Well, allow me to be the last blog to shout into the echo chamber about Niall Kennedy... doing what? Oh yeah: Leaving Microsoft. Lots of high profile folks have been leaving Microsoft lately and I haven't been making a big show out of many of them, but for some reason, Niall's short-time at Microsoft got my attention.
Two interesting snippets, one from Niall's entry and one from the luscious Valleywag (I so wish we had a Seattle version of Valleywag):
(1) Windows Live is under some heavy change, reorganization, pullback, and general paralysis and unfortunately my ability to perform, hire, and execute was completely frozen as well.
(2) Wag: Microsoft seems friendly toward people returning after leaving for their own startups. I've seen a few people leave for other companies and return with no problem. Do you see yourself ever doing that?
Niall: Not really, but perhaps if the company was split up first and there was some new project I was excited about that could only be done at a company such as Microsoft.
Wag: Split up?
Niall: Splitting the company into desktop, server, online, and possibly gaming divisions. It's just too big.
Lots of echoes in the chamber rolled up at TechMeme. Rumblings of cut-backs and paralysis and Microsoft being the new IBM. I certainly agree with the desire for Microsoft to be a way smaller company (though I think every time I say that, or ring a bell, 100 more people get hired). I'm not bought into the split-up, except for the sobering benefit of cutting off the cash-cow money flow that allows an abundance of waste and bad decisions elsewhere in the company.
What does it mean to try to hire a superstar today or to grow into a superstar? Can superstars actually get things done at Microsoft? And does this show a revealing shift that all that Live stuff we yanked out of the plucky start.com as a grand, confusing rebranding effort is taking a moment to pause and figure life out? Did we wake up from the Live-demo-bender, rub our face and shake our head, and ask, "What the hell was I thinking?"
A compelling vision would be great right about now. And not a dorky wired-up clipboard that has seemed to have dematerialized. A vision around making money and doing things that, if I told people sucking on a Frappuccino about, they'd say, "Oooh, that's cool. When can I do that?" And if someone is talented and motivated to get things done, how do you unblock them to make it so?
Update: the initial bunch of comments don't weep for Niall and are pretty much summarized as "good riddance and Live is doing super-fine." Maybe more progress will be more exit-door seekers. One can hope.
- MSFTextrememakeover IPTV potential
- Packet Storm Financial Analyst Meeting Leadership Insight
- MSFT in the Field and Mini-Microsoft India have the first post down... many more to go, hopefully, because both could share some insights that Redmond and the Product Groups could benefit from.
For those that care, I've thrown in the towel and have let the last post slide into the Dev vs PM vs Test discussion thread. Jump in, and I really encourage some thoughtful comments like this one:
Test? I love Test. I wish we had more testers, paid them better, and gave them more respect. I wish Test was more integrated into product development, and had better career paths. I wish we promoted more people from Test into GM positions...
Well, I have to admit I lopped off how that paragraph ends. I believe there are some great team-building activities spreading through Microsoft, like Feature Crews, that have Dev, Test, and PM working together to create something great vs blaming each other when the should-be-expected unexpected problems arise.
So, for all the "grr, screw-up!" venting you might have to share, how can things change for the better? Or how have they already changed?
More here: 10,000 More Microsofties - What Do They Do?
So there I was, languishing sideways in a sun-drenched chair, indulging in bon bons, and getting engrossed in another summer-time read when Todd Bishop and I had a quick conversation.
"...Microsoft increased by 10,000 in FY06," the ever vigilant Mr. Bishop shared with me, keeping an eye on the recent postings to Microsoft's PressPass site.
A fine G-rated reaction. And thank goodness I didn't have a bon bon in my mouth right then.
This was a heck of a kick-off to the 2006 Financial Analysts Meeting. Who are these people we've hired around the world? Sales and marketing? The field? MSN? Perhaps I'm reading too much summer-time dreck, but it makes me wonder if we're hiring all the folks we can to keep them away from the competition, tucking them away in pods along the The Dalles and other international locales. I shared my opinion with Mr. Bishop: they certainly are not developers, unless we've really lowered the bar and have decided it's okay to hire people who don't need to know how the JIT works, let alone those memory pointer thingies. You can spell HTML? Hired!
Unless someone has a secret to share on how to hire lots and lots of super-talented developers.
Redmond employee count grew by what... holy crap, almost four-thousand people! And our total global growth, including Redmond, was originally projected at 5,000? No wonder we have streets that turn into parking lots around campus. You know, you can only put so many rats in a box before the stress gets to them and it gets toxic and ugly. And the Redmond box is pretty much full. The infrastructure can't take much more, especially if you consider the ancillary jobs that open up based on the increased Microsoftie jobs.
I can only hope that FY07 will not be another 16% growth year. But I'm one beaten down individual, as if each one of these new folks have walked right over me as I sputter, "Mini- Microsoft- Lean- and- Mean- ooch!"
As for the FAM... lots of good coverage all over. I know, we didn't give anyone confidence about Vista's
slip ship date (including a report that the press groaned to the answer about when Vista would ship... like we stuck our stock's chin out for a prime right hook). Personally, I would have loved some theater. Like BrianV being onstage giving that initial answer, "...we slip so that we don't ship shit!" and then being fired (or sent to MBS or something) and Jon DeVaan being yanked out of the audience and asked the same question, "We're shipping on time! I promise!" Now that would be refreshing.
Well of course that's not how it's shaping up in the near term. Some folks are grumbling about Sinofsky cronyism as Windows reorganizes for the future. I'm excited for any change that seems to be busting up the levels of hierarchy, clearing out the old, and bringing in the new. Some folks aren't going to be happy with any changes. But I think it's promising. What would you do differently? One positive outlook:
JonDe is a microsoft hero. He and EE team will make windows a tiger again.
It makes me wonder if the folks being given the bums rush are looking for jobs elsewhere or if this SPSA grant coming up very soon is having the positive benefit of "I finally got mine and I am out of here!":
My office is currently being swamped with senior microsoft partners looking to explore options, to consider employment with my firm.
What I am trying to get a handle on is if this is the first wave of Vista related attrition, or is this people planning on moving on after the first slug of the big $1m payday, or is this the first wave of the rif?
I am just curious. It seems odd that we would see so much activity now.
(Lord, it's me... Mini. Please, please let this be the truth and not some sadistic soul playing me for the fool. It's been a rough year, Lord, and I need something hopeful like this to make it through!)
Well, if your office is Google then I hope folks realize they might have a rush to beat... let's see, what's that URL from today's PI? Here we go: http://www.google.com/aspirejennifer - time's a-wasting!
Other goings on...
(1) FAM demo blowout: I was in too much shock from the employment growth to complain about this. In the meantime, both Larry Osterman and Rob Chambers have owned up to what went wrong and why. That's pretty damn open and honest. Some commenters wrote conspiracy theories around it being a staged demo, but somehow I think if it was staged it, ah, wouldn't have crapped out.
(2) Microsoft Lays Out Plans at Analyst Day has the following encouraging note:
It's only a matter of time before Wall Street takes notice of the strides that Microsoft has made of late to transform itself from a slow-moving software behemoth into a company that can better take advantage of new trends in the marketplace. Microsoft's renewed focus on online services is a good move for the company. Meanwhile, the company has taken full advantage of the XBox 360's head start on the other next generation consoles, and it has been doing a good job of leveraging the system's popularity to generate new revenue streams. With all of Microsoft's initiatives set to come together next year, fiscal year 2008 should see huge profits for the firm.
Well, it was encouraging until that FY08 part... better than FY-never.
(3) Ballmer Analyzes Microsoft's 'One Big' Vista Mistake - Mr. Ballmer continues the long mea culpa around integrated innovation. Additionally, Mr. Ballmer is attending his own kind of listening tour around campus right now with Ray Ozzie, meeting with L65+ employees, group by group, and having frank conversations. Hmm!
(4) Watch out, Google, Microsoft now gets the Net - interesting that folks are writing about the Old Microsoft and the New Microsoft.
(5) MSFTextrememakeover FAM - Ante up, up the ante, or just plain bluffing - Microsoft Extreme Makeover's summarization on the FAM - very nicely done.
