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.)

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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."

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