Microsoft’s Malady

One of the mostentertaining reads as of late has been the blog of one Mini-Microsoft: A well-writtenanonymous Microsoft insider with an axe to grind about the way thecompany is being run, and with some disagreements about thedirection the company is headed. “Let’s slim down Microsoft into alean, mean, efficient customer pleasing profit making machine!Mini-Microsoft, Mini-Microsoft, lean-and-mean!” he petitions fromthe front page.


Mini’s positionisn’t novel in the world of corporate worker bees. Malcontent aboutone’s workplace, one’s superiors, and compensation is close to auniversal gripe. What makes Mini’s rantings interesting, aside fromthe often humorous writing, is that it emanates from a company long considered theexception – the companythat defied all of the normal rules of corporate culture. Microsoftwas the one organization, we heard, where you didn’t have thetraditional stratification between the lordly executive – foreverblameless and masking incompetence through endless restructurings -and the lowly drones that were treated as replaceable cogs.Microsoft’s developer culture, where the productive intelligentdeveloper was king in the quest to make the best software products, was thebenchmark towards which every .COM dreamer aspired when they laidout their plans for world conquest. Microsoft was the “It” employer thatGoogle has become.  


Of course asorganizations mature they sometimes evolve in ways that aren’tcompatible with some of their employees. When that happens, prettymuch inevitably over an organization’s lifespan, the disgruntledwill often take to the airwaves (blogwaves?) to air theirgrievances, grouching and griping to all who’ll listen about howgreat things used to be,and how things should bedone if management weren’t such idiots. While they might eventuallyadapt, or the organization might change to accommodate them, thedisaffected are far morelikely to eventually move on. That sort of transition isinevitable, and as no-one should consider an employer/employeerelationship a lifetime commitment, it shouldn’t come as that muchof a shock.


Having said that Idon’t think that’s the case here and it really sets Mini’s blogapart from the endless reams of ex-BigCorporation employeespublicly airing their historic dirty laundry. Mini has not onlyearned the admiration and support of a lot of Microsoft faithful,but his position is empirically supported by Microsoft’sunderperformance as of late. No doubt Microsoft does have a seriousproblem, and is truly an organization in crisis. Perhaps theimpression will change after a cluster of long overdue products arereleased over the next 16 months, but it certainly is theimpression today.


The roots of theproblems are obviously varied for such a large organization, but itis nonetheless enjoyable to armchair theorize. I was given theopportunity a short while back while I was speaking with aMicrosoft rep. I was asked what I thought Microsoft’s #1 problemwas (must be on the call sheet question list or something). Myreply was simply integration – Microsoft is sodedicated to integrating all of their products and technologiesstarting at v1.0, tying and cross-integrating, that the speed ofdevelopment slowed to a crawl. One doesn’t have to work atMicrosoft to understand the threat this presents. Suddenlyevery delivery slip suddenly affected dozens of products, and everytechnology risk took on a vastly increased role. The criticaldependencies between projects because pervasive, and communicationchannels to design and deliver products and technologies increasedexponentially.


Couple this withthe fact that the upper-level of Microsoft has become soparanoid about their dependency on platform monopoliesthat they are seemingly incapable of letting their incrediblycapable development teams solve problems in the most effectivemanner. Microsoft is, for reasons I discussed previously,by farits own biggest competitor, so everything any team does you canbe sure had to be approved and agreed upon based upon the strategicinterest of the status quo (in particular the Office and Windowshegemony). It wasn’t surprizing, for instance, when the powersthat be at Microsoft reigned in the hugely successful InternetExplo