Monday, August 21, 2006

Looking Forward - Reviews, The Company Meeting, and Then Some...

Microsofties, what are you looking forward to? My top of mind right now - interrupted only when I take a good-long moment to enjoy this fantastic Redmond summer-weather - is:

  1. Review results.
  2. The 9/21 Company Meeting.

The new review: is the new boss the same as the old boss? Most review models should be closed by now and review deliveries should start in earnest. Some folks have posted comments that we still have a curve and that this year's rewards are going to be pretty close to last year's rewards, with the rating split into two on commitments + stock. Yes, there is a blurry curve that groups get to decide. You don't get to have a group that is 100% exceptionally exceeding everything. Well, you can. But then everyone gets the same meager reward. Different VPs and presidents have decided there should be a ratio of somesort of Exceeds vs. Achieved. All I can say is that I feel like tra-la-la dancing through daisies since I didn't have to be in a meeting with a bunch of glum managers and deal with, "We need to cough up N more 3.0s to meet the model." (Where N = the number of good strong contributors you're about to demotivate and practice giving the speech on peer-relative performance.)


I'm too deep in the middle of it all right now to take a critical, constructive view. The new review model process has been a hell of a lot of work. I think it's worth it, but best practices need to be rolled-up for the next iteration. I'm still amazed that this all came together so quickly and now it's all done except for presenting the numbers and letting the rewards kick in on 9/15.

The 2006 Company Meeting: I feel like I'm in the minority for being a Company Meeting fan, but like I've said in the past it's my yearly chance to chug the MSFT-Koolaid and enjoy being with the best people in the world. Except, of course, I kind of look around at what groups I think we could spin off or downsize. But other than that I'm pretty cheery!

I'm sure the Company Meeting demos and the PowerPoints are coming together now that we're a month away. What do you want to see and hear? Personally, I'd like to skip any Vista or Office demos. Unless they're fast and just part of something else. I'd love to see some consumer focused demos, whether it's Live services or Zune or Xbox / PC games. How about a demo of the new Flight Simulator? And how about actually showing the 360 running games vs. last year. And I'd love it if we're talking about profits vs. revenue. Profits good. And if you're demoing something made with a small, effective, agile team, brag about it.

Some folks might be a bit disillusioned with My Microsoft and the review results by the time the Company Meeting rolls around. I think the Company Meeting would be a great time for LisaB to unleash more goodness. My couple of ideas:

  • ESPP: the return of the old ESPP, 15%, lowest-date and all that. Again, I'm just asking for you to return what was taken away, but, still... please?
  • Internal Transfers: optimize our internal recruiting by throwing away permission to interview, cutting internal interview loops to two-future peers + hiring manager, and starting an aggressive internal recruiting group to help optimize Microsofties we have vs. piling on any more.

Oh, and get those iDrinks actually installed.

Other going ons...

(I have about five pages of notes from the past week of random things to discuss, but I'm going to save some of that until later.)

SPSA Countdown: so, how did the SPSA percent pay-out end-up? Obviously, I'm not in the know. But you can start gently pushing your least-favorite Partner-level-L68+ peer towards the retirement door by leaving in their office various brochures of villas and such they can buy and enjoy their pay-out with. They got theirs. Clap. Clap. Leave.

Email retention policy: is it a good way to keep everyone's email boxes clean to just a six-month history or a cover-ya-ash cynical maneuver to ensure we don't have anymore embarrassing missives pop-up in court when a plaintiff goes on a fishing expedition up Exchange Bayou? Comments are all over the place for this one.

It doesn't bother me too much simply because it hasn't screwed me yet. But it will. I'm sure a couple of years from now I might start panicking because I lost some important email and that the incident in turn will cost Microsoft a bunch of money as we try to reconstruct the information in that email. I agree with Alyosha`: in a hard to quantify way, this is going to be more collectively expensive to Microsoft for losing its tribal wisdom. But, hopefully, no more head bruising, self-inflicted dope-slaps induced from de-contextualized email passages popping up in the news.

My only note of caution: I've worked for a tech company basically run on the whims of lawyers and staying safe and ensuring we stayed out of court. Life sucked. We never achieved what we could have and politically adept people became really good at sic'ing the lawyers on any groups they felt were threatening our legal standing. It's the safe road that leads straight to mediocre-ville.

Buyback Later: so much for Buyback Mountain. A lot of shareholders passed on the dutchee and we're going to get around to it within the next five years. It's done the stock some short-term good, so I'm happy there. But it's caused some confusion and we know how much the market digs confusion (most hated thing, right after surprises). MSFT Extreme Make Over and Packet Storm have more discussion:

Windows Live Writer: excellent! Job well done. Kudos. I enjoy using Windows Live Writer. I'm not using it now for this post because I've got my own custom little content-management-system, but I was really happy playing around with Windows Live Writer and impressed with what it did. I'd be much happier with inplace spell-checking and grammar checking, but it's a nifty little tool that does just as well as stuff I've paid good money for in the past. My only regret is that good stuff like this only comes along when we acquire a product under development. What is wrong with our internal culture to not allow a tool like this to be built from scratch?