(6) Charles DiBona and Dylan Yolles shared some interesting insights at the post-FAM Breakfast Series event. They saw it as extremely positive that Microsoft responded with a buy-back. Next request (same as last year): a consistent significant dividend. That would increase all sorts of investment in the stock.
Why is such a dividend a bad idea?
For Dylan: Linux, not so much of a worry on the desktop given that the TCO isn't terribly different (upfront cost is negligible compared to TCO). OpenOffice: beginning to worry more about. Interesting that he brought up a worry over developers and how he sees developers gravitating towards an Eclipse / Open Source environment. What do we do to get developers excited and engaged?
For Charlie: well, he can make us feel better for suffering through a Series of Unfortunate Events: the love affair with Google, the Vista delay screwing over those looking for a Vista dividend (and they in turn screwing us over), and the unknown payoff of the unexpected $2,000,000,000 investment. He saw big changes over the past three months: communication being open, being receptive to feedback, and to act on that feedback. Kudos to those change-makers.
And the reward for, well, the ballsiest question during the Q&A; goes to the gentleman who asked about the prospects of taking Microsoft private. That question resulted in Dylan sharing an interesting nugget from five years ago: Bill Gates told Dylan that if the stock got low enough Bill Gates would take the company private.
How much lower is low enough?
Updated: fixed a couple of typos, especially one where I said "slip" when I truly meant "ship." Oy.
I look forward to the day when Microsoft leadership can strut onto the stage at the annual Financial Analysts Meeting to the glorious high-fiving pumping sound of Sister Sledge letting loose with a victorious "We Are FAM-ily!" as everyone celebrates the incredible ascent of the Microsoft stock price.
It won't be this Thursday.
The discomfort has set in and the pointy sticks are out. No more of this waiting until next year or the product pipeline of glory on the way. It's time to get down to the brass tacks. "Show us the money: where it's being spent, where it will be spent, and where it's going to be coming from."
What questions would you ask if you were an attendee at FAM? Mine would focus on accountability and, as part of looking where the money is being spent and rewards for our current accomplishments, wanting to understand more about the upcoming August SPSA grant-award, what % level it's going out at, and what the total cost of that is. How has it been a good investment with a good return?
Other interesting things:
- Vista slip? One commenter thinks the buy-back we've announced is meant to stabilize the stock should we soon announce a Vista slip.
- WSJ: thank you for the kinder, gentler Steve Ballmer graphic with the recent Zune article. It's much improved over the snarling Orc Ballmer.
- Swan song for Microsoft's music allies CNET News.com Speaking of Zune: Zunked? Are we screwing our partners? I don't think so. We've given them a great platform to implement Plays for Sure and plenty of time to innovate long before we come along and try implementing a device. Anyone who can implement a WiFi sync has my money. Freaking wires. I just want to come home and unbeknownst to me have any interesting syndicated content (like a podcast) synchronized to my device so that I can discover and listen to it the next day. Plus Zune is a platform, too.
- Good long comment on Big Bets: Long Term investments: how long is long enough? Microsoft has ruthlessly killed projects off in the past or sold the properties off. Have we lost the cancellation mojo? A number of discussions in the last post went over the financials and wondering when enough is enough and it's time to throw in the towel (now that we have an abundance of those). Are we playing to win or playing not to lose?
- The Post Money Value The Microsoft Manifesto - Rick Segal's take on the recent Twelve Principles.
- Workplace Advantage Planning - Adam Barr discusses the designs being worked on for new workplace areas at Microsoft. What do you think? Given that at least one comment was posted about this with great envy I think some folks are looking forward to working like this.
- Misunderstanding "The Innovator's Dilemma" - Mr. Barr again, spanking me for a coupling of The Innovator's Dilemma with the pulled private folder feature. Nice read, even if it hurts. That original thread here was interesting because (1) some IT folks weren't too happy with my grumbling, (2) others pointed out that it's really hard for us, having one OS now, to serve two masters: consumer (more whizzy features!) and corporate (nothing new! Don't break anything! Keep it stable!). It's a pickle.
Musings on Software and Technology » Blog Archive » Whats going on - Musing on the Mini-Microsoft-like sites springing up (plus an interesting comment from Shel Israel). Let's see, the active list looks like:
- Packet Storm (Feed) - "Collision Domain's view of Microsoft's management culture and how to make it better." - Anyway you can switch to a full feed, M. Domain?
- MSFTextrememakeover (Feed) - "MSFT needs an extreme makeover. Years of past success have made it fat, slow and complacent. It's time to get back into fighting shape. [...]" May I suggest the recent 4th Quarter post.
- Ventureless Capital (Feed) - "Analysis and thoughts on the business behind the tech industry... with some Microsoft spin" The occasional hard-hitting commentary.
- Inactive / other list: Next Microsoft, Mini-Microsoft France, Of Cogs (and other aspects of life inside MS)
- Official Google Research Blog Hiring The Lake Wobegon Strategy - I've been meaning to drop this link in for a while. Something I didn't know about Google hiring: the hiring manager is not allowed to be part of the interview process. Google hires for the company, not for a particular position. Hmm!
- iCup? Oh where is my Starbucks iCup? Perhaps a war over Starbucks beans? Perhaps we just have to wait until summer is over?
- Mini-Microsoft Cutting Room Floor (Feed) - What The HECK? Yes, occasionally I'll share the kind of comments that just don't make it through now that I'm moderation 100% of the time. I wish for a better commenting system with a secondary "all comments" page where I can bring up into the cream the comments I approve and everyone can roll-around in the ones I don't, should you desire. But this will do for now. Some of the comments just about make it... if only they just didn't go and use that ever so witless M$. Others can just be wildly off-topic or just something I don't want to show up here. Okay there. Not here.
And lastly: I think it's too early to judge the review system change. All I know is that there are probably a legion of managers wanting to string-up whoever was responsible for getting rid of the performance curve. It must take ten times the amount of effort to enter numbers into the review tool and try to reconcile compensation across the organization. I don't think this is a bad thing - it's the kind of work we get paid to do.
But the stack rank is still there. But we can be honest with our review feedback. Kind-of. The curve is still there, just sort of blurry and a bit more gracious.
The dissonance of change is pretty heavy right now and, personally, I'm feeling a leadership gap to help us keep our balance now that the training wheels are off and we're wobbling along down the road. My guess is that we'll develop some best practices out of what we learn this year to have an even better next year. But right now? Scuffs and scabs.
Time for a financial-focused week. First is FY06Q4 results. Then the 7/27 Financial Analysts Meeting. If this kind of thing gets you excited, I certainly recommend showing up for the financial-themed Breakfast Series on 7/28.
I'm not expecting much news out of the Q4 results. I'm so overscheduled that I'm not going to have a chance to catch-up on the news analysis for a bit - when I can, I'll go through the comments here and other sites to round up the links. I'm certainly hoping not to be surprised. Before hand we went and hid - er - simplified our financial reporting. Surprise.
Pre-discussion of the earning results (really slim pickings as of my writing this...):
- Microsoft earnings today - Todd Bishop's Microsoft Blog @ SeattlePI.com - includes links to Reuters and Bloomberg News articles.
- Microsoft financials getting less transparent - Todd Bishop's Microsoft Blog @ SeattlePI.com
- Microsoft Hides Its Mobile and Business Apps Divisions
- Intel launches major reorganization CNET News.com - throwing that one in there just in hopes that something like that could be the result of our financial report one fine day.
Post-discussion earning results: buy-back? Looks like executive management decided that wasn't such a dumb idea.
- Microsoft Fourth Quarter FY 2006 Earnings Release - the main Microsoft release with links and data galore.
- Microsoft Monitor Microsoft Fiscal 2006, Q4 Results - always a good break-down from Mr. Wilcox.
- Microsoft 4Q06 results - Todd Bishop's Microsoft Blog @ SeattlePI.com - Mr. Bishop's summary.
- How Much Would a Vista Slip Cost Microsoft - Ms. Foley highlighting an answer we hopefully don't have to come back to rant about.
- idea 1 Huge MS Stock Buyback... - thread started by the awesome Niner Jamie.
