Sunday, September 18, 2005

Microsoft Company Meeting... I'm looking for some dates!

(Whew, I'm worn out and scratched up from a long weekend. As the Mini fifteen-minute clock counts down, the comments are coming in at a much higher rate than usual. Yes, I wish Blogger provided a comments web feed as well. Some of the comments are sprinkled through some of the older posts, too, as folks find something particularly relevant to provide feedback to. If you're just subscribing to the web feed in your RSS reader, you need to actually peek in on the posts to see a lot of the discussion.)

Microsoft's Company Meeting is this Friday at SafeCo Field in Seattle. To some, it's a huge waste of time and money with little benefit. For me, it is a heel-clicking time to re-energize and re-focus on who we are and the great potential we have. I've mentioned that I find the Company Meeting an opportunity to drink the Kool-Aid and submit to the rah-rah brainwashing... and I'm quite sure that there's going to be plenty of opportunity for that.

I printed out Mr. Ballmer's Business Week interview Friday to re-read. By the time I reached the last page, my eyes were swirling hypnotic spirals and, just like that Malkovich plunging into the Malkovich portal scene in Being John Malkovich, the only word I could hear people utter was "innovate." Innovate, innovate innovate innovate innovate. Innovate? In-no-vate?!?

A few good, hard, long shakes of the head back and forth I was back to normal.

I'm sorely disappointed with Ballmer's answers. Not about me - whadjaspect? - but rather that there was a lack of honesty in the answers and a total sense of pure-politician evasiveness and redirection. I guess it usually works. Just answer the freaking simple questions directly! It's like he has three talking points and all he can do is mutex them into some variety that seems like an answer. One commenter refers to Good to Great author Jim Collin's web site, specifically the Confront the Brutal Facts page. I know that Ballmer could do this honest assessment in a series of bullet points admitting that we're late, we're shipping a lot less than we wanted to, and that we've got some big kinks in our process (along with way too much process). Instead he tips the hat to saying Microsofties are highly critical and have high standards.

So right now I'm feeling a bit bummed about the Company Meeting because I think between the recent Ballmer company-wide memo and this interview, I pretty much know the innovative flavor of Kool-Aid we're going to be served. But what would I want? What is one small step that I'd ask for executive leadership to provide this Friday?


Give me dates. Okay, 9/22/05 11/22/05 for the XBox 360... I know that one. VS Whidbey: really, really soon now (I haven't checked my email this weekend, maybe the weight-impaired escrow agent has sung). How about all the flavors of Vista? How about Office 12? Give me dates all around for the big chunks in this pipeline of yours. You commit to them and your VPs commit to them. I want us to announce come-Hell or high-water dates so that the accountability clock can start ticking.

You announce those dates, I will stand up and clap.

So I'm glad that the Company Meeting is coming after the Business Week article and that there has been time for people to react to the BW article and the Forbes article. Those folks who have read them I'm sure will be looking for honest answers and will be squinting with skeptical eyes anything that seems too much like an amazing steam of innovative hype pouring out a huge pipeline of great passion.

What are you looking for going forward from our leadership?

I'll put up a Company Meeting post Friday for folks to share their post-meeting assessments.

Commenting on some of the comments and such... some folks didn't expect much more out of Ballmer. But all I can say is that his hype pipeline is so shallow that it doesn't take that much concentration to see through it. Oy! Any bit of criticism can expect to be met with all the great delayed software we've finally managed to scoop up and ship.

Some folks say, "Hey, it's bad all over, stop your gutless anonymous belly-aching!" Or, something like, "I came from IBM, and Microsoft is a much better place than IBM." That, combined with folks complaining about ex-IBMers fu-bar'ing the place up, reaches an interesting critical mass.

Microsoft is better than just about any other company I can think of. Where we're not, it's because we're sinking down to a mismanaged level vs. some of the excellence we used to imbibe and aspire to. Okay, sure, it's not like we had golden past days where Devs, PMs, and Testers held hands as they skipped around the X-buildings, giving each other shoulder rubs as features were designed, implemented, and tested. But it was / is a great place to create great software to change the world.

We're just way off track given our current entangled path, and I don't want to excuse our suckiness based on how bad it might be at HP or IBM or such. We're not that bad off. Yet. Though we might be on-course to see what that's all about.

Mark Lucovsky, world-class Distinguished Engineer and Flying Chair Hurdler, dropped by for a couple of comments, including a snippet of his "goodbye" note. Nice. A small bit:

After Steve's explosion, I discussed the situation with Sergey, Larry, and Eric asking if they still wanted me to join knowing that the war Microsoft is waging on Google will likely intensify as a result. All agreed that we should proceed and allow me to help Google do whats right for our users.

From the Forbes article, I love this small insight from Ray Ozzie:

"No one seems to feel comfortable in their own skin here. It's weird. They still need to succeed."

He observes what Ballmer is too proud to say: "The top executives get the potential Microsoft has. But the next tier of employees doesn't because of the stock price."

You know, I think Mr. Ozzie's hanging around with the executives, not the "next tier" and we can get some insight here of what the executives think of that thar tier. And of themselves.

While we're on execs and looking at the Business Week article, the following has been noted in several comments:

Now a new pay scheme, scheduled to go into effect this fall, threatens to make the gulf even wider. If they meet incentive goals, the 120 or so vice-presidents will receive an eye-popping $1 million in salary a year, and general managers, the next level down, will get $350,000 to $550,000, according to a high-ranking source. But the rest of the staff is paid at market rates.

Cri-min-id-ally! I'd certainly like to know if this is true or not. It's a question going to my VP. Given that the article is hot off the presses, I'd pass it by your VP, too. It's a good question to ask as you're trotting around thinking about all the silly cutbacks we endure while our shareholder's money potentially gets misused in this entitlement. I guess our stock just plain isn't good enough for our leadership anymore.

A really great comment takes time to explain old-school BillG Microsoft vs. new-school SteveB Microsoft for folks who don't have the day-to-day exposure to appreciate the differences. I look forward to reading future postings here. A snippet:

Within the last 5 years, almost every manager I had from PUM (2 levels below VP give-or-take) was hired externally. They were hired from companies that move at the speed of wood like Oracle, IBM, HP, etc. They are professional managers, not engineers with reports.

And they think like managers. They have no appreciation for what it takes to engineer software. If you explain to them that filling out CheckPoint or spreadsheets for project tracking on *every piece of code you check in* reduces the productivity of engineers, they don't care. They like to see graphs and press buttons. They don't know anything whatsoever about writing code.

Finally, "hey!" to Gretchen and Scoble. To potential hires looking into Microsoft and getting turned off from this blog... well, you know I'm looking for a smaller Microsoft so I'm not exactly selling sweet MSFT lemonade on the sunny side of the street. However, the insights into Microsoft can just as easily be applied as critical questions to any potential employer. So you learn about our scary busted-ass review model. Ask some deep questions of your other offers and see how they compare. And if you do come to Microsoft, you can hit the ground running and start managing up and setting your expectations with your boss.

And, ah, good luck with that.

Updated: fixed horrible 360 release date mis-type.

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