Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Microsoft Layoff 2009 Completes Last Milestone and Ships!

With today's 800 Microsoft layoffs, Microsoft Layoff 2009 has reached its final milestone and shipped, exceeded expectations of 5,000 with 5,800 reduced positions.

Err... yay?

Last week during the Town Hall Mr. Ballmer confirmed there would be one more iteration on the layoffs. And after that? Who knows. More to come? Maybe. Booga booga!

You know, we have people working for Microsoft (or, at least did, I don't know, maybe no longer) responsible for driving executive leadership education and growth at Microsoft. This is their friggin' job. Develop Microsoft Leadership at the executive and L68+ levels. So, has anyone hemmed and hawed in-front of Mr. Ballmer and mentioned that this nickel and diming layoff approach is at the worst case end of the layoff management scale?

The looming threat of continuing RIFs and layoffs indicates that Microsoft is just too big for its leadership. It is beyond their capabilities to wrap their minds around everything Microsoft is doing. It has gotten away from them. What needs to go? Hell, I don't know even what all these people do, and you want to decide who stays and goes?


Cut deep. Cut once. Get on with it and say, "We're done. We have aligned our company to be efficient and effective within this new global economic climate and are ready to focus on returning to profits and market share growth."


Coverage I've noticed today on the outside:

On Don Dodge:

And, bummers for me given that she interviewed me for Microspotting, Ms. Ariel Stallings tweet about being caught up in this layoff round.

Coverage from the inside? No email. Quiet. Quite dysfunctional. There was something linked off of the MSW site and it also had a FAQ document that had to be one of the worse FAQs I've ever read. There is an "A" portion to an FAQ and in this case some of the questions were great but the answers looked like they were generated from some sort of English obfuscation Perl script 3rd place prize winner.

So, I'm going through about sixty comments now on the older post. I think it was necessary for Microsoft to have layoffs due to the mismanaged growth and lack of focus and direction our Senior Leadership Team has given us. But it should have been twice as much, done all at once. Now we dither.

Were you affected by the layoff or know someone who was? I'd be interested in knowing which groups and organizations are affected.

-- Comments

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Windows 7 and a Grab Bag of Microsoftness Before FY10Q1 Results

October 22nd 2009. Windows 7. The circle is now complete.

What is Windows 7? There's a lot that Windows 7 is (oh, it's faster, it has an improved task bar, peeking, snapping, homegroupin', stable drivers and some pretty freaky desktop pictures) but the big thing that it isn't is that Windows 7 is not Vista. It didn't suffer Vista's raging dysfunctional mismanagement and broken windows. It didn't require a reset. Sure, it wasn't perfect and there's a lot of improvements yet to be made in focus and team productivity, but the Windows team delivered. So toot that damn horn, because this here train is arriving on time.

With FY10Q1 announcements coming this week and along with Windows 7, I hope we have a lot of good things to talk about with the analysts. Google and Apple and Yahoo! certainly did. Usually we release our quarterly earnings on the appropriate Thursday afternoon, after closing. It is unfortunately disturbing that we've decided to release our FY10Q1 earning results instead on this Friday morning before trading. I say disturbing only because the last time we did this, a whole bunch of Microsofties were pulled into a layoff. Now... hopefully this earnings report is delayed so that we can have this Thursday the 22nd be all about Windows 7 and not our financials. And I can not imagine that we (and by "we" I mean the Microsoft Senior Leadership Team) would be so dumb as to release our flagship product on a Thursday and turn around and fire a bunch of people the next day.

So, anyway, what's in the mix as the financials come up this week?

Windows 7: check. Thank goodness for SteveSi. I certainly hope he gets paid a lot more than Robbie Bach this year.

Within the Windows 7 reviews, there's going to be a point-of-view that the operating system is dead, which is, ah, kinda dumb. Your web browser isn't going to bootstrap that Intel CPU on its own. What might be dead is rich applications, which is a fair argument and Microsoft is failing to provide much in the way of new rich applications. In fact, we are cutting them one by one (Money, Encarta... Streets, you best watch your back). Sure, there's a transformation to online replicated services and all, but we really need to convince our consumers that there is a strong worth in having a Windows 7 on your laptop so that it's not a fancy glowy brick when the internet is down.

Kindle? Wouldn't it be sweet if we had a nice ebook reader application? We could call it... mmm, Reader?

Windows Live is supposed to help with building value via rich applications. Live has been broken out of Windows to free it from the consent decree and all ('cept for sneaking a Win7 component out early, wink-wink). Messenger, Mail, Photos, Movies, and an awkward online service. And Live Writer (though rumored a dead-man walking per comments).

It's a fair start, and if I had my druthers OneNote would move out of Office and into Windows Live to be the essential authoring companion to the Windows experience. Windows Live Essentials is a good start, but to add some joy into owning a Windows machine, what we need just as urgently is Windows Live Non-Essentials.

Joy. There's a concept just asking for a planning pillar. How strangely would your coworkers look at you during spec reviews if you asked how joyful the feature happened to be?

Windows 8: speaking of planning! The Sinofskyfication of Windows continues, along with alignment around his good lieutenants.

Office: hey, hey, hey, there's a Beta on the way. The Office train lost its conductor but it mostly seems to be still on track. Though trust me: Office wants its Steven back. Bad.

Mobile: Holy. Crap. I don't think we have any unbruised skin left on our body to take any more lumps regarding our mobile strategy. The Microsoft Mismanagement theory is in full force as we throw any willing body into the Mobile effort. Something good has to come out of those typing monkeys, rights? Windows Mobile Phone 6.5 or whatever the hell it's called didn't win any "Wows" and I discovered 1:1 the worst question to ask is, "So, can I upgrade it to Windows Phone 7?"

Look. Let's talk about device loyalty. I first started with owning PocketPCs. An HP Jornada. I loved it. When upgrade time came, HP had bought Compaq and abandoned the Jornada for the iPAQ (what, they had the iThing first?). So, unable to upgrade to the next CE, I cursed a little and bought one of those iPAQs. But HP decided not to allow it to be upgraded. So I switched to Dell to get their latest Axim PocketPC. Dell would be a safe bet, right? And Dell gave up on the line. My latest act of company loyalty: getting a powerful HTC WinMo 6 device. It was cut-off the 6.5 train, and soon, I'm going to be buying a new phone.

And I'm going to buy an iPhone.

I hate it. I hate to think that I'll be installing Apple software on one of my computers because their PC software is so inelegant and buggy (check Watson). I hate that I've been so loyal to the PocketPC platform and Windows Mobile but I've finally had my chain yanked for the last time. I'm not buying a 6.5 device only to have it abandoned when 7 comes out. Microsoft is doing nothing to convince me that it's going to get any better. We suffer through rumors that Pink is imploding and issues with Sidekick data doing disappearing acts while our CEO has conniption fits over Microsofties sporting iPhones. Dude, this is why.

In this case, Microsoft is going to have to earn me back and convince that not only do they have a better experience and better quality phone but that they also won't kick me off to the side of the road when a new release comes along, spinning a sad tale that the carriers make all the decisions.

Dev Div: If I had to sit down tomorrow and write a casual application for the PC, my mind would fork itself in about five different directions. Native with ATL? WPF? Silverlight? An HTA? And what's up with XNA? If I want to write an app for the Zune (which Zune?) what do I do? And can it run on some future mobile device? And the PC? And Xbox?

And how do I share it? How do I sell it? And, ah, crap, you mean you just released a whole new version of C# / Silverlight / XNA that I have to go and relearn? Maybe those free Starbucks coffee dispensers wasn't a good idea...

If anything, I'd probably be pretty damn tempted to invest time learning Adobe AIR. And I'm thinking that while smack dab in the middle of the Microsoft bubble. There are a lot of Partners in Dev Div, and I'm not seeing any benefit from their concentration. The Windows client should be the premiere development platform. It's not. What am I missing?

