04 June, 2009

Twitter Feed

This will be very low-volume, mostly announcing new posts, but feel free to tweet me if you have topics you'd like me to address.

View my Twitter stream at @collisiondomain or subscribe to my Twitter RSS feed.

Administrivia - Added FeedBurner Feed


02 June, 2009

Abandon All Hope

Stack rank (and calibration) is to Microsoft as acidophilus is to yogurt - they both create acidic conditions.

Get out the Tums, because the heartburn is never-ending.

For ICs in their never-ending quest to move higher. And for managers in their never-ending quest to push their people higher, even if their best performer just pushed out a patch that caused over 3 million clients to hash the VM file and then blue screen and their worst performer spends more time justifying their shitty work than actually doing their shitty work.

You might be asking yourself, "Now why would a manager try and push crappy people up in the stack rank?"

It defies common sense. You would think that at an egalitarian programmer's paradise, managers would cooly and calmly rank their team members, interleaving them with their peer's in about five minutes, and then they would all disperse and go back to making sure that the ones and zeros were being cranked out in the correct order.

The riddle is answered when you realize that the Leads get stack ranked as well. As do the Managers, the Directors and so on.

Dropping the egalitarian bullshit, you can see that if you are a manager and you have a team full of losers, you're not going to do so well at your own stack-rank. "Kim's team sucked. They're all ten-percenters and fucked up all sorts of things this year. You can't put Kim above Kimee."

Things get even weirder when you have collections of rock stars in groups. There curve starts to come into play, and good people get screwed because, well, just because sometimes. They may get an Exceeded, but get shoved into the 70% bucket for stock, losing out on hundreds/thousands/tens of thousands of dollars in stock award based on their level.

Nutty eh?

Nothing says, "We value you," more than having to be squishy about what it will take to get into the 20% bucket next year. As a manager, I'll have to use words like "visibility" or "strategic" to guide you in the right direction.

Take those words as code that it's not you, it's the organization, and that it has screwed you out of money and me out of my ability to be as level with you as I would like.

Some would argue that being a good manager at Microsoft means that you can play the stack rank and calibration game to get your top performers the rewards they so justly deserve.

Deconstruct that, and you'll find a tarball of entitlement and an object example of how managers at Microsoft now spend way, way, way too much time playing the game instead of actually managing employees.

Which is one of the biggest fucking problems at Microsoft today and has lead and is still leading to all sorts of management by committee group-think dumb decisions.

LisaB, I'm looking right at you when I make this request - limit the stack rank and calibration to teams managed by leads only. Only let managers of managers do the interleave and so on up the chain. Make disclosure of this data a fireable offense.

By classifying these data points, managers will have to focus more on managing their teams instead of jockeying around so much.

Managers, ask for this. Wouldn't you rather spend more time guiding your team than in interminable meetings that can last hours as your argue over the minutiae of slot 21 vs. slot 22 on the list? If your answer is no, quit. Those of us that give a shit are really tired of your ilk, and we're going to key your new BMW until you get the message.

30 May, 2009

Moving back in with the parents

I have a friend who went back to work for a large company after the small company he had worked at for a while folded. He described the experience as akin to moving back in with parents after a first, failed fledge.

Now I know what he meant.

The parents re-decorated and moved the furniture while you were away, causing you a few bruised shins in the night as you stagger back in after tipping a few pints with your mates at the pub. But what's most jarring is how their behavior has changed.

Especially towards you.

You're no longer the child to be doted upon and enveloped with a warm embrace, but an interloper and an irritant. They lash out at you when you harmlessly suggest they stop shuffling around in their slippers over the throw rugs, lest they fall and break a hip.

And your brothers and sisters who hadn't yet left home? A curious mix of derision and awe, stirred with whispered fears that mom and dad are going downhill faster than you knew, since you weren't around to watch it happen.

And so, I find myself back at Microsoft again, after the sinking economy sucked my startup down into the vortex where so many entrepreneur's hopes go: irreversible negative cash flow.

Ironically, failure has its rewards. In my case, dramatically reduced responsibilities compared to startup-land and managing a team vs. being an IC like my first go-round. Though as I'm finding, being part of the management class I railed against previously is causing me to question my sanity at times and actively worry that I'm falling to the mean of Microsoft management instead of helping to lift it up.