A question that has come up in the comments so far about the buyback is the cap of $24.75:
Microsoft has capped the tender offer at 24.75. Does it mean that Microsoft's share price can't practically go over 24.75 until August 17th?
What happens if the stock price does go above 24.75? What happens to the 20 billion dollars put on this tender offer?
Personally? I weep a little with each Xbox 360 sold.
The Intel employee count is bigger than Microsoft and Intel is a way different company. Intel has one-hundred thousand employees. May Microsoft never be so cursed. Intel decided that you can get too big and too many decision makers can block effective decision making. So this past week Intel announced 1,000 management positions are being eliminated and analysts hint at further layoffs.
- CNET: Intel to ax 1,000 managers CNET News.com - "Over the last five years at Intel, the number of managers has grown faster than our overall employee population. Our efficiency analysis and industry benchmarking have shown that we have too many management layers, top to bottom, to be effective." - Otellini memo.
- AP: Intel to Slash 1,000 Management Jobs Financial News - Yahoo! Finance - "Our analysis shows that we have too many management layers from the top of the company to the first line of supervisors to be effective," he [Intel spokesman Chuck Malloy] said.
- Reuters: RPT-UPDATE 3-Intel cuts 1,000 managers in shake-up Reuters.com - "This action is designed to both reduce costs and improve communications and decision-making across the company," - Chuck Malloy again.
- The Unofficial Intel Blog 1000tellini and the math. - "1000 managers. Well, that is a start." - Good quote to end with.
Could your group be more efficient and agile and focused without a layer or two of management?
The only extra insight I can add here is to take Guy Kawasaki's layoff advice (though more geared towards Web 2.0 startups and their upcoming "pop!" days ahead): "#2: Cut deep and cut once:" Guy Kawasaki - The Art of the Layoff. It's no fun waiting for the other shoe to drop and your best folks will tend to say "to hell with this" while living with the stress and the ambiguity of wondering what's next and when. Oh, additional insight: Dear Microsoft HR: please don't go and hire all these displaced Intel managers. Sugar on top.
Other interesting going ons on the Minidar:
Financials: FY06Q4 financial results are coming up this Thursday, 7/20. Allow me to ask this to our executive leadership: guys, is there anything going on that Wall Street might be, well, surprised by? If so, how about letting it loose before Thursday? More sugar.
The Microsoft Financial Analysts Meeting is the following Thursday, 7/27. My wish: Ballmer gets up there and gives the same frank heart to heart he did within his keynote at the recent Microsoft Engineering Excellence conference. Integrated innovation: bad idea. Innovate first and then integrate: much better idea. Straight forward common sense stuff like that makes me see the clouds parting and the sunny future breaking through.
Underwater Options: in the world of rebel-rousing for the stocks, one commenter has this idea:
Do you have underwater options expiring this month?
On 7/24, a week before they expire, go to your SSB account and exercise 1 option. Pay the difference between fair market value and your strike price (this will be somewhere between $0 and $40). Microsoft will handle the paperwork, the volume will remind management that we options holders are still here, and the cash you pay to exercise the stock will go to Microsoft (as non-negotiable options, Microsoft must broker the exercise). Win-win, as they love to say.
And if there are institutional investors looking to engage with stock-price-aware discontented Microsofties, getting popular press for an idea like this out would certainly serve as a rallying point, if not a sobering reality check. Other ideas? (Ooo, I better be careful, less I need to start delivering this in a hall vs. via blog... I guess I help put the Red into Red Herring).
Eeek! An unhappy IT lord: Microsoft shutters Windows private folders CNET News.com - here we go and release a relatively cool tool that also helps justify Windows Genuine Advantage (see, sugar on top!) and then we go and yank it fast when the corporate IT lords fret over it. This is a key example of what's truly wrong with Microsoft today when it comes to features. We are so obsessed over getting the IT department happy with deploying our bits in the corporate world that we forgo (or yank) features that users might actually want to use. Sure, throw a policy key or two in there so that the IT lords can turn it off. But don't abandon customer centric features. Is it possible to take Total Cost of Ownership too far? Yes, and this is a dead end path that ends with a pile of the easiest to maintain features of all: the ones we never ship out of fear of IT backlash.
Let's see if some of the big-bet features in Office are enough to cause a user-driven upswell to get the IT departments to upgrade to Office 2007 before 2010.
Joshua Allen has a good write-up, too: Better Living through Software » Blog Archive » Oh No!!! People Will Love It!
Isn't there some popular book about innovation people love to quote that tells you how it's sometimes a really bad idea to do what your customer wants?
Here I sit, in the same public space where two years ago, about this same time, connected to public wi-fi, I created http://minimsft.blogspot.com/ and shot out two initial posts and then a third noting the web feed URL. Whew, that July 2004 was a busy month! And it has been a hell of an uphill ride from there... I've learned a lot and I feel like a lot has been accomplished at Microsoft, along with sharing and discovering information in and about Microsoft that have helped countless Microsofties.
How's the score? Microsoft sure has gotten bigger, with no end to expansion in sight. Mini-Microsoft 0, Maxi-Microsoft 20,000.
Nevertheless, given that lots of good changes are emerging (first LisaB and now Sinofsky world), I've put away the pointy stick and have pushed the mental pause button here. It seemed, however, some kind of news event happened every week... so I put up a matching post for discussion: Scoble leaving, Gates 'retiring,' Vic leaving, etc etc. But between that and no mini-essays, the commenting sort of meandered along. And the comments got a bit nasty, not helped by my mis-approval ability.
So I've now cranked up the comment moderation quality gates.
Anonymity check. Is anonymous commenting a good thing? Is anonymous anything a good thing? Why is the EFF so passionate about anonymous rights? Hmm. It's a good discussion to have. My immediate answer is an affirming, "Yes, anonymous protection is a good thing. Judge the content on its own merits, not by the speaker." Other people's immediate answer is "No way! The message is ignorable without a person standing by it!"
While TDavid has been ragging on me for a while, recently Scoble flipped the bit and ripped through the commenting here, basically saying:
- Anonymity is cowardly, especially backstabbing co-worker anonymous commenters.
- No worthwhile content can come from unsigned, anonymous sources.
- I'm being used by the commenters here with their anti-Microsoft agenda.
- This blog is now harming Microsoft more than it's helping.
- Non-Microsofties frequently pose as Microsofties to post as part of a subtle, intentional tear-down of Microsoft via Mini-Microsoft.
Surprise! It was as if I switched on the TV and saw Scoble's face pasted over Kanye West, saying, "Mini-Microsoft is bad for Microsoft!" Oh, and Dare jumped on that bad wagon, too, also hedging that this blog has jumped the shark again (third time's a charm, I guess).
Counter to this, Adam Barr also weighs in with Scoble vs. Mini (nice! reasonable!).
Now then, Scoble was coming off of a totally justified reaction to the harsh comments posted around his former team, Vic, and the newly designated leader. Doug Mahugh has a follow-up on that and anonymity: Doug’s World » Response to Robert Scoble. But, damn, when Scoble's bit gets flipped, it really gets flipped.
So he's in the very anti-anonymous world right now. Anonymity bad. Cowardly. Useless. And Scoble signs out of Mini-Microsoft land for good. Hmmph. Maybe he's pulling a Dvorak here, or this is an indoctrination into the crazy uncle club. On one hand, since I respect Scoble a super-great deal, it gives me a good bit to think about (and thus this post). On the other hand, it makes me want to proclaim Tuesday July 11th 2006 as "Be Robert Scoble Day" and sign your posts and comments across the web and blogosphere as Robert Scoble so that everything you write has a proper name associated with it. To quote Scoble, "Heh."
As for Microsoftie-posers contributing comments here: duh. Sorry I can issue forth anything more intellectual than that, but I'm sure it happens. Which posts, though? I have my suspicions, but I can't be 100% sure, so I break out the salt. Scoble quotes a reliable-kept-anonymous source as being quite in the know of all these posers here. The same source likes to spread similar FUD about how it's no more than thirty-some people rotating through various roles posting comments here. And how folks here are all a bunch of whiners. I know, we live in the age of saying it makes it so. I can't invoke divine wisdom on every Microsoftie post to clearly understand if it's blue-badged or not, though somehow this Agent Smith can. Take two grains of salt in search of your own opinion in the world of grey here.