Random bits:

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Niall Sez Microsoft is Too Big and Paralyzed

Well, allow me to be the last blog to shout into the echo chamber about Niall Kennedy... doing what? Oh yeah: Leaving Microsoft. Lots of high profile folks have been leaving Microsoft lately and I haven't been making a big show out of many of them, but for some reason, Niall's short-time at Microsoft got my attention.

Two interesting snippets, one from Niall's entry and one from the luscious Valleywag (I so wish we had a Seattle version of Valleywag):

(1) Windows Live is under some heavy change, reorganization, pullback, and general paralysis and unfortunately my ability to perform, hire, and execute was completely frozen as well.

(2) Wag: Microsoft seems friendly toward people returning after leaving for their own startups. I've seen a few people leave for other companies and return with no problem. Do you see yourself ever doing that?

Niall: Not really, but perhaps if the company was split up first and there was some new project I was excited about that could only be done at a company such as Microsoft.

Wag: Split up?

Niall: Splitting the company into desktop, server, online, and possibly gaming divisions. It's just too big.

(from: Exclusive: Niall Kennedy's Microsoft exit interview: He'd only rejoin if Microsoft split up )

Lots of echoes in the chamber rolled up at TechMeme. Rumblings of cut-backs and paralysis and Microsoft being the new IBM. I certainly agree with the desire for Microsoft to be a way smaller company (though I think every time I say that, or ring a bell, 100 more people get hired). I'm not bought into the split-up, except for the sobering benefit of cutting off the cash-cow money flow that allows an abundance of waste and bad decisions elsewhere in the company.

What does it mean to try to hire a superstar today or to grow into a superstar? Can superstars actually get things done at Microsoft? And does this show a revealing shift that all that Live stuff we yanked out of the plucky as a grand, confusing rebranding effort is taking a moment to pause and figure life out? Did we wake up from the Live-demo-bender, rub our face and shake our head, and ask, "What the hell was I thinking?"

A compelling vision would be great right about now. And not a dorky wired-up clipboard that has seemed to have dematerialized. A vision around making money and doing things that, if I told people sucking on a Frappuccino about, they'd say, "Oooh, that's cool. When can I do that?" And if someone is talented and motivated to get things done, how do you unblock them to make it so?

Update: the initial bunch of comments don't weep for Niall and are pretty much summarized as "good riddance and Live is doing super-fine." Maybe more progress will be more exit-door seekers. One can hope.

Other notes:

Dev vs Test vs PM

For those that care, I've thrown in the towel and have let the last post slide into the Dev vs PM vs Test discussion thread. Jump in, and I really encourage some thoughtful comments like this one:

Test? I love Test. I wish we had more testers, paid them better, and gave them more respect. I wish Test was more integrated into product development, and had better career paths. I wish we promoted more people from Test into GM positions...

Well, I have to admit I lopped off how that paragraph ends. I believe there are some great team-building activities spreading through Microsoft, like Feature Crews, that have Dev, Test, and PM working together to create something great vs blaming each other when the should-be-expected unexpected problems arise.

So, for all the "grr, screw-up!" venting you might have to share, how can things change for the better? Or how have they already changed?

More here: 10,000 More Microsofties - What Do They Do?

Update: while I meant for the comments to go to the above thread, a few folks have asked for this specific post to be open to comments as well. Okay. It's a bit late now, but here you go...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

10,000 More Microsofties - What Do They Do?

So there I was, languishing sideways in a sun-drenched chair, indulging in bon bons, and getting engrossed in another summer-time read when Todd Bishop and I had a quick conversation.

"...Microsoft increased by 10,000 in FY06," the ever vigilant Mr. Bishop shared with me, keeping an eye on the recent postings to Microsoft's PressPass site.

Goodness gracious!

A fine G-rated reaction. And thank goodness I didn't have a bon bon in my mouth right then.

This was a heck of a kick-off to the 2006 Financial Analysts Meeting. Who are these people we've hired around the world? Sales and marketing? The field? MSN? Perhaps I'm reading too much summer-time dreck, but it makes me wonder if we're hiring all the folks we can to keep them away from the competition, tucking them away in pods along the The Dalles and other international locales. I shared my opinion with Mr. Bishop: they certainly are not developers, unless we've really lowered the bar and have decided it's okay to hire people who don't need to know how the JIT works, let alone those memory pointer thingies. You can spell HTML? Hired!

Unless someone has a secret to share on how to hire lots and lots of super-talented developers.

Redmond employee count grew by what... holy crap, almost four-thousand people! And our total global growth, including Redmond, was originally projected at 5,000? No wonder we have streets that turn into parking lots around campus. You know, you can only put so many rats in a box before the stress gets to them and it gets toxic and ugly. And the Redmond box is pretty much full. The infrastructure can't take much more, especially if you consider the ancillary jobs that open up based on the increased Microsoftie jobs.

