Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lisa Brummel on Channel9 - She Reads Mini?

I haven't discussed the Lisa Brummel listening tour too much out of respect of her request to keep it internal (and it's been absolutely killing me on the inside). I did drop by one of the tour stops near me and, like most people, I give her an A+ on the topics she discussed. People have commented here that hearing LisaB have reset their leaving Microsoft clock by nine months. Other than the Company Meeting, it was the first time I heard her talk. I was some kind of impressed.

New Channel9 video with LisaB:

Reads Mini-Microsoft and Wears Shorts in Winter - Lisa Brummel, VP of HR

(Hey Charles, thanks for bringing up Mini-Microsoft! YouDaMan!)

One bit from Lisa regarding folks who blog about Microsoft (paraphrase): "Request to all bloggers out there: try to be productive. People listen much more clearly to feedback that's productive."

Microsoft FY06Q2 Results

Collection of FY06Q2 results:

Go SQL server! I'm glad we finally got you out there.

Xbox? The main revelation was that we've sold 1.5 million Xbox 360s. We were asked what the specific problem was in production and whether the 3rd manufacturer is going to do any good if there's a systemic problem. Liddell was evasive. There was a component problem (supply? quality?). I think we should be 100% clear why we're struggling for because otherwise you're going to have conjecturing... like the only reason not to say the problem is because the first generations out there getting the heck played out of them all have the issue, like a ticking bomb.

As for Vista: yes, out by end of 2006. In time for the back-to-school computer purchase rush? Not saying yet. And que Mr. Wilcox:

I remain convinced that Microsoft will have missed a major hardware upgrade cycle when Windows Vista and Office 12 ship later next year. Every PC sold with Windows XP is potentially a lost or significantly delayed Windows Vista sale, starting later this year. Microsoft is betting on new licensing options available late next year will increase volume license uptake for Windows Vista.

Let's hope, as the analyst's question was quite leading in this regard, that we get Vista out in time to meet the 2006 back-to-school market.

And folks in MBS should go kiss their CRM colleagues... or at least give them a friendly pat. Location of their choosing.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Microsoft Town Hall, Google, and

Just some random notes I wanted to kick out before I go stock up on crazy delicious food for the big, silly game (I've certainly come to appreciate having a game's violence on the field than in the stands).

MSFT: The FY06 Second Quarter results are coming this Thursday, January 26th. It will be interesting to see if we're positive or cautious analyzing where we are and looking forward through FY07. I can't imagine any other time where we couldn't beat the drum of enthusiasm and profits than now, given that we're shipping new versions of just about every single software product we develop. A good, upbeat outlook would shine within the current conditions.

And, should we get any hard questions and if the hard questions regarding stock performance keep coming in, perhaps we'll have to implement what one recent commenter came up with:

Is the CFO of Microsoft going to hold a "listening tour" to pacify shareholders?

Well, the context of that was actually more around BusinessWeek's Dirty Little Secrets About Buybacks and Microsoft's dirtiness there. Most people look at how few shares are being flung in their direction and doing the math. Some part of Microsoft is getting a huge distribution of stock awards, and it's not the folks doing the front-line work.

Microsoft Town Hall: that was one crowded town hall meeting with Gates and Ballmer - I think that shows the enthusiasm and desire that Microsofties have to hear from our executive leadership more often and I for one am absolutely thrilled that it's quarterly. It helps to close the gap that I believe exists between front-line contributors and top leadership. And important messages don't have to stumble their way through dithering middle managers. I hope that it rotates through the presidents and senior VPs over time so that it stays fresh. While I know Gates and Ballmer can come up with answers for about every question, I'd like to hear answers from those one or two levels closer to the action, too.

I don't have a whole lot to kvetch on here. There's Doug Mahugh's report and the Keiji Space report to read. Some of the questions were hard and interesting and while the answers sounded honest, some were just deflections (e.g., the whole ad-hoc Google-time request discussion: take it up with your manager [hello?!?! that's not working so well currently]).

