parties) to either decide to spend more time with their families, or move to roles for which they are as equally unfit for as their current ones.


HR: There's lots of dissatisfaction within the HR world, and lots of personell changes happening there, as well. Note that most of the recent mangement hires within HR have been from the outside. That tells you something about their reputation within the company.

Mini and InsideMS: Management is even more pissed about the fact that this blog continues to thrive than they ever have been. It's beyond the level of chair throwing, and well into the foaming-at-the-mouth stage. Lisa's blog is a disaster, and she is trying to get permission to kill it. Anonymity has been removed (never really was there), and Partners are being notified about inflammatory posts from their employees. Also, it's sad to see Dawn-Marie leave.

Exec Re-org: it's always better to do big changes quickly and together versus having an ongoing stream of randomizing changes that induce anxiety over what the next change might be and starts stalling out important initiatives.

As for this blog and InsideMS: well, this blog and its conversation changed pretty dramatically when InsideMS came on the internal Microsoftie scene and there's no denying that. And it provided me an opportunity to change the direction of this blog, which I don't think I've been effective in doing. Yet. I was trying my best to hit the big pause button here anyway and await my Mini 2.0 muse. To tell you the truth, reading the comments on the InsideMS blog also depressed the hell out of me and it was a little mirror of some-kind of justice held up to me to see another's point-of-view of what's been happening here.

My suggestion would be to shelve InsideMS ("Jealous much?"), Career Compass, and the Commitments Tool and... do what? (1) Replace InsideMS with a leadership blog where L68+ Partners / VPs communicate with the company what recent decisions they've made and the reasoning there (and, call me a hypocrite, but no anonymous comments), and (2) determine that high-maintenance, process-focused, bureaucratic management of your career is not efficient, agile, or effective and go back to the (a) What went well, (b) What could have gone better, and (c) What is your future plans for growth review form.

I have come to deeply appreciate the flexibility of a simple, mostly blank and wide-open Word review form.

Of course, this would involve admitting mistakes. Somehow, that is the anti-matter to everyday business at Microsoft.

P.S.: fill out your MS Poll form! And use the comments to provide frank, brief feedback regarding what's going well and how things could be better.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Stirring the Microsoft Comment Pot on a Rainy Weekend

I'm quite impressed with the incoming amount of comments. This week, I'm just stirring the pot here - I'm slammed busy at Microsoft and my free time is consumed by developing a strategy to blow the remains of my fun money with an expedition to Molbaks (because you must have a plan before entering Molbaks, lest you succumb to vertigo given all the abundance).

They Done Gone and Published a Whitepaper About It: the commitments tool gets a write-up as a showcase piece here: Facilitating Effective Employee Reviews at Microsoft. It might just be jumping the gun to slap the word "effective" in there. I suppose we can expect a write-up on the other tool, Career Compass, Real Soon Now. If I wanted to go for the cheap laughs I could whip up something ripping into the Career Compass tool. While I've been turned off by the initial heavy investment of time (not only as an employee but also as a frazzled manager), I hold some hope in my heart that the payoff is out there and that it doesn't become a time-sink like it is now.

Some reactions to the new HR tools below. I'd also like to read positive impressions of the tools. No, really. In the meantime:

(1) It IS NOT HR's job to have me waste time that I should be spending working with customers, improving my skills on our new technologies, or maybe trying some of that 'life' part of work-life balance going through the BS that is Career Compass and then not getting any "how you're doing so far" feedback on my mid-year.

(2) Career Compass - Christ, what a nightmare that thing is. Tons of busy work, and nothing that I think will ever make a difference in my career. But on the plus side, it did force me to look at how long I've been in my various roles, which helps me get started on my resume. [Mini: same here.]

(3) (What is the rest of the world going to think when they see how complicated the MSFT review process is. It's ironic that we're actually proud of such a monstrosity.)

This is clearly proof that the devil finds work for idle hands.

(4) It wasn't enough for HR to screw around w/the review process and form every review period to justify their existance. No! They had to come up w/CSPs, Career Compas and force us to use crappy Infopath. [...] This is surely a sign that HR has too many people and too much of a budget.

Office 14: Not-so-great / Great! Looking towards the next version of Office, we have some back and forth:

(1) [...] I am at a loss regarding what in the world it is we're going to be selling that is actually interesting to an end user. I ask people what they are excited about on their team and, by the look on their face, you would think they had just caught me with my hand in their pocket. Everyone is just shuffling along, spec'ing or developing or testing whatever boring thing comes their way.