Are We There Yet? Are the layoffs over? Has Microsoft stabilized? Of course, I'd be satisfied with another 10,000 or more positions being eliminated. But I want it done in one fell swoop, like all the conventional wisdom out there dictates, so that the remaining work force can align itself and get to work and not constantly worry if their group is next. If we're going to continue this quarterly rhythm of maybe-layoffs, maybe-not then morale is going to get seriously poisoned. Let's finish this round and call it done.

Ballmer: well, Mr. Ballmer, if you ever wanted to leave on a high-note, this is it. I'm frustrated because when you hear Steve 1:1 you know that he gets it. He knows some key strategies and things that need to get done. But then Yahoo! happens. Vista happens. Over-exuberant hiring happens. Layoffs happen to shed off the over-hiring. And a flat stock price happens. So something is seriously not connecting between (a) when you hear Steve talking and (b) when he makes major decisions. Hmm. Maybe it's something about guys named Steve having localized reality distortion fields.

This week, as we celebrate Windows 7, you do see an undercurrent of knife-sharpening while examining Mr. Ballmer.

The biggest question still out there: just who would you replace Ballmer with? If a shareholder revolt was to actually happen (shyeah, right) who would be the right choice to lead Microsoft? There is no heir apparent. And no obvious motivation to find one. But wait. Maybe, just maybe... you know, we'll have to wait and see and discover if Steven Sinofsky's upcoming book One Strategy! has a chapter on 'How To Become the CEO of a 100,000 Employee Company' (hopefully followed by the chapter 'More With Less - How To Transform a 100,000 Employee Company Into a 70,000 Employee Company').

Any fireworks you're expecting this week of Windows 7 and Quarterly results?

-- Comments

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Quick Thoughts on the Microsoft 2009 Company Meeting

Some quick comments on this year's Microsoft 2009 Company Meeting.

First, how did my six hopes for the Company Meeting hold up?

  1. Steve Ballmer comes out first to set the context for the meeting in light of a pretty awful FY09 Q3 and Q4: Zilch.
  2. Practical vision: well, Craig and Ray did seem to focus on the practical aspects of product groups, research, and inbetween the technology transferring power of the labs groups. Seemed practical. But then there was that whole Avatar assistant thing that no one around me felt like was real: one-half.
  3. Demos are short, sweet, powerful... sorry, but Elop's demos sucked the life out of entire stadium. Some were good, and some were really really short. So: one-half.
  4. Show us the new stuff. Hey, we did get to see some new stuff. Bing. Zune HD. Map goodness. No Halo. New ad cuteness. But it was still conservative. Hmm. How about: three-quarters realized.
  5. New simple review system? Phffft. Not unless thwacking balls w/ your avatar is our new review system. 160 for that. Zero for this.
  6. Serious wrap-up by Ballmer. Zero.

Add that up and we get 1.75/6.00 - hey, almost one-third realized.

Now, I'm not going to go into revealing anything all that interesting that happened in the meeting. Just my general impressions of the day.

Kevin Turner was first and, well, I'm kind of tired of the "ThankYou"s by now. He did take on the job of addressing the tough year and I believe he said some things that really surprised me. Growth hides mediocrity being one of them. That we over hired. Sure we all thought it, too, but to now go and put on the 20/20 glasses and speak it in front of the company gives me hope (hmm, need a new word) that it won't happen again. Same with the realization that you shouldn't start up doing work in good-times that you know you'd drop and cut during bad times.

Dr. Qi Lu might be my favorite techie right now. I was impressed with what he's brought together for Bing and what's coming and how he has focused the team and adopted some of the new technology that Satya was showing. Who the hell thought we'd be feeling so good about our search decision engine? Ever?

Elop. Steven. Baby. Dynamics. XRM. Really? What did I do to you to have that forced down my eyeballs? I'm pouring another glass of wine right now hoping I can kill whatever brain cells are still connecting this demo memory together. Geez. Did anyone give you advice that this was a bad idea? If so, keep listening to them. If not, you're seriously lacking good reports willing to give you honest feedback.

Robbie Bach did okay, but I can't say the demos blew me away. The table-top demos were full of slick sparkly presentation but... it was all stuff I've seen one way or another so nothing new there. He missed a golden opportunity for Microsoft-Fan-Boy love to go and have someone play Halo:ODST on stage or show some great Zune HD apps.

Bob Muglia. What did he talk about? I remember the real cool tech for traces and then WinDiff. Did he talk about how we're losing the edge on client development for Windows and how it's all a confused multi-SDK technology mess centered around everything being .NET based?

Sinofsky went pretty fast - when in doubt, load up the stage with a bunch of new, cool technology and play with it. I loved the reveal on the Mac Air case ("It's aluminum!"). And I think Steven gets the best line for when the train let loose its blaring whistle he said something along, "This is where someone mentions about the trains running on time."

Craig and Ray: it was nice that they switched up their presentations - that added some energy. But not enough. It seemed a lot more practical this year, other than what I mentioned previously about the whole very well staged Starfire demo. I hadn't seen that in like... over ten years.

And then Steve Ballmer. I've got say, at this point in the day I was pretty much in a "Where's mai KoolAid" funk until Mr. Ballmer came on stage and started presenting. I feel this is a big transitional year for Microsoft. I've said we've turned the corner, but that doesn't mean we're out of the bad neighborhood yet, nor are we incapable of making bad decisions all over again. The second half of FY09, and what we are still enduring as part of the economic crisis, has provided a certain level of alarmingly crisp clarity to refocus, and I believe Ballmer's presentation served for about as much focus we're going to see in the near term.

And I like how he ended his presentation. How do we feel? He reflected on how Microsoft is not a normal company and that its employees have an unnatural emotional attachment to it (yep, that's true - it can cause them to have all sorts of crazy reactions and do crazy, passionate things). How do you feel? Steve, well, he wants you to feel good about where we are, what we're doing, and where we're going.

I must feel good, because I have hope.

(Oh, by-the-way, if you see Mr. Ballmer walking your way: hide you iPhone. Trust me on that one.)

Additional links:

-- Comments

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Six Hopes for This Year's Microsoft Company Meeting

(Updated below for the Extra-Long-Labor-Day-Vacation-Layoff of September 3rd 2009)

I'm one of the biggest Microsoft Company Meeting fanboys *evah*, but even I'm surprised that we're having a full-blown Company Meeting this year at Safeco Field in Seattle. I thought it and MGX were going to be cut without a second thought given the economic reset we are all enduring. I'm wrong. Given that it is happening, it's my opinion that this year's Company Meeting sure can't be a clone of last year's. I mean, last year's was great and everything... but now our everything is different.

I think about the context around this year's Company Meeting. There is what the crowd brings, what the crowd expects to see, and what the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) wants to accomplish with this meeting. Look, against this current economic tide the Microsoft SLT is putting on the Company Meeting. There has to be a pretty big goal they are shooting for, not just rah-rah party-demo time.

Because there are two very large elephants sitting down front and center with the hand-picked floor crowd. Two grumpy elephants with very good memories, one of January 22nd 2009 with 1,400 Microsoftie layoffs and the other with May 5th, 2009 and 3,600 further Microsoftie layoffs. Folks are going to come into Safeco, grab their box lunch, sit down with their co-workers and friends and as they fold their pink paper airplane, they are going to remark, "I can't believe they are spending all this money for today. <<Fill name in the blank>> and more could have kept their job if they just cancelled this horse and pony show."

These folks might have on their Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters buttons, but they've scratched out the Proudly part. They are staring at the grumpy elephants, and are looking to the SLT for some serious L.

I'm just imagining what corporate baggage people are bringing in during the Company Meeting. Maybe they were part of the original 1,400 and had to scramble through interview loops to find a new Microsoft position. To be clear: I wanted cut-backs when we were in the 50,000 range of employees, let alone approaching 100,000. 100,000, man. That's crack-pipe craziness. Had we been more prudent and efficient over the years, we wouldn't have reached the stage where the light bulb went off over Ballmer's head and he said, "I know... layoffs!" We got bloated and we cut, and we should cut more. But our leadership shouldn't have gone down that crack-pipe path to begin with.