One deflection that irritated me came at the end of recognizing everything we do is the result of the people we hire. Then, Ballmer somehow tied the stock price going up based on the increased contributions of each Microsoftie. Right before that there was mention of enabling and incenting people and how LisaB is now a Senior VP. But the flipping around seemed to come too soon. Please show that current problems are indeed being fixed and then say, "Okay, we believe we have a system for honest compensation and recognition now. Let 'er rip and let's go ship!"

Oh, and Mr. Liddell, I have an excellent solution for our current Redmond over-crowding space problem: fire people, fire people, and fire people! Ballmer doesn't understand how we ran into this space problem? We over-expanded and hired way too many people that we just plain don't need. Plus it's impossible to move-on people.

Additionally, I don't understand a goal for Microsoft to be a mega-corporation at 100,000 people. While the majority of that might indeed end up being in China and India (pointed out at the meeting as places where CompSci graduates are still being produced), there's just no good business reason to grow (other than those horded employees are not potential competitors). Is there a stack of specs executive management is reviewing longingly and bemoaning, "shucks, if we only had more people we could have delivered these great products..." I don't think so. The problem is that we're so big that we're stumbling over ourselves as is.

And we did get to have a crickets chirping moment: Ballmer addressed the glass ceiling on the stock and went through the rah-rah blah-blah speech about looking forward, three-year review, deliver innovation, watch the expenses, keep the faith, and deliver results. Pause for applause.


Hmm, no applause. Ballmer observation: "Awfully quiet here." Though I have to admit another nice deflection was comparing how Microsoft runs our business vs. Enron (?!?!) and how Enron was entirely focused on the stock price and we're focused on good business fundamentals. Can we, ah, find a different company to compare ourselves to?

Google slips: First comes along BusinessWeek pondering Is Google Out of Steam? and then Friday lands a sucker punch to Google's moneybag (well, along with a bunch of other stocks). Wired magazine wrote about click fraud recently and how that could eventually catch up to burn Google. Of course, the R-rated named site f-'d Google has been predicting the click fraud ruination of Google for a long time (and general collapse in general). And throw in that curious collection in the Google Pack that has most people politely coughing after their confused consideration of just what the heck good all that is. I can only guess it's helping Google feel their way through the dark world of suite packaging and distribution, let alone support. I guess they had to cobble something together for CES... - This new website has come up in a few comments as a place to anonymously rate and provide feedback on anyone in your company (your boss and co-workers, especially). Looks like a potentially explosive idea. I'm a bit suspicious (work email registration + employee complaining = crazy suspicious ?) myself but I'd be interested in hearing anything interesting that people find there. Their about page has the following inspiring snippet:

Our Mission: To use the Internet to bring open meritocracy to the workplace. We believe today's corporate world is slowed down by corporate bureaucracy, politics, and incompetence. Most companies spend a lot of time on HR policies to reward their best employees. But at the end of the day, despite their efforts, most corporate organizations fail to develop a system that adequately measures and rewards performance, especially among managers. Our aim is to use the Internet to empower employees, to harness the open feedback of the workplace to bring meritocracy to corporations.

Interesting. Perhaps a way to channel all the thoughts coming to your mind as you fill out your mid-point, attend all those stack ranks, and fill-out Microsoft's version of the manager review feedback.

Manager review feedback: speaking of manager review feedback, one thing I got out of the wonderful LisaB listening tour is that she reviews the feedback comments but can't act against supposedly awful management because the comments, by the time they are rolled-up, are disassociated with the person the comment is talking about. Fix: when filling out the text fields for your manager's feedback, be sure to put your manager's alias in there. And now might be the most important time to provide this feedback. If you've got a good boss and want them to stay your boss, spend a few moments praising what they do well. If you have the worse micro-managing bureaucrat in the world, well, spend some time provided cases describing what they just don't do well at all. And slip in that alias.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Goals for a Brave New Microsoft Review and Compensation System

It's that mid-point review time of the year, and (surprise!) I feel that Microsoft's performance review and compensation system is outdated and sorely needing a major revision. Looking at the problems with the current system and where we want our employees to be going forward, what should the goals be for a new review and reward system?