One thing I can rely on is the community that's part of the conversation here to call B.S. on things that are suspicious, or when something gets through that shouldn't. Do you think a particular comment looks suspicious? Call B.S. on it an explain why. Your B.S. calling doesn't make it through my newly modified highly fortified comment filter? Link to that post in your own blog calling B.S.
As an anonymous blogger, it would be wrong for me not to extend the same to the commenters here. I have to. But I've heard everyone's feedback, too: the moderation quality has to be better. And please whip out the B.S. stamps and let me know when it's not.
Other commenters recent opinions on this topic (sorry if it seems like a love-fest - if you have differing opinions, submit them or link to this post):
(1) Until Mini came along, Microsoft thought their entire stack of management was super, and very well respected by employees. The reason they thought this is that detractors were tarred as traitors, whispering campaigns were started against them, and they were managed out. This summed up nicely with Ballmer's statement during the recent town hall: "if you're still using Google raise your hands." No, the first amendment is good for something, and nicely applied here.
(2) Not singling anyone out, but if there had been no way to anonymously post during the lengthy "stack ranking" discussion, is it likely the changes seen recently would have occurred at all?
(3) If it means anything, I think you're serving a valuable purpose for fellow employees. Without your forum, there's no sanity check for individual observations.
(4) Mini, if ever you were in doubt about the amount of good or bad that can happen through minimsft blog, I hope those have now evaporated. Although unelected by us and sometimes your posts are fluff:), your blog has provided an avenue for exchanges that were hitherto impossible.
Do not let this go to waste. Several times the site has jumped the shark with the unchecked or poorly checked comments but several times it has managed to come back to relevancy. Like Scoble or not, there is some truth in his remarks above. While I don't believe the era of Mini is over, I doubt my MS is being helped by some of the things you let through on a consistent basis.
(5) I'm an ex-employee and current shareholder. My experience then and now is that unfortunately, in more cases than not, MSFT's leadership responds to pressure vs proactively doing the right thing. When that pressure doesn't exist or can be easily ignored, MSFT often makes no course correction at all. We see this competitively, legally, internally and wrt customers/partners and especially shareholders. Dare's right that some unfortunate comments have made it through the filter and included "character assassination, racism, sexism, fear mongering, unfounded allegations of sexual misconduct, information leaking" etc, but that's not a whole lot different than many conversations over coffee at MSFT locations worldwide - or most other companies for that matter (regretably). More importantly, in my experience, comments like that have overwhlemingly been the exception vs the rule. Again as a shareholder, I think your site has done more than ANY to foster questioning of current management by both internal and external stakeholders and that's a GREAT thing given their penchant for ignoring the numerous and very obvious current concerns. When we get CONCRETE signs that senior leadership is willing and able to make the difficult course corrections (including changing the dysfunctional corporate culture) w/o external pressure, then your site's contribution may no longer be needed. Until then, I hope you'll keep at it and ignore the naysayers.
(6) The vast majority of us (who actually read lots of blogs every day) appreciate what you are doing. Not everyone realizes yet that this site is going to help mold the future of the company and maybe even bring it into the 21st century as far as how the tech world and how employees gather information and share thoughts and mature debate.
Please edit out the random trolls and potential planned posts that seem to be geared to distracting from and discrediting the mini focus.
(7) This blog is awesome simply because it IS anonymous, and people can post without fear of retalliation. Given the cloistered and clannish atmosphere at Microsoft, this is not cowardice or paranoia. It's common sense.
(8) Those in power to make a difference (LisaB?) who happen to read the blog will automatically ignore those items that don't happen to be true and posted anonymously and filter them away as noise. However, complaints that have an objective point and are posted anonymously will be considered on their merits because everyone who *really* works here knows its true. Therefore, ignoring the comment, because its anonymous, is illogical because employees can attest to its veracity and are able to contemplate the argument presented based on the content of the message itself. Moreover, upper management knows that impactful messages resonate strongly with the masses *despite* their anonymity (the discussion about stack rank is a representative example). As such, these anonymous discussions can certainly form the seeds of revolution. Ignore actual employees who post incorrectly because of their error; these are typically corrected later on by another employee and as such, the former's anonymous (incorrect) message has no impact.
So, damn me and cast aspersions upon me, but I'm going to keep keeping on.
Any other thoughts?
Oh, and finally: if some poor potential candidate came to Mini-Microsoft as part of their decision-making to join Microsoft and got scared away, well, great! Who would make such a judgment based on the radical content of a blog slavishly devoted to down-sizing Microsoft? Not someone I want on my team. Instead, I'd expect them to use it to have a challenging conversation with their recruiter and hiring manager so that they could start a job with eyes wide open and savvyness set to eleven.
Updated: corrected spelling of Doug Mahugh's last name. Sorry!
Before the fourth-of-July holiday, SteveSi let loose with a mammoth 30-some page memo describing his refreshing org restructuring going forward. Lots of praise and excitement, even amidst the ambiguity and angst. For the non-memo'd, you get some brief ideas from the previous week's Micronews and from people here leaving "I'm not telling, but I'm very excited!" (generally) comments. And, blog-posting internally, David B. Cross left his own impressions of what this means going forward. I agree, David, it is an exciting change.
I can't wait until we can share it more broadly. I have high hopes.
Oh, is something going on over in Europe?
- Microsoft Monitor If the EU Says Jump...
- All quiet on the European front - Todd Bishop's Microsoft Blog @ SeattlePI.com
- Microsoft scrambles to meet EU demands
- Microsoft antitrust payouts, the grand total - Todd Bishop's Microsoft Blog @ SeattlePI.com - a graph that appeared in the print edition of the above story. It makes even me exclaim, "Jumpin' Jesus!" when I look at all that make-up cash.
- Source EU to cap Microsoft daily fine at $3.8M
So you have Henry Sanders and teammates scrambling like the dickens now but all I can say is there goes another $500,000,000 or so. Plus daily cash. I think we might need to pawn the handful of Starbucks iDrinks that have managed to pop-up around campus. Somewhere along the way it occurred to us that the Euro Commission was actually serious about this. And every settlement we make results in some other group or government or other offended party licking their lips and thinking, 'Hmm... your bank account inspires us to sue you to help you share it!'
- The Seattle Times Business & Technology Argo aims guns at more than iPod - all I can plead about the Argo is "please, please, don't pull an Origami here!" Lots of good buzz and people speculating about the features. And you know what, if someone is speculating about a fantastic feature that we're not planning on delivering (say, converting your iTunes over to licensed WMA), how about pulling a Snakes on the Plane and doing it, and reward the community with praise for their feature design. Oh, and: I want one.
- » The pain of switching to a new OS Ed Bott's Microsoft Report ZDNet.com - okay, I'm setting myself up here to bounce raving Linux fan comments for the next week. But this post is a reality check for Linux / Ubuntu fans thinking they are going to supplant Windows any day now. Uh uh. With servers, you have a fighting chance. With Alpha-geeks reading an O'Reilly Hacks book in-between MakeZine projects, you have a more than advantageous chance. But everyday folk? Nope. Not even for saving $100. But: Thank God for Linux. Thank God for Apple. If it wasn't for competition nothing would get done around here...
- The Post Money Value An Echo Chamber Moment - goodness, I need a good PR person... maybe the firm could be called Echo-Location? So, should you ever start wadding your panties tightly in anger over what you read here at Mini-Microsoft, just read Mr. Segal's post as a pleasant reminder: 99.99997% of the world's population have never even heard of this freaking little blog. blog. blog. blog.
Holy crap, that last post really spiraled into some chaotic nasty sub-threads, mostly due to me slipping several times and hitting 'Publish' instead of 'Reject' and letting through some under-the-bar material.
I have no excuse.
The responses to that fire-fuel got so cross-threaded that it's hard to just delete my boo-boos. I'm taking a quick break between holiday beers just to put something (anything!) up to throw some cold water on this little blog.
