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?