I want to focus on the goals first, and I'll throw some of my own out there down below. Why focus on the goals first? Because I want to see what kind of system organically arranges itself to satisfy those goals. Right now, any sort of new system is going to suffer under arrows of "oh, it's so much more worse." Anyone and everyone can come up with reasons as to why we shouldn't change, just like I can come up with reasons why I think the current stank-rank-based-performance-curve compensation system is utterly busted. I think it helps focus on where we want to be, and then arrange a system out of that. Let's first see where we want to be, putting criticism and sarcasm aside, and see what kind of system can meet that challenge.

Articles folks have pointed out as of late:

In general, most companies are beginning to realize that there are fundamental problems with slavish devotion to some sort of bucketed based compensation system. It's certainly come to a head at Microsoft, now that we're not growing like gangbusters and the stock as been flatlined since 2001. Microsofties have had enough.

Some ideas:

First of all: Microsoft shouldn't be determined to copy any other company's review system. Forget GE. We are not a GE so there's no reason to go to the altar of Jack Welch and implement his business scripture. There really isn't any other big-ass company like Microsoft out there given the background of our employees and the focus of our business.

Microsoft is entirely capable of creating its very own review and compensation system that best fits the needs of its employees and shareholders. We have the technology and brainpower to do this well (and, yes, the risk to fallback to some sort of consensus driven cluster fubar without strong leadership). To continue to copy and paste ideas from mismatching companies will only make things worse. We should be the leader here in coming up with a new review compensation system that other software companies eventually copy and implement because it's a good fit for them and for rewarding their staff.

What should the end results be? That our employees work in an environment where their compensation and performance management positively affects the quality and shipping frequency of the software that they design, implement, test, market, sell, and support, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and increased shareholder value. That the employees can see a direct correlation to their good hard work, the increase in quality of what's delivered to our customer, and the compensation that they receive. Employees do not succeed at the expense of other employees.

Note: I just banged these goals out one by one, not as a cohesive set, so some goals would be irrelevant if other goals got implemented.

Goal: when someone is justly fired, someone else on the team should not have to have their review suffer. "Huh?" you might say. Maybe even, "Duh, of course not." The scenario is when you have either a 2.5 performer or a person who is on the low-end of 3.0 rating and who is not reliably getting better. So you do the right thing for the company and move that person on outside of Microsoft. More than likely, that just opened up a new slot for the bottom of the stack rank and now someone else on the team who was getting a 3.5 now is at risk of getting a 3.0. And they haven't changed what they are contributing to the company at all. It's an evil sort of Tetris, and they just went down a notch for no fault of their own.

Once you're a manager and you go through this painful experience ("why oh why did I ever fire that knuckle-dragger?!?"), do you think you'd want to support getting rid of someone if that means now more good people are trended downwards?

I personally believe one reason we have a hard time getting rid of people is just because it's nice to have your consistent low-end 3.0 folks around to fill the bottom (hell, there are even some managers who go out purposefully to hire 3.0 quality people to push up the bottom and increase rewards for their current team). Maybe the lifetime 3.0s are plain happy to have their job and benefits. What looks like win-win is lose-lose in too many ways.

Goal: people are rewarded based on their results and not relative to their peers. The whole performance-curve based relative to your peers trended-downward score legacy that we still limp along with should be taken out back and shot out of its misery. I want to give honest review results and not have to re-message someone's review according to the bucket they got fit in. Trust me to manage honestly. If you don't trust your managers to honestly run the performance review, it sounds like you've identified some managers Microsoft could do without.

Goal: you should be able to give true, encouraging feedback anytime. Good feedback, or feedback of anysort, should not have to be an encoded game about communicating people's potential rating to help motivate or scare them. Maybe I'm a bad boss. But I spend more time finding things that people do wrong and getting them on track because I don't want them trended downwards and risk getting a dreaded 3.0. We spend more time managing our "at risk of 3.0s" than supporting our 4.0s and pushing our 3.5s to be 4.0s.

