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.