I can only hope that FY07 will not be another 16% growth year. But I'm one beaten down individual, as if each one of these new folks have walked right over me as I sputter, "Mini- Microsoft- Lean- and- Mean- ooch!"

As for the FAM... lots of good coverage all over. I know, we didn't give anyone confidence about Vista's slip ship date (including a report that the press groaned to the answer about when Vista would ship... like we stuck our stock's chin out for a prime right hook). Personally, I would have loved some theater. Like BrianV being onstage giving that initial answer, "...we slip so that we don't ship shit!" and then being fired (or sent to MBS or something) and Jon DeVaan being yanked out of the audience and asked the same question, "We're shipping on time! I promise!" Now that would be refreshing.

Well of course that's not how it's shaping up in the near term. Some folks are grumbling about Sinofsky cronyism as Windows reorganizes for the future. I'm excited for any change that seems to be busting up the levels of hierarchy, clearing out the old, and bringing in the new. Some folks aren't going to be happy with any changes. But I think it's promising. What would you do differently? One positive outlook:

JonDe is a microsoft hero. He and EE team will make windows a tiger again.

It makes me wonder if the folks being given the bums rush are looking for jobs elsewhere or if this SPSA grant coming up very soon is having the positive benefit of "I finally got mine and I am out of here!":

My office is currently being swamped with senior microsoft partners looking to explore options, to consider employment with my firm.

What I am trying to get a handle on is if this is the first wave of Vista related attrition, or is this people planning on moving on after the first slug of the big $1m payday, or is this the first wave of the rif?

I am just curious. It seems odd that we would see so much activity now.

(Lord, it's me... Mini. Please, please let this be the truth and not some sadistic soul playing me for the fool. It's been a rough year, Lord, and I need something hopeful like this to make it through!)

Well, if your office is Google then I hope folks realize they might have a rush to beat... let's see, what's that URL from today's PI? Here we go: - time's a-wasting!

Other goings on...

(1) FAM demo blowout: I was in too much shock from the employment growth to complain about this. In the meantime, both Larry Osterman and Rob Chambers have owned up to what went wrong and why. That's pretty damn open and honest. Some commenters wrote conspiracy theories around it being a staged demo, but somehow I think if it was staged it, ah, wouldn't have crapped out.

(2) Microsoft Lays Out Plans at Analyst Day has the following encouraging note:

It's only a matter of time before Wall Street takes notice of the strides that Microsoft has made of late to transform itself from a slow-moving software behemoth into a company that can better take advantage of new trends in the marketplace. Microsoft's renewed focus on online services is a good move for the company. Meanwhile, the company has taken full advantage of the XBox 360's head start on the other next generation consoles, and it has been doing a good job of leveraging the system's popularity to generate new revenue streams. With all of Microsoft's initiatives set to come together next year, fiscal year 2008 should see huge profits for the firm.

Well, it was encouraging until that FY08 part... better than FY-never.

(3) Ballmer Analyzes Microsoft's 'One Big' Vista Mistake - Mr. Ballmer continues the long mea culpa around integrated innovation. Additionally, Mr. Ballmer is attending his own kind of listening tour around campus right now with Ray Ozzie, meeting with L65+ employees, group by group, and having frank conversations. Hmm!

(4) Watch out, Google, Microsoft now gets the Net - interesting that folks are writing about the Old Microsoft and the New Microsoft.

(5) MSFTextrememakeover FAM - Ante up, up the ante, or just plain bluffing - Microsoft Extreme Makeover's summarization on the FAM - very nicely done.

(6) Charles DiBona and Dylan Yolles shared some interesting insights at the post-FAM Breakfast Series event. They saw it as extremely positive that Microsoft responded with a buy-back. Next request (same as last year): a consistent significant dividend. That would increase all sorts of investment in the stock.

Why is such a dividend a bad idea?

For Dylan: Linux, not so much of a worry on the desktop given that the TCO isn't terribly different (upfront cost is negligible compared to TCO). OpenOffice: beginning to worry more about. Interesting that he brought up a worry over developers and how he sees developers gravitating towards an Eclipse / Open Source environment. What do we do to get developers excited and engaged?

For Charlie: well, he can make us feel better for suffering through a Series of Unfortunate Events: the love affair with Google, the Vista delay screwing over those looking for a Vista dividend (and they in turn screwing us over), and the unknown payoff of the unexpected $2,000,000,000 investment. He saw big changes over the past three months: communication being open, being receptive to feedback, and to act on that feedback. Kudos to those change-makers.

And the reward for, well, the ballsiest question during the Q&A goes to the gentleman who asked about the prospects of taking Microsoft private. That question resulted in Dylan sharing an interesting nugget from five years ago: Bill Gates told Dylan that if the stock got low enough Bill Gates would take the company private.

How much lower is low enough?

Updated: fixed a couple of typos, especially one where I said "slip" when I truly meant "ship." Oy.