Goal: dump the loose-structured Word review document and make someone's performance a living website. I can't imagine that we're going to continue with that Word review document much longer... it's so 1995. The problem with it is that most people dust off their previous review / mid-point once every six months. They go to the eval site, probably wondering, "La dee da... hmm, what were my commitments anyway? Whoa? Really?"

We're bright, good looking people and we should be able to figure out how to discard the Word form for a web site that can even be used to drive weekly 1:1 sessions. A place where commitments can be updated quickly and feedback can be dropped in anytime. And maybe even a place that you can track enough progress through the year that it merges together most of your formal review when the time comes, with a little bit of editing on your part.

A website like this should easily accept:

  • Feedback directly to you, anonymous if need be, regarding your work. Kudos or constructive criticism.
  • Feedback to your manager regarding your performance, areas where the manager might want to consider focusing. Mentors to the employees could us this to provide feedback to the manager.

And maybe we can even come up with our own version of Microsoft achievements, like Xbox Live, that people can share on their personal my-site. Get a gold star direct from the VP? Brag about it if you want (yeah... okay, maybe bragging on that is not a good idea).

Goal: anyone can provide positive or constructive feedback anytime, and not have to deal with consequences in the stack rank arena. I've been a goo-goo-eyed optimistic in the past, proactively engaging in deep one-on-one feedback with my management peers about my, and their, team members. Oy, did that honest sharing put me at a disadvantage come stack-rank time when they pulled out the knives and tried to wipe the floor with me and all the issues I'd been dealing with. I'd much rather brainstorm with my peers about how my reports (members on their same product team) can improve their career and results and not worry that this will be shot back at me come stack rank time. I value their feedback, but for right now, I'm keeping my mouth shut and probably missing out on some great advice. And expert backstabbing.

Goal: managements commitments are public. Anyone who is a leader makes their commitments visible to anyone in their group, at any time. Your skip-level-manager reviews every manager's commitments and provides relevant feedback. Maybe your commitments show up on your internal my-site and change with your edits according to circumstances. These commitments are made available during your management review for your reports to provide feedback upon.

Goal: management feedback is broadly open. Anyone can provide feedback on someone who leads. Sort of a consequence of the above goal, where management feedback should also be based on the manager's commitments. When I find a person doing a good job of leading, I send their manager an email letting them know. I'd like a better system for collecting this, along with any constructive feedback. An end goal of this is that it becomes very clear who are the good managers and who are the managers with problems. If everyone is saying we have a management problem but there's no way to find the good and bad managers, let's start breaking out the spotlights.

Goal: if you do a good job contributing to Microsoft, your raise starts at the increased cost of living for your region; any merit is added onto that. As part of transparency, you're notified what your region's cost of living is. If you see that your raise is less than cost-of-living, you hopefully take this as a message that you're not very much valued for your contributions. For now, folks on the low-end of 3.0 should be the only ones not getting a cost-of-living increase. I just don't see why, if a person is doing a good job, that a person should be earning less effective money this year than last year. Are we just doing it because folks, up to this point, have been too busy to notice that they are getting paid less year-by-year? That they should be happy and thankful for just having a job? Well, if that's the message, deliver it honestly that way versus tiny or no raises.

Goal: if stack ranking stays around, I can find out where I am in the stack rank and why. And how I can improve my placement. For instance, some teams end with a nine-bucket stank rank (where you want to be in the first bucket, and you're probably going to be looking for a new job soon if you're in the last bucket). Where did you end up? Why did you end up there? What was valued in your team regarding the people who ended up above you? So many people just get a rating (3.0) and then have to, if they have deft corporate skills, figure out what the heck to do in their particular team to succeed. You're not going to find a whole lot of peer support for that.

Goal: reward for individual excellence. I believe we still have to keep this. For team members / individual contributors, this is probably a majority of their reward still.

Goal: reward for team excellence. If your team rocks the world, your whole team deserves an excellent extra dose of compensation. If your team sucks rocks, well, I don't see the need to lavishly compensate your failures. As you go up the management chain, this increasingly becomes the majority of your performance compensation. I think a lot of people will stress out over implementing team compensation. Perhaps up front it's never punitive but reward only.