(2) I work in Office too and have a different experience. Most of the teams I work with (Word, Excel, Visio, Proj, Server teams) are well into feature-speccing and prototyping already. Some teams (you probably know which ones...) even have shorter term deliverables. I can guess that some teams (for e.g. the one where everyone left after 2007) are still in a state of limbo and are trying to figure out what to do for 14. I interact with Windows on a frequent basis and I think things are significantly worse there, though.

(3) I work in Office and I've just about had it. I've looked over our O14 planning documents and tried hard to convince myself that the product will be worth 2 more years of my life. But it isn't going to happen.

Office is has a unhealthy combo of bureaucracy and senility. There are more than a few people here who are just hiding behind process to mask their own incompetence. There are even more people here who are just collecting a paycheck while newhires shoulder their work load. I've gone through a few years of this now and I'm done.

Looking For Career Love: the last Office comment above ends with the question:

So my question is this: Office is dying. Where in MS can we start living again?


Random side-question: Which groups do people think are *awesome*? and which ones should be avoided? why so?

Are you in an awesome group? Tell us about it. Awesome-ness should be rewarded by lots of people pounding on the door to get in. Remember that the new intent-to-interview policy prevents you from being locked into your job or your product release cycle. If your last interview loop to get into your current position is over eighteen months ago, you're free to pound on the door on some awesome group and prove you're awesome-worthy, too, and move on up.

Well, unless your VP is going to step up and officially stop your transfer. Has that even happened to anyone?

One Little, Two Little, Three Little... VPs? First Blake Irving, then Christopher Payne and Dan Ling. Those shoes dropping lead to all sorts of speculation. You'd hope that if this is mass-house cleaning that the clean-out happens in a fell-swoop vs. being a slow duration that leads to Street anxiety. Of course, if it is house cleaning, we'll never know because we're too dysfunctional to actually admit to moving on a leader for failure to lead:

One comment has this take on Blake:

Blake is leaving because he can't stand Sinofsky, he doesn't want to follow Sinofsky's organizational principles and strategy and has simply lost the fight. Sinofsky is way too influential even for mighty Blake.

The fun part is gonna be watching the domino effect as Blake's MSN boys club gets dismantled for good. That division is doomed. By the time the long due cleanup is finished, the train to compete will be long gone.

Other call-outs: Very nice entropic organizational Brownian motion closer on this comment regarding three big things wrong with Microsoft:

Without a mission, it’s impossible to create a technical or marketing strategy. Without a mission/ideology, Microsoft will continue to be killed by internal entropy and organizational Brownian motion. However, a salesman cannot create a great mission statement, and his peer product person does not seem to be capable either (see above).

BizDog leaves behind a very nice long comment worth taking time to read in full. A snippet from near the end:

Our core problem as one of my friends put it is many of our products work better together than our people do. Fixing that is a cultural thing and all the HR tools, comp packages and other rantings won't fix this. Leadership will, but we are devoid of that at the moment.

MSFTextrememakeover I've fallen and I can't get up - Chart goodness. Or, well, badness. There's charts.

And one last comment to rain on your financial future:

Meanwhile, April is approaching and a lot of options will expires worthless.

Updated: s/bad gerund/proper past tense/.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

There's Ray! Plus: Plenty of Room For More Brains at Microsoft.

Hey, There's Ray! Commentary on Ray Ozzie's recent Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium appearance (transcript, webcast) :

Overall, the reaction seems to be: "Meh." For whatever reason, I feel there's an increasing expectation for Ray to walk onto the stage with a TabletPC cradled in each arm blazing innovative thoughts for the future that leave the audience agog. Now everyone is looking towards Mix07 for the "Wow" because this last presentation came up short.

I hope that we manage to make this a wave of shipped innovation with a squad of technical leaders - not just Mr. Ozzie - delivering connected service after service that both acknowledge the need for an open, non-insular connected existence and that heavily leverages the power of a rich-client environment running under Windows. Right now, one shinning example of this to me is Windows Live Writer. I love that little bugger. And it's not just tightly coupled with Spaces but rather plays well with others.

