Thursday, February 8, 2007

Where's Ray? Where's the Vista Campaign?

Random unconnected things...

Where's Ray? I'm sure Ray Ozzie has been busy being the wizard behind the connected services scene of the future, but he's just plain running too silent for my comfort. And I'm sure with Mix07 he's going to go through presenting some new technology we're thinking about... perhaps even add single 2007 entry to his unloved blog. But if Ray is the bridge to the connected future from the present Gates, we all need more obvious leadership infrastructure getting us there, and more engagement from Ray and his brigade about what's happening and what kind of coherent vision is coming about. Silence makes me edgy.

Micronews, RIP. To me, Micronews died when they dropped Dilbert. When I joined Microsoft, I was quite delighted with my weekly Micronews and it's rather direct view of what was going on. I viewed it as a benefit and an affirmation of my good decision to join such a groovy company as Microsoft. Of course, I was also thrilled to get an espresso coupon, let alone "thank you" movie tickets (thrills came a lot easier to SDEs back then). Anyway, Dilbert was funny because it seemed so foreign to the Microsoft way. "Pity the people that's relevant to!" I'd chuckle.

Then Dilbert became more and more relevant, and eventually faded... in the meantime, Micronews came the place for softball promo questions and more rah rah Oprahesque-profiles than the occasional forthright question.

Micronews then went electronic and now has been dispersed into the bits of history. In a way, something like a weekly Micronews is needed more than ever, if only to connect the very disparate parts of Microsoft together so that we have a clue what the hell all these 70,000+ people do. Or even to let us know where Ray is. If the original 'zine spirit could come back, it would be worth it.

Vista Ads. We did ship Vista, right? Do you think the world knows about it? Has Microsoft done a good job of owning the message about Vista? I don't think so. So far, the message has been more dominated by lukewarm "eh" reviews and bloggers looking for any scrap to fuss loudly over to get some link love. My worst fear was that Vista would slip out into the world like XP SP2 (copies of which we should have carpet-bombed the world with to justify the importance).

What's our campaign slogan, "Microsoft Windows Vista. Hey, you're going to end up with it anyway."

Death. Taxes. Vista?

That's not worth $500,000,000 in my book. So far, the Vista ad I've heard talked about the most is the latest Apple Allow or Deny ad. What does it take for us to own our own marketing? Joe Wilcox did notice the "Wow" ad on TV the other night and discusses it in comparison to the Apple ad (which then brings out the Apple apologists swinging blindly in the comments at the slightest besmirch to Apple).

How about a marketing campaign that makes us all say, "Wow. That was worth $500,000,000!" That would be a refreshing change.

What's a matter you? WhatsWrongWithU? Me? I don't like us spending shareholder money on campaigns that seem pretty insulting to our customer. And that use Google Analytics technology for tracking usage. WhatsWrongWithUs? We waste money on crap campaigns, it would seem.

When Microsoft sneezes... Yes, in the last post I returned to tooting my scratched and beaten "fire! fire! fire!" horn. Brier Dudley noted that and pondered the devastating economic impact a mass down - mmm, er - rightsizing would have. But what we have going on right now is just as poisonous to the local economy. Like sepsis, we continue squeezing hires into a region that's packed and it results in increased stress and strain. I heard once that every Microsoft job supports two other local jobs, so it's not just Microsoft bodies popping up and driving around and finding a place to live. (Well, maybe that "two" figure was back when new shiny sports cars would spring up after every review cycle, but you get the idea.)

Microsoft in the Puget Sound is full, and I'm beginning to be about as welcoming to new hires (and the crowding and economic strain they bring) as Oregonians to Californians. Especially when the quality of hires matches this story from the comments:

Case study, our org. We had 5 busy, excellent IC's. We had more work. We had to hire. We kept turning them down, but lead pressured us to let some people through because we HAD to get the extra work done, and we didn't have enough time to do it ourselves. We did. We got one productive person, one neutral person, and one person who is after 6 months on our team still a time drain on the productive members of the team. The net manpower effect was an improvement of around 1.5 for the price of 3. MSFT would rather hire 3 mediocre performers than pay for 2 superstars.

How did we handle this?

We created another layer of management so that there would be people to help the neutral and time drain performers, while having the minimum effect on the high performers that don't have time to baby sit. We were split into two teams of 4, with two new people brought in as leads to give extra attention to developing the two FTEs that should have been no-hires. Now it's a net improvement of perhaps 2, for the price of 5. So in our org, the quality of individual we've been able to attract lately has had a direct affect on the number of layers of management in our org and the amount of headcount bloat.