Goal: more transparency. A broad statement... how about a small example. Eh, I'd like to bring up a page to see everything my manager can see about me. What's my stock rating? I'd furthermore like to see that information in somesort of comparison to my team. As long as you're comparing me against my anonymized peers, roll it all up and let me see it, too. If not, why? What, it would cause an uprising? Your system is pretty busted if it would cause hard-feelings and rebellions if people knew more about their compensation within the big picture.

I'd go so far as to say that your team's stack rank results should be available for people to see. Dangerous and potentially demoralizing? Dude, again, it already is.

Other goals? I don't mind some criticism here, but right now I'd rather cast our nets for goals around a revised system that would be win-win-win-win for Microsoft, Microsofties, customers, and shareholders. What would you value most in a revised performance compensation system?

( Mini-Microsoft, Microsoft, Compensation )

Sunday, January 08, 2006

When Partners Collide

I'm up to my elbows in recently inherited features, so I'm sharpening my nose on the grindstone vs. spending much time here other than being the moderation monkey. But given the incoming flow of great comments, all I really need to do currently is put up the occasional post and then let a lot of the excellent readers / commenters have their way with this little bit of the blogosphere.

Now, yes, I appreciate the recent comment that most of the commenter identities have to be taken with a grain of salt. Was that really markl dropping by? Dunno. It would have been a lot more certain if he'd logged in via his Blogger account since he has a blogspot web page set up.

When Partners Collide: So, with those few grains of salt, let's enjoy some of the partner comments as of late. First of all, you can only poke Smokey so many times with a sharp stick before he errupts: "I am Partner, hear me roar!" This is a refreshing read since I don't hear so much from our upper management on the issues discussed here and the gripes about the overpaid, underperforming highly over-staffed Partners at Microsoft. In excerpts:

I am a Partner.

[...] I am sick and tired of reading all the whining, and "I deserve to be rich too" comments on this blog. Jeeze, get a life, or better yet, go find another job!

[...] My job now is to manage and to direct strategy for my teams features. This is a very difficult job. Have you ever tried to coordinate and manage a team of hundreds? Spread across multiple continents? Within a broader group of thousands? Yes, I get paid well for this job. I'm sorry, but frankly, I feel that if anything, I am being underpaid! I will be lucky to gross $350k this year and my big stock awards someone mentioned earlier in this post vest over 5 years. That means that for me to cash in on that $5m payday, I have to stick it out for another 5 years! You want this job? Then EARN IT!

[...] I took risks with Vista. Did I do everything I said I was going to do? NO! Did YOU? Should we be fired for this? Thats right. I don't think so and neither do you. I screwed up a little, but my screwup was your screwup to. Afterall, it was YOUR CODE that failed, NOT MINE. It was YOUR SCHEDULE, NOT MINE!

Another self-described Partner kicks in with what I'll describe as a more reasonable perspective:

[I]n 2000 partners were awarded ~400,000 shares, then we had a split and another round of huge grants. Each partner had ~1m options which unfortunately were underwater so Microsoft arrange that infamous underwater option buyback program. Regular worker bees collected a few thousand dollars at best while our illustrious partners collected a cool $1m each. Not the $20m+ that Steve was hoping for when he first issued the huge grants, but still not bad given the situation.

[...] I think that the only thing thats seriously out of whack with the current system is that there is a huge disparity between the raw number of shares for partners and regular folk, and the partner awards seem completely disconnected from company performance.

I know we like to use stock awards as sort of a golden handcuff to retain people, but here, I think it is working against us. Instead of placing our partners on an 8 year program with huge grants, I think we should award them with yearly grants where the raw number of shares is directly related to company performance across a wide range of variables from the previous year. I would include customer satisfaction, industry perception, openness, innovation metrics, schedule prediction proficiency, etc. as the measurement criteria, not just financial results. With the current system, 3 years ago when we thought things were going to rock with Longhorn, before we were afraid of Google, etc. we awarded these guys $5m each. In retrospect, after looking at our broad performance over these past few years, clearly we have overpaid these guys, BUT we have virtually no ability to recall their grants and we certainly don't have the backbone to fire them. In my proposed system, I would dole out their options yearly and would have seen the errors in time to avoid over paying them.

