A comment to my post Some Thoughts on the Mini-Microsoft blog struck me as so good that it was worth sharing. So I'm reposting it here so others get to see it

The Lessons of Longhorn
I’ve worked at MS for many, many years in the product groups. I love the company, and have prospered with it. I’m not some disgruntled flunky. I manage a big group, and am committed to doing everything I can to make my group a great place to be and build really compelling products that lots of customers will want to buy. We were and still are a great company in many ways. But we could be even greater.

The Longhorn saga highlights some stark lessons about why employees are pissed off and frustrated with the very top handful of execs. We are all held to very high standards. We write annual commitments, and work very hard to achieve them. If we don’t achieve them, we know we will not be rewarded. We want to do great work, make great products, and be rewarded for it, personally and financially. We don’t shirk from this challenge, we are up to it! But, we expect these rules to apply to everyone, evenly and openly. All the way to the top.

Longhorn will be a good product when it ships, but it will ship two years later than it should have. That extra two years represents what, maybe 8,000 man years of work? At a fully burdened cost of say $150k/head/year that’s $1.2Billion in direct costs of our resources flushed down the toilet. But far worse than those direct costs are the lost opportunity costs of not having the product in market two years earlier and getting started on Vnext.

Who is to blame for this debacle? First BillG himself, for pushing the Windows group to take on huge, extremely difficult technical projects that destabilize all the core parts of the OS, and hold shipping hostage. Even worse, in some cases these efforts seem to be little more than ‘pet’ ideas of Bill’s, with little clear customer value, at least to my understanding. Second, the very top handful of execs in the Windows group are to blame, for placating Bill and not applying the most basic good judgment on engineering and project management. From my perspective, it was clear to nearly every engineer in every product group at MS that Longhorn was badly screwed up, for far too long. But no one at the top would admit it or come to grips with it for far too long. For top product execs as MS, there is a long history of a culture that Bill is right, do what he says, always stay in his good graces no matter what. If you do that, you will likely make a huge fortune. If you don’t, your career at MS is over. I understand the pressure on execs to behave that way and always say ‘Yes’ to Bill. But that’s not the leadership we need. We are not helping anyone with this game, neither customers nor ourselves.

All of us know that if we screwed up like this, we would likely be forced out of our groups, with our reputations as product people shot, and for good reason. But when Bill and Jim et al screw up, nothing happens.

I really want Bill to be man enough to stand up and say, “I made a big mistake. This is what we’ve learned, and this is how we are going to do even better.” Bill is a tremendous thinker, but he is human too, and sometimes can make mistakes. We can’t have a culture that holds he is semi-divine. We need leaders who really lead, pragmatically and effectively, who hold themselves openly to the same standards that we are all held to. That is how we can become an even better company and reach more of our still great potential.


Monday, October 17, 2005 1:14:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
When we hit the reset button for a video game, we do not throw away the game. We do not forget....
Monday, October 17, 2005 5:55:17 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It would be great to see one of these articulate MS veterans stand up at the shareholders' meeting Nov 9 to ask questions like this directly to Bill. Or ask the compensation committee what Jim Allchin's goals were in FY04 and FY05, and what his performance was against those goals to merit annual bonuses of $350K and $342K respectively.
Monday, October 17, 2005 12:27:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
all boss r semi-devine,
when boss say "yes", u say "yes", otherwise boss would tell u to go *(#@$#@
i mean, this BILL have no idea where he wants microsoft goes to. so u see, so many guys leave microsoft and go to google.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005 12:40:26 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Yup, that's a key problem: Leadership at the top who can't/won't hold themselves accountable; A Board of Directors who isn't doing their job of looking out for shareholders by ensuring that accountability and a shareholder base that's so diffused that neither mgt nor the Board are under any external pressure to change. MSFT is really more like a fiefdom that a publicly-traded company and based on recent action, shareholders have had enough and are voting with their feet.
Thursday, October 20, 2005 12:33:09 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
First off, let me say I am a capitalist and all for people earning money for hard work.

To extend what someone said above, if you're a grunt at MSFT, any little thing can cause you to slip from a 3.5 to a 3.0 (I worked at MSFT for over 7 years, quit a month ago), which means ZERO compensation. When I left there were so many statistics people could judged by (many of them orthoganal to shipping a quality product), it was easy to justify any score you wanted to give someone. The last year of my employment at MSFT was the most stressful ever, including the ship time for XP and 2000. One of the things that made it so difficult was the reset and procedures pushed down from the top; following process seemed to matter more than achieving results. Complying with process helped extend the ship cycle tremendously.

In some ways then, it's not surprising that Jim, etc are still getting hosed down. Results don't matter any more. The thought is that quality will fall out from process, but in a company like Microsoft, too much process is the death knell of creativity, honest feedback and natural product evolution. I would have loved it if LH had succeeded (reasonably on time), and we all got hosed down. That would be the right thing. It was painful to see so many grunts down below getting nickeled and dimed when so much waste was being expended at the top. MSFT went for the low hanging fruit- cutting bennies across the board- instead of critically evaluating the situation and taking the appropriate measures. Avalon has some great stuff, but if I got invited to one more dog and pony with mock ups of how great it would be (when it worked), I would have screamed. The inmates got control of the features in the asylum and the result was a bloated product. It reminded me of politicians in DC; they have the power to spend without compunction, so they do it. At MSFT, Bill and other execs got ahead of the game and fantasized about an OS so compelling God would use it to manage the universe.

It's good to think big, but it's prudent to understand the limitations and focus on achievable milestones that bring the best value. Putting networking in the OS was a big win. Redesigning PnP so it was more stable was a win. Win95 had a focus, a raison d'etre, a vision; so did Win2k. WinMe was a stopgap and as a result was inferior. LH was (and is) all over the place, trying to do everything at once, and all of it according to a painfully itemized document that resembles the EU Constitution in its length.

The only person I'll give some credit to is BrianV. Although he does the rah-rah, I saw several emails where he would be critical of quality, push for better results. JimAll, etc get paid the big bucks because they are supposed to be critical thinkers, deliver the goods. MSFT has hired so many extraneous people to work on pet projects supported by execs, all this while options were replaced, benefits were cut as was compensation. Institutionalized executives (and Distinguished Engineers stuck in the Stone Age) are the bane of companies, as they have become the bane of MSFT.
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