Anyway, looping back to the 2009 Microsoft Company Meeting, some of my hopes and expectations:

One: I expect Steve Ballmer to come out front first, before any other Microsoft leadership, to speak the truth about the last year and where we are now. He must acknowledge it starkly. We had layoffs. We had inefficiencies. Positions had to go due to the economy being unable to sustain those parts of the business. There are people missing this year that, last year, were some of the biggest Microsoftie fans.

And, there are people here this year that will not be in the audience next year.

Take that in.

With success in the middle of hardship, this is a rare opportunity to enact change in Microsoft culture and recalibrate to being efficient and streamlined. I want Ballmer to get out front and say, "Today, we're celebrating our success of Windows 7. From this success we are learning and we are acting. We're learning why it was a success, how to do even better, and then taking those lessons and putting them into practice. In Windows. In Office. In Dev Div. In all of Microsoft. The rest of today we will not only tell you where we are and where we are going, but we're also going to discuss honestly how we're changing to be an efficient, streamlined company that smartly uses its successes to leverage good change. For the benefit of the company, our customers, our shareholders, and our employees."

Two: Any vision this year has to be practical and realized with one, two, or at most, three years. And, closing the loop on accountability, there's a discussion and a review of how the vision of the past has brought us to practical results. The pie has come down from the sky and now it's time to eat.

Three: demos are short, sweet, powerful, and made especially for a crowd of some of the smartest (plus good looking) people on earth.

Four: if it's new and hot, we get to see it now. That new Halo game. Zune HD. Stuff that even Beta testers haven't seen yet. Give us some reward for actually working for Microsoft and being excited about seeing things that are new and known by very few. Hell yes we'll tweet and blog about the coolness. And to assuage any anxiety over that: happy, enthused Microsofties sharing their enthusiasm for Microsoft with the world == a good thing in this day and age.

Five: a short introduction by LisaB of the new, efficient, streamlined review system: a simple Word document that let's you cover what you were responsible for, how you did, and your manager's assessment. Hey, I can dream.

Six: wrap-up by a serious Steve Ballmer. No running around high-fiving people or shaking his fists in the air to get a "YeAAAH!" from the crowd. But rather a serious Ballmer who covers what we've been through, how we're going to change, and a re-enforcement for the success at Microsoft being something that has to spread through-out the teams.

After the Company Meeting, I intend to sit down at Pike Brewing and ponder over: what did the SLT intend to accomplish this year at the Company Meeting? How are the Microsofties attending better for having been there?

My concern is that the template for the meeting this year is the same as it ever has been, with some comedic hijinks, Kevin Turner covering all the "gooood" results that we should be fired up about, music, Liddell's financial review, an opaque speech by Ozzie, very late arriving busses full of people wondering why we can't figure out traffic control, rambling demos of misbehaving and barely competitive technology, paper airplanes smacking the back of my head, and a big cheerleader Ballmer at the end, all screaming and full of gusto... and totally passing over the hardships of this year.

I hope that all doesn't happen, but if it does, later I'll just sit at the bar between the grumpy elephants and drop some tears into my beer while still musing over what the SLT's intentions and goals might be.

What goals and expectations do you have for the Company Meeting?

Addendum: as of September 3rd 2009 it looks like it might be two large grumpy elephants and a little baby elephant:

Weird. How much more than 27? And just who is affected? I don't see it on the WARN site yet. Snippet from Ms. Chan's post:

Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos said the company is making cuts across the country, but he did not elaborate on how many more jobs in the U.S. were affected.

"I can confirm that part of our effort to reduce costs and increase efficiencies involved 27 job eliminations here and in other regions across the country. While job eliminations are always difficult, we are taking these necessary actions to realign our resources against our top priorities."

-- Comments

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Microsoft Annual Review 2009

Just a quick post: some of you enjoy posting information relevant to your review, both looking at numbers and a critical view of the message given to you. It has started to happen a bit in the last post so I'm just going to capitulate and put this small post up for the 2009 Annual Review share and compare.

Oh, and obviously grab yourself a few grains of salt. Folks seem to like this format:

  • L# (promo'd?)
  • (Exceeded|Achieved|Underperformed) / (20|70|10)
  • Bonus $K
  • Stock $K
  • (Promo $K)
  • Optional comments about Division / Group, discipline, impression of review

The promotion budget is significantly less this year meaning that if you got promoted you're really at the top of the heap. If you didn't, well, you're going into a long line.

And as we know: no merit raises this year (though you will get a raise if you're promoted). But bonus and stock awards are the same, ensuring we have the flexibility to reward our top performers.

I would expect that the Underperformed Microsofties have already been managed out. If you are an Achieved/10% then I'd expect you're given a very short term idea of what success looks like and can expect to be closely managed. Great time to update that resume and see what else is going on.

I found a bunch of old reviews of mine recently. Flipping through the review forms started with refreshing simplicity from over a decade ago, rapidly turning into confusing churn (company value ratings and all that crap), to now a fragmented collection of task-driven thoughts. While it's nice that the review form has pretty much stuck to the current form now and we don't have new components coming and going (yeah schema?) it really doesn't compare to the first couple of reviews I did at Microsoft.

Of course, I had great managers who knew how to give concise feedback, both daily and as part of my review. Where you don't have demonstrated collective excellence, you have process.

-- Comments

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Microsoft FY09Q4 Results

This is it. The wrap up of FY09, coming fresh to us Thursday July 23rd. I'll put this up a bit early in case there are any initial questions, thoughts, or insights regarding how FY09 is closing.

Some of my favorite places to track insights and opinions on MSFT quarterly results:

Topics I'm interested in:

  • Description of efficiency so far and an enumeration of which groups are going to get Sinofsky'd.
  • Assessment of further financial risk at the hands of the EU Commission.
  • Oh, any more layoffs? If not, it would be wise for the SLT - for the sake of employee morale - to close the door on this now.

Given how negative Ballmer has been about the economic reset, I can't imagine any rosy picture painting just yet, even if Intel looks like it has bottomed out and Apple is frantically trying to create as many iPhones as it possibly can.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Microsoft Has Turned The Corner

I've got to say: in my opinion, Microsoft has turned The Corner.

You know The Corner.

The one that gets us off of pothole ridden Vista Avenue (one street over from Lincoln in Blue Velvet). The Corner that requires Microsoft to shed some of the fat it has layered on recently just to make the turn without flipping. The one that requires a bit of humility for past failings (the aforementioned Vista, Xbox losses & red-ring, Zune's market performance so far, WinMo asleep at the wheel, no coherent brand strategy, search lagging behind for so long, the abandonment of IE after IE6, a confused developer story, a bungled Yahoo! acquisition attempt, etc etc etc).

The Corner that perhaps doesn't get us out of the bad neighborhood, but is at least pointing us in the right direction. What has helped make the turn?

  • Windows 7
  • Bing
  • Silverlight
  • IE EU chutzpah
  • ...and award worthy, coherent ads that aren't a demonstration of how best to destroy millions of dollars quickly.

Redemption takes a while. Time is needed to allow perception to change and to re-earn trust and respect. Once Microsoft was the scrappy underdog playing catch-up against many competitors. Later Microsoft was the dominating OS and application suite, so drunk and arrogant on its own power (pre-monopoly designation) that it made some truly dumb, strong-armed moves (and even worse, did sloppy "nuh-uh!" cover-up maneuvers). After that, Microsoft went from getting beat-up by the US government to the dot-com bust to the development of Vista, reset after the huge effort of XP SP2. The Evil Empire became The Bungler, hatred turning to scorn and frowning distaste. And the EU hurried over to slip in a few kicks to the wallet.

While all of that could have been avoided with competent senior leadership, it at least served as a hard enough whack to the side of the head that even our mediocre leadership took action to aright the ship.

Now we have the potential to start shaking this off and achieving solid, if not stellar, results.