Where's Blake? There goes Blake Irving, another Corporate VP:

Ouch! Snap! Some recent Vista / Office 2007 unluvin':

(1) SpendMatters Vista, Office and Outlook 2007 are a Nightmare: specifically, the same problems I've having as well with Outlook 2007 being mega slow:

The problem -- which is absolutely inexcusable -- is that Office 2007 (Outlook, specifically) crawls, even on this superfast machine. The hard-drive is also constantly in motion, slowing things down even more. I'm not alone in these observations. You can read other Office 2007 horror stories here and here. Despite a small .PST file -- I reduced mine from close to a gig to less than 150 MB -- my Intel Centrino Duo-driven notebook chugs along like a 386 trying to run an application originally written for a mainframe system. Even such tasks as composing a simple email are delayed by a few seconds before my typed words ultimately appear on the screen (and send / receives and related activities take an eternity).

(2) Windows Vista I’m Breaking up with You ~ Chris Pirillo - Movie Maker crashes, LifeCam no-workie, no device drivers, software incompatibilities, and more and more woes. Best quote: "The Whoa starts now."

What I tell everyone: just buy a new machine to run Vista on. Unless you're a fan of flagellation (and relieving the sting of via blogging), don't upgrade an old machine that's collected precious application cargo and devices. Goodness forbid you have an unsupported Creative sound-card, for instance. Mr. Pirillo got a load of comments on this one and follows up with Where Windows Pundits Went Wrong and Switching from XP to Vista to XP to… (where he affirms the cool things that Microsoft makes. Just not Vista.).

Post Stack-Ranked Future First Step: something that I think would be a significant first step from unhealthy peer vs. peer performance ranking: Team Compensation for Performance. I was talking with a friend who used to work at big hardware manufacturer. He said their main bonus budget and dispersion was directly attached to the goals their team's leadership put together to deliver for the upcoming year and how well they did on those goals. Regular updates through the quarter were shared with the employees. The goals were S.M.A.R.T. and aggressive and directly tied to business results.

The better the whole team performed on delivering those results, the better all of their bonus was. Stock and raises were used for distinguishing individual performance.

Brains! Now I'm really scared. First I was pissed-off and horrified at how much and how quickly Microsoft's number of employees grew for no obvious business need. Now, hearing about the contents in the latest InsideMS post by Chris Owens, we're not only expanding our building construction and acquisition in the Redmond area quickly to deal with the stuffed-sardine situation most groups have but we're also... hold on, I've got to steady myself... we're also planning to accommodate another... deep breath... 10,000 to 12,000 Redmond-area hires.

(Insert your favorite sound effect of my head exploding.)


Is your group lacking talent to execute? What have we done to rebalance and recruit internally? We're already staggering to operate effectively with our current mass of employees, how in the world do we expect to be effective with even more? And if Redmond grows by 12,000 people, how much of that will be matched with global hiring?

And Redmond certainly doesn't need another 12,000 Microsoft drivers bumper-to-bumpering the local streets.

Let's take a hiring breather first and do some quality internal recruiting. I would then usually insert a pithy, "...and then you know, fire a bunch of underperformers" remark here, but right now I'm singularly interested in holding the line.

Comment round-up: some comments that caught my eye over the past week:

(1) Been a few places since I left MS. Landed at a startup with a whole lot of older former MS folks. They're all good, know what they're doing, and have lots of experience. Makes it a real fun place to work. Keep whacking the Kim's over there - they make great hires.

(2) Dr. Seuss meets Mini-Microsoft commenters (the beginning - navigate for the rest):

Oh the places you'll go! Oh the things that you'll do! You'll work your ass off To be ranked Limited II! You'll listen to morons Who know not what they do! [...]

(3) Manager feedback is closed, but something to think about regarding honest feedback: Right now, my career in this divison is basically over - I'm given conflicting feedback on career progress and progress against commitments. I'm at a level where the jobs are few and far in between so I'm just laying low and waiting for something else come along because I need the paycheck.

(4) Regarding Career Compass and HR career management fatigue: I almost wish there was a checkbox on the benefits website where I could opt-out of receiving stock options & bonuses as long as I didn't have to waste time with reviews and whatever other ridiculous paperwork HR forces on software engineers each year.

(5) Some folks are receiving an HR survey about the compensation system. One comment on that from someone filling out the survey: I came out very well last review but to put it bluntly, I had to manage up, manipulate, etc to get my reward. I delivered great results (E) but this is Microsoft, everybody delivers results. How do you stand out? So I did what I had to do and I know it came at the expense of other Es - I know this for a fact

I wish I did not have to do this and since I was able to manipulate the process, the process is flawed.

I could keep quiet about this and say the process works but I do want to make this place better. Somedays I don't think it will never get better but hope springs eternal.

I was very honest in that survey and the results on the 1st page was UGLY for us as a company.