April 4, 2006
@ 07:02 PM

Eric Gunnerson has a blog post entitled Mom and Apple Pie where he writes

What do following words all have in common:

  • Passion
  • Innovation
  • Synergy
  • Agility

They're what I call "Mom and Apple Pie" words, for two reasons.

First, they all have a positive connotation. Who wouldn't want to be more agile, more innovative? Who is going to argue against having a more synergistic approach? Shouldn't everybody have passion?

Combine that with the fact that these words are used in a content-free environment, and you get a nice-sounding platitude that means nothing, but makes it sound like you are for changing things.

You don't think we should have more apple pie? What's wrong with you? Why do you hate your mother?

People who want to make an organization more agile don't say, "We're going to improve agility". They say, "we're going to get rid of <x>, we're going to change <y>, we're going to release every <x> months". People who want to improve synergy say, "Our users are trying to do <x>, and it's way too hard. What do I need to do to help you fix this?"

I have a blog post in my head about the top 3 things I'd like to see from Microsoft executives. One of the three things I'd like to see our execs do addresses one of the words mentioned by Eric Gunnerson; agility.

I am currently part of the Plaforms & Services Division which encompasses both Windows and MSN Windows Live. There've been two reorganizations that have affected this division in the past eight months. Both times, the claim has been that these reorganizations are intended to boost our 'agility'. The first reorg involved adding a new layer of vice presidents between David Cole who ran MSN at the time and Steve Ballmer. This meant that at the time I had four people with the title 'Vice President' between me and our CEO [Brian Arbogast->Blake Irving->David Cole->Kevin Johnson]. How adding more management made us more agile was a mystery to me. Our most recent reorganization involved splitting the teams that build the Windows kernel from the team that builds the Windows user interface and the teams that build the Windows Live services from the teams that build the user interfaces. In practical terms it means that when I work on features like Photo E-Mail and Social Networking, the folks I work with not only don't share the same boss as me but our management chains don't meet until it gets all the way up to Kevin Johnson and Jim Allchin (i.e. 3 vice presidents up the hierarchy later). I don't see how this makes us more agile but maybe I'm just dumb.

At Microsoft, agility has joined innovation and passion as words that now have negative connotations to me. The longer I am at Microsoft, the more words I end up excising from my vocabulary.

I agree with Eric that what I'd like to see is less buzzwords and more concrete talk about how things are being improved for our users. I'm still waiting for the mail from Kevin Johnson which contains an FAQ explaining why adding layers of management and splitting up teams makes us more agile. I hope I'm not waiting in vain.


 

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Tuesday, April 4, 2006 10:29:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
What I always found amusing/annoying in re-org emails was the recurring "We are now optimally organized to serve our customers blah blah blah" sentiment. Each time I saw that, I'd think "Wait, weren't we optimally organized after the last re-org ?". Maybe whoever crafts these emails means local optima, not global ones ...
Alex
Wednesday, April 5, 2006 1:12:16 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
These four words are also what a ninja is.
Stringer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006 9:17:42 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
the ninjas will have their revenge !!!
d
Thursday, April 6, 2006 7:00:53 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
wow I couldn't agree with you more. I really feel that MS killed the word "innovation"

When people were really begining talk about Google overthrowing Microsoft we started to hear Ballmer talk on and on about innovation in this and that. I really think the word has lost all meaning. Things like increasing relevancy of search slightly, or adding drag and drop to e-mail isn't really innovation, that's evolution not revolution. If someone else is doing the exact same thing, I can't consider your version innovative.

It's gotten so bad to where I just saw a Ford commercial where the CEO Bill Ford comes on and talk about how Ford is leading the way in American Car innovation. As soon as he used that word, he lost me.



Samuel
Friday, April 14, 2006 4:06:21 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, you conclude "what I'd like to see is less buzzwords and more concrete talk about how things are being improved for our users". I say "talk is cheap". There is no such thing as "concrete talk". I would like to see more action.

I know "talk" is important for any non-trivial activity one engages in, but it should really be 20-30% of that activity, at most. You make some decisions, come up with a high-level strategy and a detailed set of plans and then ACT upon these plans. Our VPs should spend their time planning and, most importantly,ax6 following those damn plans through.
Bob
Friday, April 14, 2006 4:07:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, you conclude "what I'd like to see is less buzzwords and more concrete talk about how things are being improved for our users". I say "talk is cheap". There is no such thing as "concrete talk". I would like to see more action.

I know "talk" is important for any non-trivial activity one engages in, but it should really be 20-30% of that activity, at most. You make some decisions, come up with a high-level strategy and a detailed set of plans and then ACT upon these plans. Our VPs should spend their time planning and, most importantly, following those damn plans through.
Bob
Friday, April 14, 2006 4:07:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, you conclude "what I'd like to see is less buzzwords and more concrete talk about how things are being improved for our users". I say "talk is cheap". There is no such thing as "concrete talk". I would like to see more action.

I know "talk" is important for any non-trivial activity one engages in, but it should really be 20-30% of that activity, at most. You make some decisions, come up with a high-level strategy and a detailed set of plans and then ACT upon these plans. Our VPs should spend their time planning and, most importantly, following those damn plans through.
Bob
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