I am a partner, and as a priviledged partner was part of the compensation review committe where I had an opportunity to give feedback on all of the options being discussed. I voiced my concerns then, and gave feedback similar to what I have said here as well as a few other major issues that I thought were wrong with the then proposed compensation plan. While I will likely benefit hugely from the plan, I think the plan is fatally flawed for a number of reasons, and I hope to see it eliminated asap.

Thumbs up! I agree with that and it's wonderful knowing that such a person is working at the Partner level and might effect real cha-

Sorry guys. I'm out of Gas. No one really wants to address the real issues around here so I am planning on leaving in the Spring. I am definitely in the minority around here when it comes to driving change, driving hard core accountability, eliminating schedule chicken from our processes, etc. I love your blog and will keep reading and contributing, and hopefully in my new venture will not make the same mistakes you all have been pointing out. When I startup my new gig, I will be sure to send out an "I'm hiring" notice to this blog.

Oh yeah, and to whoever claimed that partners still get paid, still vest, etc. after they leave? Thats complete BS. You are just fanning the flames. When you leave Microsoft all vesting stops and you have 90 days to excercise remaining unexcercised but vested options. Stock Awards are a little different because those "auto-excercise" on vest so they immediately transfer to your control on the day of termination. Trust me on this. As someone who IS leaving the company on April 1, I would know and have already been thru this with my attorneys and with Microsoft HR.

Dang. Well, an ex-Partner provides this additional perspective:

I am an ex-partner. I left Microsoft a little over a year ago. The number is legit, and if anything is a bit low. Partner level comp of $250k with ~50% bonus is the norm which would result in gross comp of $375k. That coupled with existing options, grants, and future grants is designed to payout a minimum of $1m/yr.

Each quarter there is a secret, partners only meeting where Steve and Bill discuss issues of the day. I remember one meeting in particular, one where I had the priviledge of sitting next to "markl". Steve was talking about cutbacks and accountability. Markl looked at me that Steve doesn't have the balls to do the right thing. He thought that if Steve was going to send this message to the masses, he should first send a crisp message to the partners, that they are going to be held to a higher standard. He should have set up the meeting in advance with 400 pink index cards placed randomly under all of the chairs. He should stop the meeting, ask everyone to reach under the chair and hold their index card up in the air. He should then bring in security and escort all of the partners holding pink cards out of the building, immediately terminating their employment with Microsoft." His point was that we had far too many old timers sitting around doing nothing, and that if we need to make some hard core changes, we should start at the top. He felt that Microsoft would get along just fine with a random 50% culling of the partners, and that the impact this would have on the remaining partners would be a hard core wakeup call and they would likely step up and perform at the level that they should perform at.

After watching our performance over these last few years, and watching our current accountability crisis, I have a feeling that Markl's idea was a good one...

(Excuse me while I replay that scene in my mind... one more time... oh, that's so good.)

Measurable Recommendations: Too much complaining and too little solution brainstorming? The Specific, Actionable, Measurable commenter took care of that by going above and beyond in identifying a whole slew of issues, possible solutions, and how the solution's success can be judged. It just gets me all fired up!

Some interesting follow-ups to that, along with some recent lunch conversations I've had, have to do with compensation not being tied to just individual accomplishment but also to team accomplishments. One commenter suggested that if we're going to have a curve, make it more gentle for excellent teams and more brutal for fumbling teams, along with compensation. And just think if we can align compensation and recognition with something that actually positively affects our products, our partners, our customers, and our shareholders. Anything changes being contemplated that don't have that in mind are waste.