This is happening, too, while the shine on Google is dulling. Rather than pulling an Apple on us anymore, Google has picked up the nasty habit of pre-announcing technology. Guys, you stole the wrong playbook. And, uh, we don't want it back. Plus the government's gaze has moved from the fallen-working-on-redemption of Microsoft to the obvious domination of Google in search and information strong-arming. A dose of the medicine Google's now getting:

Anyway. Let us enjoy this success of Microsoft turning The Corner, all while being a wee bit smaller and more efficient. 5,000 jobs eliminated so far and a declaration from Ballmer that efficiency is his key focus right now. Wall Street likes how that blood in the water tastes so far.

I'm going to start my whole "and we can cut a whole lot more positions" screed in a second. But first a moment to reflect on the flesh and blood people caught up in the layoff mess we've gone through so far. There is certainly a sobering perspective on this within the abundant comment stream of the last post.

It's not their fault they were part of the layoff. It's not their fault that their position was considered part of the inefficient part of the company that was eliminated. I certainly don't blame anyone for wanting to work for Microsoft. Large parts of Microsoft are magical, exhilarating places to be. In its bones, Microsoft is a great company with amazing potential. It's just turning The Corner and directing itself to where it can focus on efficient, lean-mean, profit making products that engage and delight Microsoft customers.

At Microsoft a lot more positions still need to go to achieve efficiency and focus. 15,000 more is my magic number. It's not personal. But to achieve efficiency and resolution of what to focus on with determination, we need a whole lot less people and to publicly admit there are opportunities we will focus on and others we are okay walking away from. ("That's right, Adobe: you can charge as much as you flipping want for your Photoshop line of software.")

For efficient product development: Yahoo!'s Carol Bartz has a good point when she swears like a sailor over having way too many program managers vs. actual developers (overloaded with one program manager for every three developers). <<edit edit edit - this went quickly into the weeds - let me sum up some quick thoughts>> Looking across groups, I still see exceptionally inefficient use of broad, front-loaded thinking and design locked into a 1970s waterfall model that leads to reality and focus coming way too late and a bunch of frantic, mediocre consensus driven crap floating like chunks into an end product. Kaizen. Kaizen. Kaizen. Efficiency is not going to happen as long as we continue rewarding people for this status quo. Shedding a respectable chunk of the company would bring an exceptional amount of upfront focus to our teams and result in high-quality features end-to-end, vs. what we see in misshapen compromise that we can fit in.

Microsoft has turned The Corner. But our car's suspension is still wobbling from the load we're carrying, and while some fine spots of leadership has gotten us around this bend, it doesn't take much for the remaining mediocre leadership to assume that the pressure is off and to get their grubby hands on the wheel and start turning us back towards Vista Avenue. The job isn't done. It's just beginning. We iterate again.

(Oh, and hey, here's a question for you: if you could create a new Microsoft leader based on the best attributes of our current leaders, what would you create? For instance, I'd start by combining the efficient layer-busting profit focused philosophy of new President Steven Sinofsky with the campus design skills of President Robbie Bach. Ideas?)

Administrivia: to subscribe to all comments here, use the following: . While I enjoy providing the freedom of unmoderated comments over in The Cutting Room Floor, I had to turn off anonymous comments for the time being. You can still post unmoderated comments, you'll just need to provide a Blogger ID / OpenID.

CRF: unmoderated comment thread: Microsoft Has Turned The Corner (plus a snippet of what I deleted from this post).

-- Comments

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Microsoft Layoffs - Cinco de Fire-O

Well, if ever you wanted to console yourself with some tequila, today might be your day. Phase Two of the big Microsoft 2009 layoff engages today.

Is this it? Will there be more? From Mr. Ballmer's email:

With this announcement, we are mostly but not all done with the planned 5,000 job eliminations by June 2010.

Strangely, Ms. Brummel have asked folks to avoid emailing each other today because the last layoff's email volume was so distracting. Gee, sorry to be a bother while people are trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Let's see... how to avoid that... I know, tell people what the hell is going on and which people / groups are affected. Oy.

Please, if affected by today's events, note which group you're in and any messaging about things going forward (as appropriate and proper).

(And please, Ms. Brummel, if you talk to the troops about this, don't share how people affected by the layoff are thanking you - that just seems creepy.)

Dropping moderation for today, but as usual: be responsible. I will delete comments later that are off-topic, along with any other comments that react to the deleted comments. If in doubt, go visit the CRF parallel thread:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Microsoft FY09Q3 Results

Last time we did quarterly results, it was a doooozy. Immediate layoffs for 1,400 Microsofties and sometime-in-the-next-18-months layoffs for 3,600 more. Of course, the layoffs were offset somewhat by continued crazy hiring for Live Search (should we expect a work of Shakespeare to pop out of there sometime soon, too?).

What kind of questions do you want to be asked during the conference call? Some off of the top of my head:

  • So... how's that, ah, layoff... thingy.. going?
  • Which groups and products are specifically being affected by layoffs?
  • What other cost-cutting measures are in effect?
  • What are the causes in drop of revenue and what are the expectations going forward (will Microsoft give guidance this time)?
  • What bright spots are there in profits?
  • How is gaining share going?
  • The EU seems to be pulling its leg way back for a full-on kick to Microsoft's financial groin. How does the defense against EU charges look to protect shareholder money for additional EU fines?
  • What does a financial geek have to do to get a beer at The Commons?

And you know, speaking of The Commons: I trekked over there today (meh, not the sunniest day) and I have to say it's an impressive space. I walked around admiring the scope of the project, thinking "This is what Windows built. This is what Office built." I then reflected on the irony that it's Mr. Robbie Bach's Entertainment and Devices moving into the new campus with The Commons. Windows and Office funded this extravagant place for the folks who managed to burn through $8,000,000,000USD+ on the Xbox, be shown how it's done right from Nintendo with the Wii, dash the Zune against the juggernaut iPod, and have the iPhone drop-kick WinMobile to Mars.

Microsoft Senior Leadership Team is rewarding something here moving these people into such a great place, but it's not anything that I could make sense of while I wandered the new campus...

I'll update this post later with commentary about the quarterly results. In the meantime, some of my favorite places to track insights and opinions on MSFT quarterly results:

Update: closing the loop here a little bit later than I wanted (sorry, I was bounced off the grid for a while):

Wow: have a plunge in profits and get rewarded by your stock shooting up 10%+ in one day! Sweet! And by "Sweet" I mean none of this makes a lick of sense except to look at an article like Cost-cutting saves Microsoft stock after rough 3Q and realize that the market is supposedly rewarding the stock price and recognizing appreciation for the reduction in overhead and expenditures.

So now, we must have a plan to have constant announcements about reduction of expenditures.

Announcement #1: No more Company Picnic. Ever. Next?

What would be on your short list of things to cut back on? MGX? The Company Meeting? Beer at morale events? Soda? The Company Store? Whole product groups? Your group? Yeah, I don't know how often that last one makes the list. Though I have friends who have sniffed the way the FY10 wind is blowing and are getting the hell out of groups that have spent more time talking about what they are going to do than actually doing anything or - get this - shipping something to actual customers. You know, the type of groups that make Yahoo's Carol Bartz slip in the F-bomb.

I'm surprised to learn from Ms. Fried's Company Picnic article above that The Company Meeting is still on. As much as I love the Company Meeting, it was totally dead and gone to me in my mind. Talk about the most challenging Company Meeting ever. Yes, we'll have Win7 and coming in close Office 14, along with other emerging products. But how in the world to you manage to pull off a great Company Meeting within our current environment? You have to take the big issues head-on, and part of that will be looking at the upcoming MSPoll numbers and actually sharing with Microsofties who they hell were let go as part of the layoff. And why.

The Company Picnic boggled my mind just looking at the logistical nightmare it had turned into. Tell you what: if we reduce the company size back down to something reasonable, we should bring it back. But for now, I'll be happy with my group renting space for a family morale team event at Vasa Park.