Please, go enjoy life! I can tell you, post that comment-stream I'm going to kick up the quality bar a notch and stop letting the character assassination through... it doesn't feel right. But, you can always start your own blog to unleash your insight onto the world.
Meantime, just a few interesting things I've seen going on:
- Scobleizer - Tech Geek Blogger » Your exit interview of me - how does Scoble find all the time to wrap up one job, go to a local geekfest, have parties, sell a house, buy a house, prep for a new job, visit here to post some pretty strong defense for his former group, and blog? This is a pretty good post-Microsoft entry regarding Scoble's point-of-view as he leaves. Good advice, and I'll be just as interested to hear what other advice Scoble has three months from now as our own little reality-distortion field fades and more distance reveals other insights. For instance, sounds like the bloom has already faded from the rose with respect to me...
- The Rumors Are True Layoffs Hit Microsoft - well, there was at least truthiness to the rumors, but no outright divisional butt-kicking truth. There was an interesting amount of discussion generated around it, though.
- Micro Persuasion Cuban Kills Blog Comments - Mr. Rubel notes Mark Cuban's defection from the comment feature. Well, for at least one post. First, thanks to the Google Blogger team for adding moderation to the commenting system here. I actually manage to use it correctly some times. But, if commenting and linking and pingbacks are part of the infrastructure to great blogs leading great conversations, they really have to be top notch. And commenting right now has plenty of room for innovations. I'd even add advertisements here if I could have an excellent commenting system.
- The Blogging Journalist Who's Mini - Mr. Umrani... can you give me a weeeeee bit less attention? It's attention like this that makes me want to focus more time on building led-throwies than slapping up the occasional post here.
Looks like some late breaking news coming in via the comments:
Guess now we know why he took the time to tell his team in their last all-hands all about how much he deserves the big bonus he's getting this summer.
Vic is going to Google, after taking a year off as part of his non-compete.
Some shuffling of the executive deck chairs today, but the iceberg hits tomorrow.
Big reorg being announced tomorrow in DMD. Looks like it is happening elsewhere in the company as well...
Microsoft shuffles more executives http://news.com.com/Microsoft+shuffles+more+executives/2100-1022_3-6089338.html?tag=nefd.top
ok Mini, you're getting your wish. My org announced today a roughly 50% RIF. One group of 65 in the org is being cut to 36. My group of 12 is being reduced to 3. Management is being cut from 21 to 8 people.
Good for Microsoft? Nearly everyone in my group has a family at home they provide for. One just moved his expecting wife and daughter here from the midwest, and now he's hunting for a job again.
What do you tell them Mini?
I was thinking that same situation this morning while washing out my coffee cup. Can I talk the talk (or, type the type) and walk the walk? If my group was going through the same thing and I was the one delivering the news (versus the no doubt longed for irony of receiving the news), could I do so with solid eye contact?
It gives me no pleasure. But this company needs to size down and sad stories will be plentiful with that. I hope the parting terms are reasonable and, if they are skilled enough to get hired by Microsoft and were a good hire, they find an excellent career elsewhere.
It sounds like some of the trees are being shaken hard. If your group is given RIF percentages, how do you think you'll fare? Is it time to start looking around now so that you're at least prepared and not part of a Puget Sound glut? Personally, I'm in it for the long, bitter haul. But my resume is always up to date. Just in case ironic justice comes to town.
Just a quick post to break away from the lascivious conclusions around why Mr. Taylor is an ex-Microsoftie. Seems as though the comments have gravitated to a consistent assumption, and if true, I think we're all glad to see such violations lead to termination vs. hand-slapping "don't do that again"-isms.
(1) Some interesting comments, starting off with a WinFS update:
WinFS is DEAD DEAD DEAD:
Specifically, in the post What's in Store WinFS Update, Quentin Clark sort of says "WinFS is dead. Long live WinFS!" Aspects of WinFS are being rolled into other products, WinFS is going away, and that grand relational-filesystem is going back into ivory-tower incubation. Great. So how much money and cross-team integrated innovation randomization did we invest in WinFS?
Is this why Mark Zbikowski left Microsoft (for those that wonder why I keep bringing up MarkZ: he had been with the company for over 25 years. Only Bill and Steve have been at Microsoft longer. His departure: mmm, kind of big. The silence about it, internal and external, is weird, to me.)?
(2) A fun rumor (?):
Newest news at MSFT: Due to crappy stock price now the big bosses are talking about STOPPING ALL HIRING in FY07.. The non Business groups are already calling off interview loops for this. Of course there will be "Some exceptions" (we all know they will be in Vista).
Goodness knows we need that. How many times has Ballmer remarked lately that our hiring has exceeded our expectations? First: stop squeezing more and more new people into the offices. Second: rebalance needs internally (I hope easy internal transfers are still on LisaB's to-do list). Third: start aggressive downsizing, realizing for teams that have screwed up that it takes a lot less people to screw up, anyway.
(3) Someone wrote me asking about Corporate VP Robert Uhlaner. ¿Dónde Está? Not off the main VP pages. Not in our Outlook Global Address List. What was Mr. Uhlaner's responsibilities? Corporate Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Planning and Analysis. Oh. Well that explains it. Looking through our extensive VP list, there's a new corporate strategy VP. I've said it once. I've said it twice. #3: Dreamy. Sorry, Robert.
In the meantime, it's looking like I need to write a script to run every week during this time of change to find out whois disappearing from the VP ranks...
(4) Lastly: how's the new review system treating you? My team's stack rank is coming up this week and I've wandered the halls and buildings talking to various managers about their experience so far. Some are stressed out trying to figure how to distribute their budgets fairly and recognize their super achievers, plus roll that up and ensure it's inline with their group in general. Others are just happy they are not forced to draw a line the middle of a bunch of excellent people but can move the line down a few folks to a more natural divider. Others are bouncing up and down in their seats, quite happy that they've designated everyone in their group as "Exceeds! Outstanding!"
I parked my car, grabbed my stuff, and went to the usual entrance to my building. I waved my badge, waiting for the prompt click! that unlocks the door.
Wave. No click. Wave. No click. Wave. No click.
Okaaaay... I figured at that point a fifth attempt wasn't going to improve the chances of a click. 'It looks like,' I thought, 'I've got some serious 'splaining to do...'
I took a deep breath and headed for the high-traffic entrance. As long as you have something that looks like a blue badge you're going to get inside Microsoft, click or no click. As I walked towards my office, I took a peek around the corner. Men in black? Nope. Able to log-in? Yes. Email working? No! Oh wait, the wi-fi is off... okay, email working, yes. Greasy haired geek with a nervous tic? No. Whew, looks like I dodged one and went to work for another day.
Unlike Martin Taylor. What the heck happened? I have no idea. Perhaps a black SUV screeched to a halt in front of him and a tanned and serious Ken DiPietro threw open a back passenger door, grimly saying, "Get in. We have much to discuss." Poof. All I can say, without knowing what third rail Mr. Taylor might have danced on, someone is most likely going to do it again and not know how serious the implications are...
Another exit I didn't notice: Mark Zbikowski (MarkZ) has left Microsoft, too, as of June 9th, according to Wikipedia. People here in the comments noticed him missing from the GAL. Dynamic references to NTDEV\MarkZ have started 404'ing inside. Hmm... maybe our mini-mizing has finally started... in a silent, scary, horror-movie sort of way.
Other going ons:
- Awakening Microsoft by Jason Kirby touches on the Microsoft stock price. Are employees motivated by the stock price? Do you pay attention to it? Do you wish it would go up vs. staying flat or, as of late, plunging? Duh? Will employees speak with one voice soon to say (perhaps even wear buttons to the Company Meeting): It's the stock price, stupid. Can the financial investors and employees team up to convince executive leadership to start making moves to raise the shares and commit to a plan that will succeed at that?
- Microsoft Declares Quarterly Dividend Financial News - Yahoo! Finance - one approach to improve the stock price and investor confidence that we've heard over and over: a consistently bigger dividend than nine whole pennies.
- The Seattle Times Business & Technology Microsoft will stay the course - hey, chops to Brier Dudley for interviewing Ballmer and Gates and actually bringing up the issues discussed here, vs. throwing softball lifestyle questions. Kudos, Brier. Somehow I've missed Brier's blog - I'm a subscriber now.
