Monday, February 13, 2006

"Rarely does a bad attitude solve the problem."

The comment request seemed simple enough...

Mini could I make a humble request? What do you think of having one post solely dedicated to discussing the things we love about this company?

Yeah... but no.

Yet I would like to calibrate my outlook here (and I'm not talking about making that Outlook Beta1 actually run fast without my laptop's CPU melting into my desk and hard disk paging clear through time into next Tuesday). While I'm all out of Pollyanna flavored Kool-Aid, I do want to make a few things clear about my perspective.

All the way back from that Blast Off post (ah, yapping alone in the blogverse) to the Back to Basics post, I've done my best to make it clear that I love Microsoft and that I don't want to work any place else. Like most Microsofties, if there was someplace else I wanted to work, I most likely could get a job there (though I'd really have to ponder bopping an interviewer on the nose if they asked me something about resistance between a knight's move on an infinite plane of resistors... what, while bisecting all the of gas stations in the USA?). So I'm staying. And I'm rolling up my sleeves to make a difference at Microsoft. Daily. I enjoy what I do and I'm empowered to make a difference, mainly because I've decided I'm going to make a difference. Microsoft is that kind of place.

And here at Mini-Microsoft? Here I do point out the issues as I see them. Dudes and Dudettes, it takes less than three minutes to get your own blog, if you don't have one already. Want to extol to the world about the greatness of Microsoft (and it is great, don't get me wrong), type away! And by golly, if you direct link to one of my posts, it just happens to show up down at the bottom. That's a great way to provide any point / counterpoint you might ever want, free of my little moderating.

But as I continue pointing what I think are issues to be solved, I'm worried. Worried that we've all taken such great indulgence in pointing out all of the problems that no solution can ever work. You know, any solutions that come up are not going to solve the problems to everyone's enjoyment.

In most ways, I'd love to be in Lisa Brummel's shoes right now. She has such a fantastic problem solving opportunity in front of her... one that almost no one in the history of corporate culture has so grabbed by the horns and said, "I hear you, and I'm going to fix this." It makes my eyes dilate to just imagine having such a powerful and terrifying opportunity. She has the potential, working with the executive leadership, to transform employees' careers, and therefore Microsoft, into something explosive and far beyond what Microsoft is today.

But in a few minor ways, Ms. Brummel is the last person I'd want to be. In one sweeping move she kicked over Pandora's box, flung the Genie out of the bottle, and popped that dang cork out. Expectations, including mine, are so exceptionally high you've got to wonder how anyone, let alone everyone, are going to be satisfied with where it ends up.

And folks are going to complain.

I look at some of the comments posted here and I've really, really got to ask you: geez, why do you work at Microsoft? Now I know folks ask me that, but it's because I know these problems can be solved and the resultant Microsoft will be such a fantastic corporation that it will be worth all the risk of putting up a few web pages in public to say, "Eh, the executive leadership looks naked to me. And that mole on his butt might be cancerous. Better have it looked at."

I do feel these pages have resulted in galvanizing discussions and people have asked questions about topics that they either never knew (you'd be surprised how many team members [aka, individual contributors] didn't know about stack ranking, let alone the curve) or only knew scant bits about (I didn't know about gold stars and the bench until the conversation here brought it into the spotlight).

Back to the complaining, to the lack of positivity, to the feeling of disempowerment and general grumbling towards anything anyone does that affects you. Okay, I've got to admit a reason I've put the light on our problems, issues, reviews, and wage-compensation is to let you think about it and decide whether it's worth toughing it out in this Microsoft environment or if you think your good looks and hard, dedicated contributions would be better invested in a different company.

If folks looked at the issues and honestly decided to leave Microsoft to find a job elsewhere, great. That's a good move for them and fulfills my own little agenda for a smaller Microsoft, one bit of attrition at a time.

If potential hot job candidates read some things here and told their recruiter no thanks and that the whacky curve and the stack rank sounds like austere corporate career BDSM BS, great. Much better they didn't find out a year or two later into their Microsoft career.

I have faith that change will happen at Microsoft. Change is either going to happen because we have executive leadership that steps up and cleans house or because the village is destroyed when enough of the pure talent moves on and all that's left are the village idiots leading meetings and initiatives of excellence.

If you don't share my faith, if you don't believe change is going to happen, if you don't think there are any solutions, if you don't think there is a cause worth winning here, well, then, my friend, get the hell out. I really don't understand why you'd stay in such circumstances.

I finished reading Seth Godin's "The Big MOO" today. It has some interesting points I'd like to thread together here. Mainly for you to think about with respect to: if you're staying at Microsoft, why? And how are you going to be part of the solution to all the hard challenges we have ahead?

"Rarely does a bad attitude solve the problem." True dat. I don't have a bad attitude. I'm pissed off. Our CEO is puzzled how we reached a state where lots of folks are doubled or tripled up in their offices. There's a Think Week paper from Liddell discussing how Microsoft can grow to a 100,000 person company. The people doing all the hard work aren't even getting cost-of-living raises. So now, that doesn't give me a bad attitude. No, it gives me an incredibly motivated pissed off attitude to ask, "Why?" That's the 64-point-font question.

"Ignore the critics and embrace the criticism." I'd say that's LisaB in action right now. And like agile software development, the solution to the problem is to be iterative. Whatever might start as a solution by LisaB is not going to be The Solution but (hopefully) an iterative series of disruptive changes to throw off what doesn't work and refine down what it takes to have a great environment to do our work and be fairly compensated, while not having to stop and add up the numbers and ponder, "Why are all those partners getting showered with stock and money and not being held accountable in the least?"

Kanban. The story about kanban in The Big MOO is interesting, given that I'm thinking about accountability right now. Quickly: Japanese car manufacturers moved to only having one or so spare parts to replace defects discovered while putting cars together. If they ran out, the entire production line would be halted while a replacement was procured. Ends up no one wanted to be responsible for supplying defective parts to the car manufacturer that might stop the entire line and quality from suppliers shot through the roof. Simply because higher quality was expected of them and that they knew they'd be very obviously held accountable. It'd be much better for all of Microsoft to have obvious gates that stopped product development until the quality improved. Because, if we don't hold ourselves accountable, our users will.

And you know it's a damn different environment now. Sometimes it seems every pissed off person has a blog. Maybe you remember those Visual Studio 2005 posts I put out when users got a hold of the RTM bits and started posting, "Dang, sure crashes a lot. Dubya-tee-eff?" I still have people come by to share their latest frustrations with VS on those old posts. It doesn't matter how solid all those components are if there's one weak link in the IDE that crashes. It all comes down.

A service pack to fix all of this cannot come soon enough. What are we teaching our users? Wait until VS releases its first service pack before deploying. Just like Office. Just like Windows.

Are you embracing that criticism? How are you making things better? Are you holding everyone accountable?

So this post started with a call to focus on the things we all love about Microsoft. I love the fact that Microsoft has the potential to solve these problems. It's the source of Microsoft's solution, whether through true, hard leadership or full-blown crisis, that we currently have a chance to influence. We'll come to a solution. And I plan to be along for the ride, because I love this company.

Even when it pisses me off.

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