Orange Badges: I just had this strange brain connection between the Microsoft orange badgers (contingent / contractor staff) and the red-shirts that would beam down on Star Trek Classic. You know how this is going to end and, soon, our ranks will be a little smaller. Historically, I've personally always first treated every orange badger as someone to recruit to be fulltime. I'm not so much in the hiring mood anymore and I can't remember the last orange badger's path I crossed. Anyway, as Mr. Bishop noted in a front-page Seattle P-I article, the orange badgers now have a discussion site setup, Talisman there makes the following familiar observation:

Microsoft used to be one of the best examples of meritocracy I ever knew. But it has increasinly become, in many quarters, a cesspool of feudal fiefdoms populated with petty princes and petty prince wannabes who won't hesitate a moment to use anybody to advance their own agendas. You just have to be careful what part of the kindgom you occupy and keep an eye on your back.

And A_nomore throws in:

And I thought micro-management was bad in the Navy. I got on as a temp at a little off campus site. I was amazed in my six months there of the constant backstabbing that my boss (BB/good guy) endured.

It continues and the post reminds me a lot of Satan's Process Excellence. The site has some interesting perspectives from people working beside us.

CES: Congratulations on a big ole Microsoft demo that did not crash! There was one online service request hiccup that worked on the second try, but otherwise it went well. I better acknowledge our demo success to adjust my demo karma given my inclination to go on the firing war path when demos blow up. But given that at least the first part looked like the same thing BillG did at the Company Meeting, I think it was all easy for Mr. Gates to just go through the motions of doing it all over again.

As for getting some celebrity personality spice... maybe next time we can do better. Yahoo! had Tom Cruise. Google had Robin Williams. Microsoft... Justin Timberlake? Well, maybe if Justin had forced a wardrobe malfunction on Bill it would have been funny ("ai-yi, Bill's codpiece was supposed to stay put!"), but nothing says safe and boring as Mr. Timberlake.

Given the consumer move to more and more devices I personally feel good about what we're doing. If we can provide easy gadget wrangling then people will see greater value in Vista. I personally will love it when all my doo-dads are wireless and I don't have to do the wire plugging stumble and the vendor specific synchronizing... I just want to come home and let them opportunistically update their content while I'm trying to get visions of new automation violations out of my mind...

(update: fixed a grammar error I actually noticed.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Whew, that was a bunch of comments...

Whew, holy smokes, talk about some busy commenters over the holidays... 175+ comments on that last real post regarding The Passion of the Googlers. If you find yourself with some spare moments, it's worth bringing it up and reading through the discussion. While some folks saw the 4am working late as the focus, MarkL followed up saying no, no, it's about the passion. How is the passion at Microsoft?

From my perspective: you treat brilliant people like cogs, they transition to cog-like passion. And passion certainly gets drained into the grayness of pulling a paycheck once they get clued into the grotesque difference in compensation and accountability between individual team members and upper management.

I've spent the time flying home re-reading about 350 comments (out of the 4600+ comments so far... please, Blogger, can we have a comment web feed soon?). Some of the recent interesting ones follow...

This comment certainly read my mind... from the middle:

Why can't a quick decision be made: 1 - Realize the 65% percentile pay target relative to the industry worked well when our stock options were splitting every 2 years, now it simply doesn't work. A change is needed.

2 - To afford the change, e.g. costs, something else has to happen - some cost cutting somewhere else.

3 - What's everyone complaining about? The fat cats, middle- and upper-management that are not incented to being risk-takers. They want to minimize the decisions they have to make to ensure they can stay at MSFT as long as possible. This the the best target for reducing costs.

4 - Biggest, quickest change: Offer incentive package for the "fat cats" to take early retirement. If they don't, make it clear their role, success measures, and compensation will be changing, i.e. they will need to start justifying their salaries. Not only make it clear, make it so obvious they will not succeed in the "business as usual, rest and vest" fashion that 80% of those offered the option of leaving w/the package take it. Then simply bump the 65% percentile to 75% or higher.

One comment from someone who used to work with MarkL ends with:

OK, now put MarkL aside. Look at Longhorn. Definitely not his fault. A lot of interesting bottom-up ideas that could make a great release. New file system, new desktop composition, sounds great. But that wasn't enough for the execs engorged on Powerpoints. DotNet Everywhere was the command - it's ready because it *has* to be ready. It's a Big Bet. You cannot question it... until 3 years are gone by and the Big Bet isn't paying off, and the top-down architecture is a piece of shit.

