November 27, 2003
@ 04:51 AM

Robert Scoble writes

Lionel, in my comments: "the problem is that it's "common wisdom" that Microsoft has more than $40 billion in the bank, so your point doesn't *sound* true. "how can they talk about resource constraints with that kind of safe deposit""

This is a common misunderstanding. First of all. That cash isn't just given out willy nilly. It's NOT our money! It belongs to our investors. They want to see it spent properly. Translation: don't let Scoble spend it on whatever he wants!

In 1999, published an article called 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management . One of the entries is entitled "Shrimps vs. Weenies" and is quoted below

7. "Shrimp vs. Weenies"

Even with its billions upon billions in cash, Microsoft is as frugal as Ebeneezer Scrooge. It's a company that buys canned weenies for food, not shrimp. Until last year, even Bill Gates and his second-in-command Steve Ballmer flew coach. (For scheduling reasons, the company purchased its first corporate jet.) Bucking the trend of most large, wealthy corporations, Microsoft remains in start-up mode where tight budgets are the rule. When you sit back and think about it, this frugality is less surprising and even explains how a company can come to accumulate such great hoards of cash.

This is probably the one of the most frustrating things to adjust to as a new hire at Microsoft; resource-strapped teams are the order of the day. There never seem to be enough devs to fix bugs and ship features or when there are there aren't enough testers to ensure that the code is up to snuff so you end up cutting the features anyway. Asking around about this leads to the realization that to many this is The Microsoft Way. I've heard all sorts of justifications for this behavior from the fact that it leads to managers making better hiring decisions since they never have as much headcount as they want so they don't waste it hiring people they aren't 100% sure will be good performers to statements like "it's always been this way". It's hard to argue with this logic given that this practice (and the others listed in the article) have lead to one of the most successful companies in the world with more cash on hand than the annual budget of most third world nations.  

However every time we cut some feature because we don't have enough test resources or scrap an idea because we don't have anyone to code it up, I wonder if there's a better way...



Thursday, November 27, 2003 8:31:57 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Yeah, but the best bug to fix is the one you don't write in the first place.

In addition, a fair amount of feature work, in my opinion, isn't well thought out anyway. Go pull up the Outlook options page sometime for a good example. Someone had to actually WRITE those layers of confusing UI. The problem a lot of times isn't not having enough resources to do what you want to do, but being smart enough to figure out and listen to what your customers NEED to you do, as opposed to indulging every idea that comes out. More resources towards usability, prototyping and walking through models early (without writing code or at most using simply coded prototypes) can save you tons of development time later.
Robert Taylor
Thursday, November 27, 2003 8:33:20 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I had the same frustration for some time, but looking back I have to agree with Joel Spolsky's assessment, which I remember to be along the lines of: We had to cut a bunch of features we didn't think we could live without because of lack of resources, and looking back not one of them was worth doing.

Most successful teams, especially product teams, are horrendously bad at planning and the early stages of the development cycle, good at the middle, and extraordinary at the end game. The teams that can't do end game never ship or ship bad stuff. Those that aren't even good at the middle get re-orged early and often.

So when given a 'clean slate' and time to plan, they do a crappy job. I've seen it (and unfortunately been a part of it) time and time again. If they can get through it well enough to get to the middle game they'll be okay because they start coming into their own.

Microsoft's resource policy tends to herd teams into the middle game earlier, in my opinion.

Thanks, Dare, now I feel the urge to write up a blog entry about this (or did I just do that?).

-- Andrew
Thursday, November 27, 2003 11:13:45 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
This is a misunderstanding of what "shrimp vs. weenies" meant. The idea was NOT to skimp on PEOPLE. The reason Microsoft teams are short on people is because 10% (or whatever) of the potential jobs at the company are unfilled because the company can't find people to hire for them.

So "Shrimp vs. weenies" was certainly never meant to purposely understaff the team. It was meant to cut down on all the other stuff: weekly t-shirts, catered food at every event, fancy hotels on the road, etc. In other words eyeing the $50 billion cash hoard and saying "Well heck the company can afford to buy me another laptop even though my current one is only a year old."

And I have to say, having been back at the company for two weeks, that it seems that ten years later, the message of "shrimp vs. weenies" seems to have been lost somewhat.

- adam
Adam Barr
Sunday, November 30, 2003 7:41:13 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
why is your page so W I D E on mozilla?? I have to scroll from left to right to read it. annoying.
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