CRF: unmoderated comment thread: Microsoft FY09Q3 Results.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spitfire Backfire, Live Labs, and Not My 1,400

Here's a quick post before next Thursday's quarterly results. Given the layoffs in the last quarterly results I know there is some increased anxiety about any additional cost cutting Mr. Ballmer might be ready to unleash, like more staff reductions or, you know, "Hey congratulations on entering RC and all. Now... about that next release and, well, you specifically..."

Mr. Joseph Tartakoff over at paidContent has a post around further reductions: Microsoft Still On Track To Cut Another 3,600 Jobs.

Contrition time for me: last post I shared how amazed I was that everyone in the 1,400 that I knew or that were in my extended network got rehired. Pretty much the feedback I heard here and on Twitter was, "Wow, you're one lousy sample set," because a number of you are either in the non-presently-Microsoftie 1,400 or know plenty of people in that pool.

I wish I could blame it on drinking too much at Spitfire but, (1) it wasn't opened yet, and (2) it will never be opened thanks to the brazenly stupid idea to have it planned and ready to go for what seems like the better part of a year and then three days before it was to open, Microsoft yanks the rug out from under Spitfire and thirsty Microsoftie patrons.

You know, if upfront the Senior Leadership Team had decided that a bar was an interesting idea but didn't make sense for Microsoft I would have just shrugged and scooted over to a Mustard Seed, had I even heard of the idea. But to have this set up for so long with curious expectations building in Redmond and then to have a last minute revelation and cancelling Spitfire really calls into question basic judgment and execution abilities.

So-- what, what's that? Hmm, checking in over at the Bring Spitfire back to Microsoft Facebook group ( it appears Spitfire is on track to open at the end of the month? From Jonathan Sposato:

thx for everyone's support! OK there's GOOD NEWS today; the spitfire has reached an agreement in principal with msft to open on the west commons campus later this month : ) over the last few days, both parties re-engaged and worked creatively to find a way to deliver on a great spitfire experience on campus.

('scuse me while I tweet that.) Great! Allow me to raise a glass. Now I'm vaguely curious to know about all the soap-opera court-intrigue going on behind the scenes here. And I can cancel my idea for a BYOB + Towel Commons protest.

Update: well, not so fast, you twittering fool. Looks like the compromise is pretty extreme, in that drinks will only be served for scheduled special events. Hmm. More by Mr. Todd Bishop here: Microsoft revives Spitfire pub under compromise arrangement.

One last thing: Live Labs recently restructured, with some projects going forward and others getting the axe and the researchers being repurposed into groups like Mobile and Search. I've only had superficial dealings with Live Labs folks and I found them very refreshing compared to other teams in research I had planned with: a sort of practicality that was uncommon. To add a few more words here, we'll end with a special guest writer reflection on the recent Live Labs happenings:

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is downsizing its high-profile Live Labs group, which was created three years ago to speed up innovation in the company’s online business, has learned. -- Joseph Tartakoff, Microsoft breaks up its Live Labs group, 2009

Microsoft describes it as a "restructuring". About half of the team will be moved to various product groups. The remaining half, still run by former Overture/Yahoo star Gary Flake, will focus on search, data organization and user experience aspects. There's more information in articles by Mary Jo Foley on ZD Net, Ina Fried on CNET, and Gavin Clarke in The Register.

Contrary to recent whispers and tweets, we are not shutting down, disbanding, dismantling, or anything of the sort. In the coming weeks and months we'll bring you updated developer tools, new ways to use Seadragon, and much more. Going forward, we intend to focus on a smaller number of projects relative to what we've done in the past, but invest in them at a much bigger scale. -- What's next for Live Labs, on the Live Labs blog

Mary Jo comments that "Microsoft execs often touted Live Labs as proof that Microsoft is an innovator, not just a follower," and there's no question that the acquisition of Seadragon and merging it with Microsoft Research technologies has a chance to be transformational. Photosynth is an encouraging start, and there's a lot more to build on. A tighter focus and bigger bets could be a good thing here. On the other hand, Live Labs was also supposed to be a company-wide (or at least Windows Live/MSN-wide) innovation center. Gary's 2006 Live Labs Manifesto and coverage at the time like Ina Fried's captures the original vision: bridging the gap between research and the product groups and revitalizing how software is developed. This was always going to be a tough sell, with senior executives like Steven Sinfosky firmly against the idea of a separate innovation group outside of their control. The restructuring seems to throw in the towel on this front. And Microsoft spokeswoman's Stacy Drake McCredy's comments in are somewhat alarming:

Economic conditions are imposing constraints that challenge the original Live Labs model by diminishing the group’s ability to transfer innovations to business groups who’re understandably giving priority to “needs” vs. “opportunities.”

Well yeah, it is understandable. But what this is saying that Microsoft product groups aren't in a situation where they can take advantage of opportunities. It's really hard to see that as a recipe for long-term success.

Administrivia: The Cutting Room Floor is unmoderated and folks have been pleading for me to shut down the red-hot discussions over there. I moderate here - when I can manage - to keep things on track. If the CRF can be the crazy diatribe magnet and that makes moderation here all that more easy: fan-damn-tastic.

CRF: Unmoderated thread for "Spitfire Backfire, Live Labs, and Not My 1,400"

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shared Sacrifice and Microsoft Free Radicals

How have you been doing? Me, I've been doing some kind of wonderful.

Since I pressed the pause button (a button I'm going to be enjoying quite often) a lot has happened yet not happened. Sort of like those layoffs. Just like you and your fellow Microsofties, I talked to a lot of people who where either affected by the 1,400 cut or who had a friend affected. From just my perspective, everyone I know or know-of through someone in Redmond was... rehired.

When's a layoff not a layoff?

I mean, even the folks I muttered, "Whew, thank goodness they took their badge and finally got rid of 'em" got rehired. Sheesh. We can't even do layoffs right. For at least the slice of people I know of, this was more a rebalancing than a layoff. Sorry, Ms. Bick, I guess I don't know the folks you wrote about.

Also during this time, both Toyota and HP made interesting moves to deal with the impact of the crisis on their business. I pay attention to Toyota thanks to writings like those of Mary Poppendieck's that look at Toyota's approach to empowering its engineering employees to make direct front-line team decisions, sort of like the feature teams various product groups at Microsoft have. And of course, HP is a big Microsoft partner. Both went down the path of avoiding layoffs. Both cut salaries vs. having layoffs, a "shared sacrifice" in Toyota's word (more on Toyota: Japan's management approaches offer lessons for U.S. corporations).

Mark Hurd's memo about the HP salary cuts should have been the memo that Ballmer wrote. Why? Because in it Mr. Hurd reviewed how they already had done due diligence to become a lean and mean company, and that further cut-backs didn't make sense. Also - call it a token gesture if you will - he and the executives took the biggest salary cut. Yet he re-emphasized that HP will pay for performance. None of our executives had said anything about taking a cut back, but rather just re-iterating that their SPSA payout will be less because the company's bottom line is suffering just like everyone else in this crisis. But zero details other than "significantly less."

Winking while we stuff our pockets AIG-style.

So yes, HP will have restructuring, but they don't have 3,600 additional cuts hanging over people's heads.

Do you think that the concept of shared sacrifice would work at Microsoft? If it still felt like a company driven by the employees, probably so. That's my perspective. I think if we still felt like the drive and ambition of the front-line employees shaped the company and defined it, then helping one another would make sense. But the huge growth shattered that sense of employee ownership, abetted by the abysmal Microsoft stock performance we've had since, yes, Mr. Ballmer became CEO. With that all these layers and organizational obstacles spread about and it went from a different, special place for crazy-happy geeks to a jay-oh-bee.

Mr. Mundie recently reflected on a number of topics. One idea was the desire for Microsofties to move around in the company more effectively. I love it. If someone, like, oh, our Senior VP of HR, was to take a moment and muse, "Now's a great time to go back to basics and focus on what it is to be a Microsoftie" one of the keystones should be job movement through the company as part of following your passion and ambition. Maybe it was easier to take risks, be bold, and honestly do what the hell you really wanted to back in the mythic days of FYIFV. And gee, guess what? What do you get when you have people doing what they want to do? Great results.