I do not think MarkL is 100% correct. But (apparently unlike most other commenters) I can see a true picture being drawn. At Google you can engineer your way if it excites you. Your peers do the reviewing. At Microsoft you have entrenched management controlling almost all visible initiatives. [That sad little was probably just a small team doing something cool in a short time; now they have to carry the mantle for Ray Ozzie and a company wide intiative. God bless them.]

  • New products need small teams getting work done.
  • Coordinating with fiefdoms can be the death of small teams lacking in political talent (NOT engineering talent).
  • Engineering talent is disgruntled and increasingly jumping.
  • Key recruits are no longer at the IC level.
  • The focus is on process because the other mechanisms of maintaining quality have failed.
  • Growth has slowed and progression through the ranks is more political as openings are scarcer in the older businesses.

Another that worked with MarkL during the Hailstorm days posted their perspective on Hailstorm, including the following bit:

Hailstorm was a mess because it was trying to fix too many problems at once for people that didn't want them to be fixed. It was orginally trying to fix the online storage problem. It was trying to fix the proprietary interfaces and PR problem. It was trying to be the first web service. It was trying to get all the MS and industrywide apps to use the same data schemas. It was trying to make IIS based servers scale to millions of users.

Innovation is almost impossbile to sponsor at MS because whenever you want to solve a customer problem, you're stepping on the toes of three other products that are already offering something to that customer or selling something into that market.

An ex-Microsoftie notes how it came to a close for them at MBS:

I spent the last period of my employment with MBS, and that just summed it up and made it very real for me (so in many ways, thanks for illuminating that it was time to find greener pastures). Man, talk of a place that needs a very serious shake-up. I have never seen so many people and teams trying to f*** it up for each other. SAP and Oracle aren't the biggest challenges this unit faces - they are their own worst enemy, and until they get it sorted internally, MBS will never fulfill the potential, which is there. I am amazed that noone has done anything about it. Hopefully someone will, now that Doug Burgum has stepped down.

And finally, the MarkL poster loaded up both barrels when responding to the Robert Scoble criticism (and be sure you flip your sarcasm bit for that first paragraph):

Any finally Robert, Sorry about the mess I left behind, thanks for cleaning up after me. It was my idea to flip off the united states of america by giving them a version of windows that wouldn't boot, by telling the attorney general to go to hell, and by manufacturing phony demos. And yes, it was my idea to put our customers on a 3 year subscription cycle knowing that there was no way in the world that we would ever deliver them updates within their subscription window. Oh yeah, it was also my idea to crush all competition in the browser market and then once we one the war stop working on ours. Oh yeah, Vista is my fault too. Bill and Steve wanted to ship it 18 months after XP. I convinced them that an OS every five years is more than enough. Sorry, forgot about stack ranking... Me and a few other guys thought it would be a fun to give huge options and bonus awards to 1/3, give a cost of living adjustment to another 1/3, and then screw the bottom 1/3 with no raise or bonus. But agin Robert thanks for stepping up and offering to clean up this mess. I am sure that your non stop blogging (hey, how come your blog isn't on msn spaces?) is exactly the right way to fix this stuff. Shoot, if I knew you while at Microsoft, I would have voted you in as a partner and awarded you a 200,000 share restricted stock award. After all, as a partner, your contributions are certainly worth a cool $5mil right?

And just one small correction in your post. I was not a manager at Microsoft and I am not a manager at Google. No one has to kill themselves to get my respect. They just have to be smart and creative, willing to work the entire software stack from metal thur ui, and finally, do what they say their gonna do and do it in the timeframe they say their gonna do it in.

Another year. The pipeline is flowing. The MSFT stock went down 2% during 2005. Todd Bishop has his own stock comparison post today. I can only hope and pray (for what, the fourth year now?) that it's upward bound from here, though our leadership doesn't gauge success from our stock price.