- Ballmer ain't goin' nowhere! - Jun. 19, 2006 - hmm, do we need to start taking bets on departure dates? I really had no clue how deeply connected BillG and SteveB are until I sat in on the Town Hall where BillG explained his decision to move on in 2008. That internal video of them going off to play and goof-off during work is beginning to make more sense to me...
- Microsoft Developer Unloads On The Vista Process - was listed on Wednesday's internal Microsoft Daily News summary email. Praise be to Phil- oh wait, let me check to make sure the post is still there... yes, it is. Okay. Praise be to Philip!
(What the? This is the third post in a week? Aren't I supposed to be on extended sabbatical? Mini-Microsoft, I wish I knew how to quit you.)
Right now, I'm feeling all nostalgic. It is the beginning of an end of an era, indeed. So long, Classic Microsoft. Hello, emerging Next Generation Microsoft. And I think it's a good thing, but, boy, when Gates got choked up on stage today thinking about not seeing Steve everyday my lip starting quivering, too, and my eyes got a bit misty. That little devil popped up on my shoulder, muttering, "I suddenly feel guilty for all those bad things I encouraged you and your commenters to say..."
Microsoft has indeed come a long way. I'm working at Microsoft today simply because one day, back in the early 1980s, I bought a TRS-80 with Microsoft Basic (basically, though it was also called a Dragon) and immediately dropped my nascent creative career path and started instead making pixels do things. Without Microsoft and Gates I'd have had a very different life. And I've had a blast in my life so far.
One of my thoughts before the Town Hall meeting: we're going to need a Bill Gates action figure for those future program reviews, one that has the recorded line, "That's the stupidest f'ing thing I've ever heard!"
Change is great. Change allows for opportunity and realignment and breaking up the fiefdoms and the silos. It sounds like everyone is singing a mea-culpa tune over Vista and focusing on the need for agility. Are you a cool hunter? Hunting for agility and being a streamline champion is the new hotness right now.
I think the world will be a better place for Mr. Gates - er, Bill - focusing on his foundation. And Microsoft is ready to re-invent itself. Hopefully with less people. I did my best to make sure I didn't groan as Mr. Ballm- Steve corrected Bill saying that we're not in the 60,000s for employees, we've gone over 70,000! Oy! And I don't know who in the world they are hiring so easily. It must be MBAs, because I can't find qualified software engineers who know a pointer from a hole in the ground. Anyway.
I have hope that opportunities abound for Microsoft to resurge. And for that stock price to start moving up (though I expect a summer of stock spanking, both from the Financial Analysts Meeting and the shareholders meeting). I just wish amidst all of this change that we could go on a the 20/20 plan for employment size.
- Todd Bishop's Microsoft Blog @ SeattlePI.com - The world reacts ... - excellent round-up. No need for me to really add anything beyond:
- Techmeme Microsoft Announces Plans for July 2008 Transition for Bill Gates (Microsoft) - TechMeme's associated links.
- Gates to Step Down - Joel on Software - Joel says what I expect most everyone else to say in the comments here.
- Well, PhilipSu's Broken Windows Theory was great while it lasted. Not quite a whole day, eh? It's been mostly wiped. Maybe that should have been posted with commenting disabled. Philip has a follow-up here: The World As Best As I Remember It Corporate Blogs -- Gradations of Value. Oh, and I'm not that bad, am I?
- Update: it's back again. Arrggghh! Philip, are you doing this to drive me crazy!
Some of the Mini-Microsoft-like sites I've noticed recently (are there more)?
MSFTextrememakeover at http://msftextrememakeover.blogspot.com/ - posts so far:
- MSFTextrememakeover Ballmer presents his case in Manhattan - and bombs
- MSFTextrememakeover Another day, another potential legal problem - this time Adobe
- MSFTextrememakeover Scoring MSFT against its own self-selected peers
- MSFTextrememakeover Update - Another day, another potential legal problem - this time Adobe
Mini-Microsoft France at http://mini-microsoft-fr.blogspot.com/ - posts so far (hmm, I could have swore there were two posts...):
Nothing really new from what was looking like an encouraging blog a while back: Next Microsoft.
Other interesting links:
- Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life - There Goes the Down Payment on My First House - pictures are worth a thousand words, or in this case: billions upon billions of shareholder dollars.
- Microsoft Monitor Microsoft Blogs - Joe Wilcox musing over Microsoft blogging in the upcoming post-Scoble era. It's interesting that Mr. Wilcox has flipped the bit on Brian Jones' blog from personal technology blog to controlled corporate mouth-piece.
- Plugged in A kinder, gentler Microsoft - Financial News - Yahoo! Finance - "I have a confession to make: I like the new Microsoft." this is where I have to give leadership credit for not getting in the way as individuals and groups take the initiative to rebuild positive relationships with doubtful developers, spurned partners, and leery customers.
- Windows Vista Buggy, Testers Say - Financial News - Yahoo! Finance - so many issues, so little time. Personally, I'm resigned to Vista slipping again and invigorated leaders pontificating that it's okay to slip because we won't ship sh*t. You know, about two years ago that reasoning held. Everything today is a clustered-coupling and the senior leadership hiding behind that reasoning are the ones that need to take their SPSA grant and scoot out the exit.
- Broken Windows Theory by philipsu - reposted back on MSDN. Just to be clear: it was down for editing, not due to pressure from The Man, according to the author. Thanks for letting me know.
- Old now: Broken Windows Theory philipsu - Google Search - from here you can look into the Google cache and find the yanked essay about Vista and the culture around its woes. Very nicely written and now 404 from The World As Best As I Remember It. You can also read it if you add the blog's feed to your BlogLines subscription. Philip, perhaps you and Dare can talk about dealing with internal grief for your blog posts.
My favorite snippet from that last one:
When a vice president in Windows asks you whether your team will ship on time, they might well have asked you whether they look fat in their new Armani suit. The answer to the question is deeply meaningful to them. It’s certainly true in some sense that they genuinely want to know. But in a very important other sense, in a sense that you’ll come to regret night after night if you get it wrong, there’s really only one answer you can give.
(Updated: the post Broken Windows Theory is back.)
So long, Microsoft-infused Scobelizer! All the best. The amount of attention that this blog managed to conjure up was in no small part due to Scoble and his generous linking and discussion.
But I guess I better watch myself... I can't go and wag my finger when cornered by the blue-badge yanking, code-decoding geek-squad. I can no longer lecture them, "Uh, uh, uh no-firie! Or you lose Scoble in the deal!"
It will be interesting to see where the future of Microsoft blogging goes now. There's a certain amount of openness and honesty and vulnerability in the best writing, let alone blogging, that you just can't fake, and those that try are going to get ripped to shreds. Anyway, I learned a-lot about writing and a great deal about managing a balanced conversation thanks to Mr. Scoble. Thanks, Robert. I look forward to talking with you someday. Again.
In other news... MSFT at $21.71! Telling people I work at Microsoft used to lead to glowing investment stories and smiles, and then later troubled caution and mutters about, "Well, that Mr. Gates ain't no dummy." Now it leads to people lecturing me about dividends and Microsoft not able to figure out on its own if it's growth or value or whatever and them wondering just who the heck in charge. When grandfatherly Joe-the-Retired-Teacher you meet one weekend is calling for the CEO's head, you know we've used up all our credits and results are demanded soon, not six years or ten years from now.
(Psst. For best results: drop the company employee size by 10%.)
(Updated: fixed crazy syntax.)
Things over the past week that landed on my "hmm..." radar:
Vista / Office:
- 500 Hour Test of Tomorrow's Windows Vista Tom's Hardware - the gracious ending of this forty-web page Vista overview is interesting, especially calling out that Vista is best appreciated after an extended amount of usage.
- Visual Tour 20 Things You Won't Like About Windows Vista - not too gracious at all with-respect-to a first impression, extended amount of time aside. It early on rings the bell of my concern over Windows and Office features being determined by corporate IT departments, guardians of the upgrade deployment, than actual consumer-focused features.