Obviously we've got about zero job movement right now, so that has to be fixed first. Microsoft gorged itself at the buffet bar of mediocre hires. And now we're bursting at the seams and deadlocked. We are stagnant right when we have two major product releases coming in for landing - Windows and Office - and you'd like those people to be ready to move around Microsoft and cross-pollinate good engineering. Especially those responsible for the obvious success of Win7. Maybe some movement will happen within Windows and Office themselves, but not across the company and probably not into their groups from other parts of the company. Hell, you have people in Windows worried that the Senior Leadership Team is waiting for them to get to a safe RTM harbor so that the 3,600 quota can start getting taken care of. Do you expect people to look around - to take risks - in that environment?


Zero attrition. Stagnation. Organizational constipation. Nothing good comes out of that but corporate sepsis. Given that our leadership team has had their cage rattled by the global crisis, has examined all sorts of horrible past economic situations, and has locked down on the hiring and gotten on-board with some odd variant of firing, you'd expect they are playing out the forward-looking implications for the product groups and other Microsoft divisions, right?

I'd hope so. But it's not based in any sort confidence based on past results. And it's certainly not based on our leadership engaging with us as we work and live through this crisis. Things are certainly uncomfortably quiet. It's the worst side of "best of times, worst of times" but one hell of an opportunity for re-birth and re-engagement and truly building a stronger Microsoft. A few challenges and opportunities I'm thinking of ahead of Microsoft:

EU: you say "ee-you", I say, "ewwww!" As long as the Microsoft ATM continues shooting out cash fines the EU is going to keep mashing our buttons. Kudos to the folks in Office for demonstrating foresight to jump on documenting their file formats and protocols, even enduring the inevitable attrition such onerous work forced upon the team and the delays to O14 it caused. I'd say, at the end of the day, this saved a large chunk of a billion dollars in fines that the EU would have gone after. You talk about people who deserve to be in The Circle of Excellence? If they head off another EU money-hunt, it's the O14 crew. And good job, Win7, in making IE8 removable. Now, what's the next EU target?

Review Reset: as organizations look to clear out the recent mediocre hires to make room to hire excellent people suddenly really interested in working at Microsoft, middle management is discovering that the review tools have really screwed them over. Told you. To keep everything clear and accounted for, I spend four times the amount of energy dealing with the new review tools through the entire year to get the same results before with the Word form. The current system is wasteful. If it can't be modified to spit out some fixed commitments based on your level, it should be replaced with the old simple Word form.

Free Radical Career: I'm pondering ideas about making employees more mobile within Microsoft. The one I've come up recently is to let anyone who has reached a certain career achievement (Exceeded/20, or just in the top 20%) to be free to move to another part of the company and to have their headcount and associated budget go with them. E.g., the destination team doesn't even have to have open headcount, they just have to be willing to have this new (great) employee come over and join. Okay, they do have to have office space. Sucks for the former team, great for the new team. I know, my first worry there is that you get one crazy charismatic leader and suddenly everyone is working on BoonDoggle '12. But my goal is that if you're great, you can literally write your own ticket to be where you want to be in Microsoft. We need something to break the career stagnation because I know of folks already dorking with their organization is small, petty ways, and remarking, "Well, where are they going to go?"

CRF: Unmoderated comment stream for "Shared Sacrifice and Microsoft Free Radicals"

Press Play

Click: play.

Hoo-boy, things get dusty in the blogosphere pretty quickly. This is a pre-amble post to a regular post to kick things off again here. But in a different way.

While I will start moderating comments again, for most regular posts I'm going to create a shadow unmoderated comment stream post over at the Mini-Microsoft Cutting Room Floor blog (aka, the CRF). Given the comment freeze I put here, some regular commenters found that place pretty quickly. And, well, new readers over at the CRF naturally discovered the entropy that happens rather quickly within an unmoderated comment stream. Yeah, welcome to what I had to read everyday and discard.

Around moderation here:

  1. I'm going to boost up moderation. If you think your comment is the least bit iffy, you'd best post at least a copy over at the CRF, too, unless you want to see those bits disappear into the grand bit-bucket in the sky.
  2. I'm not going to be particularly predictable about when I get around to moderating.

For those that care, let me share where I am with respect to this small corner of cyberspace.

Soon to be five years ago, I started this blog up because I felt Microsoft was a train not only off-track but also heading straight for a cliff. We were massively expanding and incapable of dealing with the exponential complexity that a fast growing Microsoft required of us. It appeared as though we were growing for growth's sake and without a particular elegant plan in mind. So I spoke up within the public wilderness of the blogosphere to ask, "Err, isn't this crazy?"

And. We. Just. Kept. Growing.

Microsoft dramatically changed. The stock price remained flat, with the occasional plunge downwards when our CEO said something that spooked investors or when a surprise $2,000,000,000 investment popped up. We burned billions upon billions of dollars into a game console, to which people say, "At least it has improved Microsoft's image." Okay, step one: don't have a bad image.

Early 2009, we publically reached that cliff and went flying off. There were way too many people on the train to let it brake in time and we had to boot a bunch of them out, old-school layoff style. Folks asked me, "Well, aren't you happy now, Mini? Microsoft is finally cutting back on people!" and I just have to say, "Excuse me, I'm too busy screaming my fool head off as we fly off this cliff."

Now leadership can say, "You know, that multi-billion dollar budget growth year-over-year just wasn't sustainable. We all knew that." D'oh'pe slap for that. After this, I had a stark realization that for all the publicity this blog has garnered and the awkward questions it forced to be asked, none of it helped to avoid that cliff we've been steaming towards the last five years. My reality check has been cashed.

<<edit: cutting out a bunch of blah-blah-blah-me-me-me stuff>>

In what seems quite appropriate for now, I'm stepping back in medium-sized way and letting this be an occasional hobby vs. an initiative. For what it's worth, I'll pick up the Twitter-ing over at (fingers crossed they are more enlightened than Facebook and don't get stealing what could be my new bucket). See you here and there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

MSA - MSPoll Closing Soon

Microsoftie Service Announcement - the MS Poll is closing soon so put some time on your calendar to go through and share your opinions and insight.

Some advice:

  • In all the groups I've been in, the Poll results are poured over all the way down to the front-line manager level. This stuff matters.
  • Don't punish your local team for decisions out of their scope of influence. For 99.9% of you, your manager didn't have any say in the recent layoffs. Judge them and your team and your VP based on what they are actually responsible for, not for the company as a whole. There's an area for that later.
  • Happy with your team? It is just as important that your participate so that your happiness is reflected in your group's numbers so that they can keep doing what they are doing right vs. being told they need to change.
  • Yes, people do read the text comments at the end. But you can easily erase any good feedback and have the bit flipped on your comments with one small snark.
  • No manager feedback this year? Well, here's your chance to bubble up that feedback.

Unmoderated comment post to go along with this quick reminder: Mini-Microsoft Cutting Room Floor Pause Place to be Refresh - MSPoll etc

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Time To Take a Mini-Microsoft Pause

It's time again for me to press the Big Blog Pause button.

I've put up a post over on the Cutting Room Floor for you to share any comments and ideas you have in the meantime.

Right now, I'm going through a long building change in perspective and simply reconsidering where I want to focus my energy and spare time (hint: writing, but not here). Also, you can only bang your head on the wall for so long without something getting knocked loose that probably needs to be put back in place.

(Is this pause layoff related? Sorry to disappoint the Just Deserves club out there, but, no, I'm not in the 1,400 and I can't imagine my group being touched by the remaining 3,600.)

Getting back to focus, I have lots of forward looking thoughts and it's interesting to me in how few of them I imagine myself at Microsoft for the long-term, let alone mid-term. Four years ago that would be unimaginable heresy. Now: well, in my opinion, the company has fumbled and tumbled into an awkward future with little sense of rigor and spoiled by the abundant cash of Windows and Office. Windows survived Vista and it looks like Sinofsky/DeVaan have a Winning 7 to make amends. Hope. Enough?