So should leadership's upcoming Microsoft success book be How to do Less with More!? Reads Good to Great backwards indeed...

Bad Dogfooder. Who is feeling sheepishly bad about dogfooding? Me. Sure, like everyone I dogfooded Office 2007 Beta2 onwards. I suffered through, and while Outlook 2007 seemed to have a few folder-switching hickups against Exchange and I usually had to give it fifteen minutes to settle down when I booted it in the morning, the new features seemed worth it.

Then I finally installed my Company Store copy at home and enabled Desktop Search. You'd think I had just sprayed the inside of my poor mega-laptop with saltwater to induce non-stop fritzing. I've learned to meditate while Outlook ruminates over ten incoming POP messages of 69K. Perhaps it takes a few seconds over each incoming message or RSS feed to contribute to solving a Grand Challenge. Or it and Desktop Search have to play 333 iterations of rock-paper-scissors everytime a change has to be written. I don't know. But I feel bad for not dogfooding this home experience sooner and if I could do a six-month tour of duty to get Outlook back to 2003 performance I'd sign up in a flash.

For our customers' sake, I hope that I'm the only one and that there is just something funky about my setup... we'll see, given that I haven't had time to go Russinovich on it yet. In the meantime, it serves two lessons for me: (1) yes, you suck-it-up and dogfood at home, too; and (2) performance is a feature.

Other comments: some additional comments from the latest post worth calling out, including one on bad decision making:

Microsoft's main problem isn't too many employees. It's an inability to make strategic decisions and then trust in them long enough to see them through to implementation (and ultimately, to payoff).

Inside of Microsoft, decision-making is distributed among too many layers of managers, and every decision must be endlessly questioned and second-guessed. No decision is ever final or certain. No decision is ever 100% embraced consistently by all managers up and down the management chain or by managers of parallel teams that need to work together.


Decision-making power needs to be taken away from middle-managers (who also tend to come and go pretty frequently, further muddying the decision-making process by taking and bringing different opinions with them) and returned to the hands of qualified "benevolent dictators" at the top (who generally stick around for terms long enough to span several releases of a product and therefore see their strategic vision through to completion). Middle managers should be stripped of all strategic decision-making power and instead simply provide personnel management.

A snippet from a nice level-pulling comment:

The company wants ambitious first string superstars who work their butts off, but is only willing to pay for ambitious third string mediocrities. Or first string superstars who aren’t as ambitious and would be happy with an interesting job with good benefits for the family. But the company doesn’t want them either, and is pulling levers to chase them away. But it isn’t pulling the lever to attract ambitious talent with the kind of potential rewards that matter to that kind of person. So, the ambitious first stringers go to Google where they can still (potentially) become millionaires, the unambitious first stringers leave to have a happy life, and the ambitious third stringers fill the ranks.

From SteveL on effective MSR transfer of skill and ability inside of Microsoft:

What I've seen work best is if the researchers move into the product groups to help implement it. Not only are they the best positioned to xfter the technology, they learn a lot by building products. Like test centric dev, team processes, project management, etc, the stuff that individual researchers in and R&D lab dont do so much of. Then, once the tech is transferred, when they go back to research, they take with them what they've learned.

MSFTExtremeMakeover takes on senior leadership (oh, and my apologies for jinxing things in the last post when I remarked how the stock hadn't dropped below $30):

It would also be nice if faced with a near non-stop meltdown that's destroyed ~$20B of shareholder value and dropped the stock back through key levels that have taken YEARS to get above, the senior management got front and center and reaffirmed confidence in Vista sellthrough to date and financial projections for the year. Instead, the CEO and CFO are mostly AWOL, and not one senior exec has even bothered to refute ANY of the statements in the recent very negative Barron's article (generally credited with sparking the most recent selloff). The market continues to signal a lack of confidence in MSFT and its management, as it has for many years now, and - incredulously - the management team in small and large ways too numerous to list, continue to earn that lack of respect. Time for a wholesale change, starting at the top.

And one to end on:

Reading some of the comments I got reminded of a quote from Peter Drucker:

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things

The question is does MS have management or leadership? or neither?

Administriva: I'm not going to suffer through, or even send to CRF anymore, Mac vs. Windows posturing that's reactive and content free and/or dregs up crap. Life is too short to endure that. If you like what you got, spend time enjoying it. Or doing something useful. Cause you know what? I'm probably going to put up some pro-Vista stuff because there are some pretty sweet features in that little leadership disaster that finally made it out the door.

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