- » What do you think of Office 2007 Ed Bott's Microsoft Report ZDNet.com - might put my IT department vs. the enthused users complaint to the test.
Mr. Brian Jones put up two posts describing the feature removal of PDF generation support within Office 2007. All I can say to this feature pull-out: Machiavelli claps. Well done. That's the kind of Microsoft aikido moves I can appreciate.
- Brian Jones Open XML Formats Legal issues around PDF support
- Brian Jones Open XML Formats Follow-up on PDF legal issues
The Microsoft Code:
I don't know where Mr. Adam Barr is going with his serialized story placing The DaVinci Code within a Microsoft setting, but I like it, I like it! Mr. Barr, any chance (sheepishly tracing an arc with my toes in the dirt) I could have a cameo? 8-) Perhaps one where Scoble finally ensures he's packing heat and not a banana:
- Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters The Microsoft Code Chapter 1
- Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters The Microsoft Code Chapter 2
- Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters The Microsoft Code Chapter 3
- Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters The Microsoft Code Chapter 4
Mini-Microsoft Mr. Ballmer on the Defense - Links : in general, folks aren't too happy with Mr. Ballmer's presentation. Especially that part where Ballmer states that the stock price doesn't fit into the morale and motivation of Microsofties.
Quick collection of various links discussing Mr. Ballmer's presentation today (Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Strategic Decisions Conference):
- Microsoft Investor Relations Home Page - has the link to the webcast.
- View the PowerPoint - PowerPoint presentation for Ballmer.
- Read the transcript - for what was said, plus the Q&A.
- Bloomberg.com Microsoft's Ballmer Defends Spending, No Big Buyback (Update1) - Good read and rolls-up the unsatisfied nature of the crowd.
- Ballmer Defends Microsoft Spending Plan - Bill Synder @ TheStreet.com
- Ballmer defends Microsoft's cash problem - Reuters
- Ballmer Defends Need to Invest, Innovate - AP
- Ballmer Further Investment At M'soft Needed - Forbes.com
- Liveblogging Microsoft's Steve Ballmer at Strategic Decisions Conference - Blogging Stocks - running commentary (nice reaction to my excerpt below).
- » Penetrating Ballmervision Rational rants ZDNet.com
Note a whole lot of commentary for me - well, other than observing that I'd sum it up as Mr. Ballmer's telling us to hold on-tight to the handbasket we're sitting in, it's going to get a whole lot hotter - but one issue that I love that's being asked still gets a whole lotta buzzword-bingo-nothing when it comes to a sustentative answer (from the transcript):
CHARLES DI BONA: A couple of questions on the organization of the company. How are you looking at the organizational structure going forward, in particular a number of questions about how do you sort of avoid the big company problem of becoming sort of too diffuse, too defocused, and bureaucratic, both from a motivational point of view, but also from a results point of view? STEVE BALLMER: That's a good question, and probably one that I spend more of my time on than anything. I made a comment about nurturing multiple forms of innovation, and that actually, in a sense, ties to this exactly. How do we give people enough autonomy, but get enough synergy? How do you make sure we have high enough quality people to actually run with and move and drive the businesses that we're getting in? I mean, I tell the guys literally, you've got to think about guys like Kevin Johnson, Robbie Bach, Jeff Raikes as CEOs. They've got to be able to be as good as the CEO of any one of their competitors. We're entering the unified communications business this year with Live Communications Server, with VOIP capabilities, the acquisition we did of a little Swiss company last summer, Media-streams. We've got to have people who are absolutely top-notch, first rate. We've got to be willing to incent those people, reward those people, motivate those people. And there are issues, you've got to work, and I'm probably part of the problem sometimes, part of the solution sometimes, but it's something that as long as you keep it on your radar screen, and think about it a lot, I think you can make progress. One thing, we are evolving. Twelve months ago, we would have talked to you about integrated innovation. Today, I think what we've talked to you about is innovate and integrate. That is, I think for example in our first Longhorn Vista conceptualization, we had too much technology, too new, trying to be integrated at one time. So, we're trying to get a little bit better balance in innovation, then integration, as opposed to integrating so much new stuff at one time, and that helps a lot with agility.
Finally: I know, lots of folks are going to scream for Ballmer's resignation and replacement. But even I don't see that happening anytime soon (unless the stock falls into the lower teens). How well does it all work going forward as is?
Pre-Town Hall: Is May 18th a big turning point of a day? Is it my first big step into the sunset of blog obsolescence?
I'd love Microsoft to start its big internal defrag today, shrugging off the past of dysfunctional competitive reviews unattached to team success. I'd love Microsofties to stop focusing on succeeding by gaming the system and to start justly succeeding by producing great customer-focused results. I'd personally love to get back to just writing about making Microsoft smaller and efficient versus bemoaning trended 3.0s and The Curve and, oy, the injustice of it all.
I'd love our review and compensation system to be so straightforward and fair that it just fades into the background of everyday worklife.
There is risk. If the changes are as big as rumored in my building's hallways, there is great potential for a stunned backlash. You know, folks like to talk about change but don't like change when it happens. Employees also don't like having a bunch of unanswered questions. While it takes super leadership to rise up and push for the change, it takes extraordinary fantastic leadership to realize big change day-to-day from here forward. Each and everyone one of us, if we accept that the change is right, has to get behind it and ensure it's as good as it can be, and tweak and revise and adapt.
It's a good start.
"Should have just done the towels and called it a day!" - Lisa Brummel, May 18th 2006.
You know, one moment of reflection: the circle is now complete. My second post to this blog was on July 6th, 2004. It was right after an impromptu employee meeting with Ballmer and Gates and as part of that, Mr. Ballmer justified the unfortunate recent benefit cuts, the main two points of ire being the towels and the ESPP revamp. Now, two years later, we're getting our towels back.
Has it always just been about the towels?
(Possible book title flashes through my mind.)
It's not like we're sweaty work-out animals always in need of a shower and fresh towel. No. What riled us was the bone-headed way the towel cut-back was handled, explained, and justified. It truly made us wonder just who are these people in charge and just who do they think they are leading? The towels became the symbol of poor leadership. That and the office-supply hide-and-seek.
Someone should send Ms. Brummel a golden towel award. I'd like my old ESPP back, too.
So, I'm going to skip over Ballmer's presentation along with the other presidents. I liked hearing from them and what's going on in the groups. I guess we'll next hear more at the Company Meeting. The star of the show, and I'd say of the entire company right now, was Lisa Brummel. If I had my old paper notebook, I'd be drawing little hearts around her name. Personally, I think she's a fantastic role model.
"I think some people will think it's fabulous, some people will think it's great, some people will be completely confused by it, and some people won't like it."
Peer-relative review ranking via fitting The Curve is gone. The trended 3.0 review score is gone. Your review rating is now an honest assessment based on what it is you should be doing and how well you did it. There are a lot of posts and comments here that, over time, are going to seem archaic. Good.
(Allow me to hang the disco ball, switch on the party lights, and put on some happy funk music...)
What's unclear and what time will reveal is that there still probably is Stack Ranking which feeds into a Compensation Curve. The poor manager with the review tool in front of them still has to figure out how to divvy up their merit increases. Either they make dictatorial decisions or stack ranks everyone. What's great, though, is they have the power to decide that, "Hey, everyone did great" and evenly spread out the budget vs. meeting a forced distribution.
Dixie's BBQ? Typhoon? Excellent! I will need that towel now that I have to work off all of those calories (or, wipe the sweat from my brow from a good dose of The Man sauce). The rest of the tools and the focusing on managers is a long-term investment sort-of-thing. We'll have to see how that goes and if there are issues, how they can be improved. I think there was a passive aggressive message to all managers: if you became a manager just to get promoted faster, we're going to find you and weed you out. It would have been nice for that to be clearer.
The one big thing missing out of all the rumors I heard was base-pay adjustment. The nicest biggest rumor was that we were going to be moving from 65 percentile based pay to 75 percentile based pay. That would have made incredible sense given the current competitive market and the salary compression people are dealing with. Salary compression hasn't been addressed at all. Maybe executive leadership is betting on another bubble burst?
Coming soon: we'll find out if we're on track for a cost-of-living-adjustment or not for the target merit budget.