I love my team. And I like Microsoft, but I can't say I love it anymore. And that makes me channel Arsenio Hall and go... "Hmmmmmm."

BillG is long gone. Within our leadership, there's no one left who wants to read your ThinkWeek paper, so they're killing that off. In our future, employee-led innovation, I guess, starts at Level 68.

Microsoft needs a back-to-basics ground shaking rebalancing. And that's not going to happen with the current Senior Leadership Team.

I'll certainly be back in time for the next quarterly results, along with any major Microsoft events. You're welcome to send me email in the meantime, but note that I'll be pretty intermittent in checking it (and even worse at replying). During the pause, I intend to go through some of the recent gems within the comments here and ensure they get proper attention.

Over time. Cheers.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

3,600 Microsoft Shoes Waiting to Drop

A profound thanks to all the people who spent time writing heart-felt and high-quality comments over the past few posts. When big events like this layoff happen at Microsoft, it shakes loose collective thoughts that have been building for a while, many of which exceed anything I've written here. There are some gems within the most recent 1,200+ comments. If you're not a typical Mini-Microsoft comment reader, you should spend some time reading over the last three posts' comments, the last two especially:

Now you'll see some random and non-high-quality comments are in there, too. I had to flip moderation back on when the conversation about Microsoft H1Bs got downright nasty. I acknowledge there is concern about citizens losing their jobs at a company that has historically been on the forefront pushing for H1B visas. Going forward, I expect that Microsoft U.S. H1B hiring comes to a near halt.

OHAI: The elephant. There's a rather terse looking elephant in the room staring at me right now and pointing at its laptop screen. What's it got here... let's see. Ah. Blast off for Mini-Microsoft! And some text is highlighted...

  • Microsoft needs to reduce employee size. It’s too big. It doesn’t need a quicky Atkins-equivalent. No, it needs to get itself on a corporate exercise program that will shed itself of unwanted groups and employees. And stay on that.
  • Microsoft needs to stop hiring. It’s hard enough finding the scarcest of treasured corporate resources: the talented individual suitable for working at Microsoft. Stop hiring, trim down, and rebalance those precious scare employees inside to where they can be more productive and make products that delight our customers.

So before I get all thankful that this blog has provided a community-style water-cooler for discussing and ruminating over these layoffs together, I have to acknowledge that yes, I support reducing the company size. Big time. Back when I wrote the above in 2004 I felt we were already too big and encumbered with mismanagement due to our size. Over the years, rather than it being a blast off for a mini-Microsoft it became a blast off for a MAXI-Microsoft. When I wrote the above, I wanted a common sense realignment of our people and groups to focus deeply on the products we needed to be involved with. I also wanted the under-achievers moved on.

Instead: now we get the achievement-ignorant crash diet of this past week and we'll try to keep on that diet for the next 18 months, with the occasional binge. Yeah, good luck with your corporate ketosis level. I believe we need to smartly right-size downwards at least another 10,000 globally and lock down hiring. Emphasis on smartly. Going forward, we risk going through spurts of layoffs now given that we over-reached and will continue to over-reach.

Getting back to community: looks like there are Facebook groups for people affected by the recent events to get together and network with each other and with possible local recruiters (good for the recruiters since talented people got the pink slip). Here's what I've found so far:

  • Help Microsoft Friends Find a Job
  • Microsoft January 2009 Alumni
  • The Microsoft 1400
  • 2009 Microsoft Laid Off Workers

Employee Town Hall: if you watched this Town Hall to get some comfort, Mr. Ballmer's opening remarks certainly popped your balloon of hope. As already reported elsewhere, Mr. Ballmer thinks it's another year or two until hitting bottom in the current economic crisis, and when it does bottom out, the subsequent level of spending reached will be well below the glory spend days.

Tip of the hat to the two questioners: bad hires + accountability and seeking that corporate "I'm sorry."

My biggest issue is that Mr. Ballmer reiterated that his unabated ambition drives what we do and that we're going to continue to go big and broad. "Forward down the field! Faster down the field! Move! Forward forward forward forward!" (slap my forehead as some of his front-row half-backs chuckle for their man) Oy! Going big and broad and trying to enter and dominate every possible software market is exactly what resulted in Microsoft having reactive and broad, shallow features that are rushed out lacking polish and usually lead to user frustration as the shallow experience putters out.

We should not go broad. We must rebalance and go deep, without redundant teams and teams working on products with no chance to see a release. Now is the perfect time to drop compete in some markets where the teams in place just are not going to succeed and drop those groups. I'm not happy with our portfolio. And I'm surprised that the Microsoft Board of Directors can't smell the rotting fish in the portfolio. Well, then again, given our Board's results, maybe I'm not surprised.

I've been revisiting Good to Great lately. Some joke that Mr. Ballmer read it backwards. Now more than ever it is so incredibly frustrating to read about the Level 5 CEO leader and think about the gap we have between where we are and a leader like that. I'm also disappointed that the potential LisaB started out with in her Listening Tours and the early InsideMS employee participation has been squandered and lost. I know... she proposed changes to Ballmer and Ballmer said "No way!" Well, keep driving at it. Keep having the conversation and leverage the employees to make it happen. Creating a new way to be an employee in an IQ-driven 21st century corporation is still possible. In the meantime, we've slapped on superficial ideas that might have scaled and been manageable with a 1990s 20,000 employee company, but in this age those ideas no longer work, let alone apply to our huge employee base.

So we'll continue with our divisive stack ranking and celebrating the individual over the group. I realize that none of this is going to change while Mr. Ballmer is in charge. And when do you expect that to change? Unless the Board sees the villagers shareholders running at them with pitchforks and can feel the heat of the torches on their neck, that is not going to happen any time soon.

Random links:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Microsoft Layoff 2009 - Day 2

Okay, not a real post put more of a page break given the incredible number of comments from the first post on the 5,000 layoff cut-back (which is really 2,000 if you listen to Ballmer since we're hiring 3,000 people in the near-term, especially to help out with Search - take comfort in that you first 1,400 and you remaining 3,600).

Feel free to post comments on any Day 2 experiences and safe feedback about the Town Hall after you've had a chance to watch it.

If you're creating any Facebook groups because of this that you'd like highlighted please let me know in the comments and I'll roll them together. I'm especially interested in any networking groups for Microsofties + local tech companies given that some excellent contributors are affected by this, so some real talent is available.

Personally, I feel like we've taken the Sword of Damocles and rammed it through a bunch of pink slips and now we intend to dangle that above the head of Microsoft for the next year and a half. All the way through the end of FY10, folks. "Cut once, cut deep." Or, you know, don't. If you have insight to this counter-intuitive plan, please share.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Microsoft Layoff 2009 - Now What?

22 January 2009: here we are at Microsoft: realigning resources and reducing costs. And laying people off. The day that has been rumored for a month now has come. And the staff reductions I've been wanting since starting this blog back in 2004 are here, though within an economic context I certainly Do Not Want. I wanted intelligent, well-thought-out leadership to have seen long ago that we've doubled our ranks far too fast and exceeded our ranks beyond what we can sustain (let alone need). Yet here we are now, in the choppy waters of the global economic crisis, being reactive rather than opportunistic.

Microsoft should be better than this.

This will start as a short post to kick off the biggest event at Microsoft that I can remember: severe cut-backs and staff reductions.

