Sunday, September 4, 2005

Back to Basics

Why in the world did I start doing this, given that there are so many other fun things to spend life doing?

After a year of posting the occasional note here and going off on various tangents, I want to recenter and refocus on why it's important to me to be so public about Microsoft's current problematic state and to foster some level of transparent discussion about what's going well and what's not going so well for Microsoft. I love Microsoft and I know we have the innate potential to be great again and to backtrack away from this path of mediocrity.

To do this, we're going to have to be a smaller, agile company keenly focused on shipping end-user wow'zing software on-time, shedding ourselves of any groups or leaders who can't deliver.

Upfront request: if you think, within these posts and the comments, there is something worth discussing and sharing, I'm going to ask you to do me a favor: spread the word, spread the discussion.

  • One way would be to click on the little envelope icon for this post (or any post you find interesting) and send it to someone you know that would be interested.
  • Another would be to send your own email with the URL to this blog, , along with what you think.
  • Another would be to plain blog about it, perhaps even discussing your own take on Microsoft's health and its vision for the future.
  • And another would be to print a hardcopy of a particular post and put it up for others to read.

So, what are some top-of-mind concerns and action-items regarding Microsoft today?

Fire the Deadwood

Microsoft is bloated, big, and slow. During the dot-com boom-years, we hired a bunch of clunkers and brought in a lot of questionable talent as part of our even more questionable acquisitions. These folks brought in lower-quality new hires. And you'd better believe that this entitle-focused group of clunkers has their best interest at the center of all their decisions, customer and shareholders be damned. What a sweet job and such an easy system beat!

Sub-par performance and sub-par leadership risks every single product we produce and maintain. We need to focus on getting out the low performers and the dead-wood that just don't belong at Microsoft. Start with a 5% cut in employment all around. And make cuts that make sense for our customers, versus, say, dismantling our premier support across the nation or continuing to foster bad attrition.

Cut Middle Management

Middle management is the fertile ground in which bureaucracy and process and metrics flourish. Middle management isn't all dumb, either. It's going to create work to justify being around and to keep itself busy, and usually this is more meetings, changes and revision and addition to process, and broad initiatives.

Now, I don't mean we need to outright fire everyone in middle management (though that would be just swell). What we need to do is redeploy and reorganize and come up with that old fashion loose hierarchy with very few steps to BillG in the address book where managers have lots of people to manage. At least a 5:1 report to manager ratio, with closer to 10:1 being ideal. The best managers should stay managers and the others be given the chance to drop back to individual contributing. And with a large cut in middle management, a lot of useless, time-consuming process would vanish. Win and win.

Hold Leadership Accountable

If you can't ship a fantastic software product on-time in this day and age of the 21st century, you really need to be fired. Sure, the old IBM 360 mainframe operating system was a bear when this structured programming thing was oh so trendy. But Microsoft at this point is pretty much the planet's accumulation of what it really takes to ship successful software. As of late, we've been accumulating a lot of dung.

If you make a bad decision that trips up shipping key products on schedule it should be recognized as horrible failure. SteveB should throw your chair across the room and out the window - with you sitting in it. Chased with a good stream of swear words for you to listen to on your way down. "F------ slipping p----!" That's the leadership accountability I want to see!

Instead, we're doing a fantastic job accumulating deep knowledge in what it takes to screw up software development and rewarding that as how we do business. Whatcha gonna do? Software's hard! Our future leaders, doing all the hard front-line work today, can put $2 and $2 together and see that executives get rewarded for pursuing big risks and complex integrated initiatives but not actually having to deliver the best products on-time (let alone commit to making profits for the groups in the red).

Speak Up and Act

Where's the outrage? You see it sprinkled here and there in some blogs and in the comments here. You definitely hear it with the muttered voices at lunch. But where's the focused, productive outrage at the amazing downslide of Microsoft over the past five-some years into a passionless, process-ridden lumbering idiot?

Where's the employee outrage of seeing leadership that fumbles the ball constantly but is never held accountable? Where's the shareholder outrage at Microsoft's flat share price? Is everyone content and happy? If you can express outrage over political fumbles, you can absolutely express outrage over leadership fumbles.

Next-to-Finally: why be anonymous? Bock, bock? Why not sign my little ol' name to stand by my words? The main reason is I feel (believe it or not) I have something coherent and important to say here. I believe that many Microsofties share similar concerns and have lots comments to contribute. If my posts were wrapped up in who I was and what product I worked on and what kind of bike I rode, well, that message would get lost within some level of dismissive bias. I'm sure you've seen this, if you read enough blogs (especially the arrows constantly fired at Scoble).

I feel, at this time, that posting these ideas and furthering the discussion is a lot more important than the name and the oh-so-handsome-picture gracing my scratched-up blue badge.

Finally: what's on the top of your mind for Microsoft? What are the problems you'd like our leadership to publicly acknowledge and then visibly work to address and change?


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