And for you shareholders freaking out over the prospects of Microsoft blowing money on its employees: senior leadership made it clear that all of this was productivity based, and that they were expecting a great return on investment. Personally, I wouldn't have minded a mass-exodus from Microsoft of all the talented people because that indeed would have forced a Mini-Microsoft to be realized. These people are just doing their best to avoid that and to get excellent results in doing so.
So, going back to basics, does any of this get us closer to a Mini-Microsoft. Nope. A non-distracted Microsoft, perhaps, but some fundamental issues still remain with respect to us being so incredibly big that we still stumble over ourselves and suffer horrible, horrible waste in time and effort. I know Mr. Johnson is trying to make all the " <<fill in the blank>> Live" stuff seem like we're finally nimble and all that but it's one thing to throw the wonderful Sanaz and team up on the stage and exclaim, " Ooo, yeah, agility !" and another to make Windows, Office, Dynamics, and VS agile.
Lastly... what difference did this blog make? Would all of this had happened naturally once LisaB was in the house?
My feeling is that we were on our commute bike, but off the paved trail, going down a steep gravel path with potholes and horse apples (much like, say, the Tolt Pipeline trail). Some folks, rattling along the way, saw another smoother path and scooted over to that, leaving Microsoft. As of today, we're back on the smooth path. Ah! It's got some tight turns and we can't see what's around the corner, but it's a hell of a lot better.
"A non-toothache is a very pleasant thing." I like that saying. We're back to being able to focus on what's important, not being angst ridden over a busted review system. Yes, there's new angst in the interim but I have faith we can work through it, make good decisions, and network together to make the best decisions within this new model into best practices.
Looking back now: so many years... so many years people complained about trended review results, especially the dreaded trended 3.0, and you'd always hear, "There's nothing you can do. It's just how it is." So - eventually - I brought it up here as something I thought was fairly uncool, dysfunctional, and hampering our ability to get exceptional customer-focus, profit-making results let alone truly fire the people who needed to be moved on.
You don't need your 3.0 performers anymore to serve as a review foundation to prop up the rest of your team. Fire them!
And, well, the public complaining and dialogue that went on, along with potential candidates saying, "I don't want any of that crazy system!" added up. It got a very big ball rolling. The internal discussions of people getting a clear view into the smoky rooms of the stack rank and curve modeling helped a lot, too.
Thanks, Mr. Scoble, for your kind words (Scobleizer - Microsoft Geek Blogger » Missed big HR meeting (MyMicrosoft is now improved)).
Oh, and thanks Mini! These changes are due in no small part to you. Even if you don't get official props in the press releases.
Can one person change a huge company? Mini did. And we don't even know his name.
So, I'm going to make the claim that this blog, and all of those who participated in it and followed up on its contents, made a difference. If you agree, well, you can buy me a beer one day. And if you think there's a lot more work to do: the system is in play. All the cards have been thrown into the air. Get to work to make the new changes even better.
You: So what do you think? Good? bad? I'd love to hear some constructive thoughts. Maybe even just what questions you have at this point.
(I feel compelled to slap together a quick post of what was in my queue to avoid any dwelling on a long kiss goodbye or such - it's not goodbye it's just a... mini-Mini-Microsoft for a while. This is an example of what I intend to post for a while, as soon as enough floats to the top of my mind. It may not look any different to you, but it's super different for me...)
When I read Chris Pirillo's Vista bug feedback (he's also done some intense Outlook 2007 feedback), the first question that came to my mind was: is this the polish tax we pay for automation? If our former STEs (now SDETs-or-else) had been focusing on the black-box entire Vista experience, would the following issues had been entered and fixed?
One commenter writes:
Hey Who da', did you see the article about Xerox in the Sunday Seattle Times (business section). They promoted the head of HR to run the company. The first thing she did was to hold a series of employee town halls. Then she told executives who weren't with her to leave.
It's a reprint from the WSJ but I couldn't find it online.
Forgot one more thing, she downsized Xerox from 90,000 to 55,000.
Ooo, she is ready for a Microsoft-sized challenge. I like the way Ms. Mulcahy handles numbers. Actually, the quickest article I could find was on C|Net: Breathing new life into Xerox Newsmakers CNET News.com.
Finally, a non-Microsoftie VP in product development, MrMichevous, spent time to write up a long, illuminating comment looking at the issues brought up here quite often. From the other-side. It's a small study in The School of Hard Knocks and Just the Way Things Work, especially the following snippet:
I'd like to add my take on the question you posed earlier: "Let's say you walk into your office one morning. You reflect on your team before going through the morning email and have the realization that one of your reports (who perhaps has done a good job making you feel like an excellent manager) was in fact playing the system like this FAQ calls out. Or worse. What would you do?"
Simple. If they weren't good at their own job, I'd counsel or fire them (and have done so in the past). But if they were good at their own job, I'd promote them.
I could hear the anguished screams of MM readers as I typed that last sentence. Why, they scream, would you allow style to to win over substance? Simple. To reach the higher levels, both style and substance is required. Despite what engineers would like to think, getting to Director is only partially a function of how technically good you are at your own job. I recently promoted two people in my own org to Director. Predictably, within a week two others came to my desk asking when they could make Director, since they had been there as long as the other guys. When I asked them why they thought I had promoted the other two, they sat quietly - they were unable to articulate why I had made the decision. I explained to them that at the higher levels, the intangible qualities are as important as the tangible ones - the ability to walk into a room and "own" it, the ability to summarize complex concepts succinctly so that senior execs can understand them, the ability to manage their own boss.
All good things come to an end. Or to a long pause, or to a ride off into the sunset, or to at least a substantial hibernation (preferably on a holiday weekend, to make the least amount of noise).
I don't often talk or write to other people about what I do here. I did so twice this past week, in some detail, regarding where this blog is and why I started it and whether I felt it has been a success. And one of the journalists, Mr. Westneat, picked up on my weariness (and, ahem, my sloppiness). While in the past I've been sparkling and enthused to share in what's happened here, I was glum and darkly reflective. Even somewhat defeated. All of this, no doubt within me already, became obvious to me the more I spoke with Mr. Westneat and then thought about our conversation through the rest of that day.
I'm glad I went through the questions and the answers because it's forced me to reflect.
If doing something hurts, stop it. Same goes for something that's not fun. And, you know, currently, this oddly enough isn't fun. Thrilling certainly. Wildly educational, thanks to the comments coming in, absolutely. But not fun. There are other things going on in the world that I'm missing out on, and they are beginning to take a higher priority. For me.
A stark realization came to me when the review performance model changed. The dreaded trended 3.0 is finally gone! Finally. Gone. Why wasn't I shaking my boo-tay and dancing around like Tony Manero? Amidst all of the great changes and the cheering, my heart felt heavy. Something's not right, and I don't feel right with myself. And that means to me that I've got to hit the breaks and engage in some deep reflection. Victory as cheery as a wake? No, something's wrong. I've got a few clues, and none of them make me feel proud of myself.
Back in 2004, I took a lot of time to plan and think before I started putting up the first few posts. And now I assess myself to be at a crossroads. Time for Mini-Microsoft 2.0? Or to do something else, and let the bits here cool off and fade from attention? The 2.0 road isn't going to happen overnight - more like six months if it's going to hit the ground running like the first time I started this up. Another consideration, as I stand at these crossroads and hope that Mr. Willie Brown's deal maker doesn't show up, is that great changes are indeed afoot at Microsoft. And these changes are going to take time to grow and I'm not going to poke them with a sharp stick until they've had their chance to prove themselves.
I could take the Dread Pirate Roberts approach to here... that'd certainly give me plenty of time to play with my beloved Buttercup again. Lots to think about. But I'm not going to. For a while.
Like I said before, for the near-term I will throw up the occasional interesting article or reposted comment. Perhaps that is all it takes given the number of excellent, good-looking people willing to spend time reading and contributing to the comments. And I'll continue to moderate comments just because occasionally something wildly offensive does show up in the pending queue. So does this mean that this is the end of Mini-Microsoft? For now, yes, but only my end of it. The rest is up to you.
(Updated: fixed a typo.)