Initial coverage:

Some quick, shallow impressions:

  • Not much is getting done today and tomorrow.
  • 1,400 gone today (Who? It's a drop in the bucket) and now we have the remaining 3,600 hanging over our head during the next 18 months - what does that mean? I assume at this point that it means aggressive performance management is the rule over, and over again for each MYCD and annual review from here on.
  • No raises as part of the annual review this year.
  • No SPSA payout? No details there.
  • Travel and contingent staff cuts. Very sensible and already in progress.
  • Building expansion cut backs that Mr. Tartakoff at the Seattle P-I has already taken an early preview of.
  • An outplacement center will be established. And hey, "some of you" may find jobs internally (good luck with the rush - I do hope over this past month you're already ahead of the game if affected) and there will be a severance package for the rest.
  • The conference call this afternoon will include Steve Ballmer. And we have our Town Hall Friday morning. What questions do you hope get asked to Mr. Ballmer as part of this staffing reduction?
  • Don't go asking your manager many questions today: this is news to 99% of us.
  • Dang, sometimes anonymous comments can be truthful in what they share.

Administrivia: moderation turned off in the near term - note that I will delete:

  • Comments I wouldn't have approved in the first place.
  • Comments that quote comments I wouldn't have approved - so don't have a great comment that goes and spends a little time quoting an offensive comment because I'll have to blow the whole thing away.

Monday, January 19, 2009

FY09Q2 Results + Town Hall

FY09Q2: last time I speculated that the growing global economic crisis was going to be on the mind of the analysts. This time? Rumor resolution. God almighty, are you there? It's me Mini... along with all of Microsoft and every region in the world that benefits from Microsoft's employees. Please put this rumor about cutbacks to rest once and for all.

Because, you know, when you have a couple of check-ups during the week and all the staff wants to do is dish on all the Microsoft layoff news and news they have heard from other Microsofties, things have just gone too far.

What kind of interesting topics do you imagine might be covered during the day on this Thursday? Some items on my list include:

  • Cost-efficiencies: what does Microsoft plan to do with respect to cost efficiencies within the current economic climate? Personally, I think they'll be veiled references to our continuous review system to ensure we move on the bottom 10% and that will have to serve as a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to Wall Street. I also hope that we point out we're able to great deals on some of our previous plans and expect to save money as part of our competitive infrastructure build-out.
  • EU: (I can dream - it seems that the analysts never bring the EU up) Looks like the Ghost of Christmas Past has decided to pop up and start harassing the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge. What? The? Hell? Yes, Microsoft screwed up big-time by making the boned headed pronouncement that the web browser was an essential part of the operating system (smack to the forehead). Now Microsoft is getting their butt handed to them by Firefox and other browsers. So what, EU, you're saying: "Excuse me, might I kick that butt before you hand-it over to them?" The investigation is a dark cloud over the European market, has potential to randomize the Win7 release, will result in another billion-esque $USD fine, and I hope will give the US Administration a good reason to rattle the cage with-respect-to trade with Europe to stop this kind of shake-down.
  • Win7 + Office 14 Release: I imagine that there will be some probing over the final release of the next gen cash cows. And we'll say they are on track.

(Putting this up early for anyone to share what details they want to hear. Moderation-wise: sorry, no more rumors or FUD or misspelled Liddell comments. If it seems fishy, I'll CRF it for now. If you're right, well, I'll bring it back into a post and vindicate you.

More details post quarterly results, along with any interesting postings...)

Town Hall Friday: lots of rumors flying around, quarterly results Thursday, and then a Town Hall Friday morning. Let's hope that all spells resolution to the fear, uncertainty, and doubt stirred up to a crescendo as of late. The good-ending scenario is that Steve Ballmer gets out there and finally rips the rumors to shreds and proclaims that Microsoft is a one-of-a-kind juggernaut of a company that is going to be in the position to take advantage of the downturn to re-invest and surge past its competition while they are mired in the mud of the recession.

The not-so-good-ending scenario is that there's some kind of tough-love re-org truth to all the rumors as the leadership balances out and we get to hear how everything is expected to shake out.

Whatever happens, I expect that we'll see continued decline in contractors, headcount flat for the rest of the year, and a vigorous push to either get rid of the bottom 10% or get them back on track into the 70% bucket. Which probably ends up meaning a 5% reduction, in the long run.

(What do you want to hear during the Town Hall? Detail free follow-up impressions after Friday's Town Hall...)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The One Before Microsoft's Showing at CES

Okay, time to take a break from all that rumor craziness. It was an... interesting couple of conversational sparking posts. It certainly boggles me to think, beyond rolling up well designated rumors and speculation from commenters here, that you can even have FUD in your name and still get wide-spread journalistic copy. Oy.

If you want to continue to dive in on the rumors and speculation about any cut-backs at Microsoft, feel free to do so on the last posting on it. And remember that Blogger provides a comment RSS stream if you want to keep track of any comments come in on a particular post (like the last one - and yes, you've probably noticed that my moderation eases up after 100+ comments on a post).

One parting comment from The Field:

I think all of the moaning and finger-pointing on the "layoff" posts is a sign of what ails us; we are so self-absorbed we don't stop to think about how to delight our customers. If there are going to be layoffs, so be it. We would not be the first company to have them and we wouldn't be the last. So don't worry about the layoffs; they might happen, they might not. Keep your focus on the customer and how what you do will make their life better. With that focus, you just might find that your life gets better as well.

On the topic of focus, how do you think 2009 is shaping up for your group at Microsoft? Microsoft writers looking at 2009:

This week kicks off CES and Microsoft is under the microscope. And come this Wednesday Mr. Ballmer is going to be given special attention since he has assumed the kick-off CES keynote mantel from Mr. Gates during a time when the company numbers aren't looking good: Vista deployment, Internet Explorer market share, the Yahoo! gambit, search market share, Zune adoption + leap year issues, Wii sells thrashing Xbox, XP licenses still being very popular, PC gaming and consumer software declining, obscure ad campaigns, confused branding, and who-knows-what Ms. Nellie Kroes is up to (she's been vewwwy quiet - too quiet). Oh, and don't forget the iPhone buggering we're taking. And of course Microsoft stock and the whole global economy.

No where to go but up? Opportunity certainly abounds.

This is our chance to show-off, show some humility and respect for our awesome competition, back our partners, and build confidence in Microsoft 2009.

Windows is the foundation for the company and Win7 is the foundation to our 2009 and 2010. I'm not going to hype it up (because I think we all agree that overselling is a really bad idea) but I feel really good about Win7 as a sane, solid operating system release.

Looking at the 2009 Microsoft links above, I have to disagree with Ms. Foley regarding Microsoft over-investing in the consumer experience vs. keeping the Enterprise and IT departments happy. Sure, we need to have an Enterprise focus so that legacy systems run and deployment + patching isn't a nightmare, but if people don't actually want to use your new software, why in the world is the Enterprise going to install it?

I walk many halls at Microsoft and always stop when I see a poster that a group has put up to tout the current milestone of features. Some of those really need to have a webcam that records facial expressions about 20 seconds into reading, because I've gone through bulleted lists of application software and it is nothing but a laundry list of IT department-driven features with no obvious end-user benefit. I'm sure I have a horrified "baroo?" look on my face.

As a result, you get something like Office 2003 where the end-user feature set was so hard to describe that marketing had to resort to odd ads of people creating dog-piles of ecstasy over the release and ads warning customers that they are dinosaurs if they don't upgrade. We can't really describe what features you'll get, but at least you won't be a dinosaur... heh?

Like that point from The Field above, we need to focus on the customer experience vs. barely wired together technology which typically is redundant and confusing. At home I like watching videos stored on my Ultimate machine, and I've got about six different services running to do it multiplied by three different networked video boxes hooked to my TV. For a given video, I have to know the right hardware plus software combination. We want to own the living room, but our customer experience is mentally and physically scattered between Media Center, Xbox, WMP, Zune, and partner media boxes. I love Media Center and I think it should be present in all SKUs of the OS (excluding good ole N) but with something like the Fuji release I get pretty concerned about where it's going. Around the consumer experience we need coherent focus, not a scattered competitive model.

I've asked before: Where's Ray Ozzie? Now's a good time to ask: Where's J Allard? He's our CXO and the champion for the delight we should be bringing to the customer. Will he be front and center as part of CES representing the Microsoft experience? And if not, why?

What is your take on Microsoft 2009 and on a consumer focused Microsoft?