Hopefully you'll help me figure that out, because if I thought things were bad before in Microsoft management-land, they appear to be even worse now.

But before we delve back into the Microsoft management corpus for vivisection, I will preempt a couple of questions.

Why come back to Microsoft and re-animate this blog?

For the first part, it was a path of low resistance and I have bills to pay. For the second part, to help keep my sanity.

Constructive critique of the Microsoft work experience seems to be ebbing as of late and with silly decisions inside the company seeming to accelerate, I need a place to put the stupid.

And Bill knows, Microsoft seems to be generating more stupid per manager than ever before.

Take stack-ranking, for example...

27 November, 2007

Looking Back

It's been a couple of months since I left Microsoft and moved on to other things, and the perspective has allowed me to deconstruct a few things that were hard to see when I was so close to things.

Notably, I still feel great about my decision and that it was the right thing to do. I wasn't doing anyone any favors on my team with my frustrations with the place as I kept ramming into walls that just wouldn't tumble down because of little, old me.

So here are my enduring takeaways from my tenure at Microsoft:

* Microsoft has a lot of smart people working for it.
* Most of those smart people are trying to do the right thing for customers.
* The rest of the smart people and the idiots who are doing the most damage to the company think they're doing the right thing.
* Bonus and stock awards are stacked towards people willing to sacrifice external, personal demands to Microsoft's demands.
* Compensation and leveling is highly variable in small groups for people doing the same or similar jobs.
* Most leads that I met should be ICs - they just don't have the training or support to do right to their reports.
* Most managers that I met should be leads - the Peter Principle in action for most.
* Most directors that I met should be GMs - I feel for these people; stuck between Partners/Partner wannabees and the clueless managers they have to continually correct.
* Most GMs that I met should be fired - Partner should be a reward for a job well done, not for an ass well-tongued.
* Most VPs that I met should be fired - if they were more out of touch with the front line and reality, they'd be a part of the Bush administration.
* A culling of all the bad leads, managers, directors, GMs and VPs is unlikely to happen until Microsoft has an unprofitable quarter.
* Find the good leads, managers, directors, GMs and VPs to work for - they're there.
* Many good ideas that would benefit customers are sacrificed on the altars of not invented here, political bullshit and apathy.
* Many of the smartest people I met fell into two camps: those that are burned out and those on the way to burnout.
* Most of the rank-and-file are there to pull a paycheck, while upper management thinks they're there because they want to change the world.
* The rules and polices are getting worse as rules and polices are put in place to reduce the rules and policies.
* A bad manager will screw your career worse than a major fuckup on your part.
* Politics trumps technical chops.
* Never leave good food in the fridge - someone will steal it.
* There are no teams, only loose collections of mercenaries.
* HR and LCA care more about butt-covering than providing cover for disruptive innovation.
* Informationals are the interview.
* You are not important, only the work you do is.
* Ass-kissing with poor work output is rewarded more than being blunt with great work output.
* There is life after Microsoft.

Best wishes,

23 August, 2007


"Though I'm passed one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still

And I think my spaceship knows which way to go,"

- David Bowie

Business plan - check.

Moat in business plan - check.

Fundraising rolodex - check.

Personal cash cusion - check.

All systems go for escape orbit on September 17.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!


Another review come and gone yesterday.


One tidbit that I did discover this go-through was that the shiny, happy compensation target numbers on http://hrweb are figments of policy imagination.

While it is theoretically possible to hit the high end of the range, in actual practice, it doesn't happen. The best way to describe it is that the theoretical high end is the volume of a bucket. Then, the budgeted amount of cash for the year's reviews gets poured into the bucket and the surface of the water is the real high end.

Net result?

Bait and switch.

I'd rather have more realistic numbers to aim for that I know I have a chance of being rewarded with instead of numbers that are impossible to achieve. Now that I know the top end just doesn't exist, what's the point of aiming high?

"It's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care. It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime; so where's the motivation? And here's something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now. "

Preparing for Take-off

Make sure your whole company feels like one team. Ballmer once joked at a company meeting, “Why do the different groups only clap for themselves?” - http://blog.redfin.com/blog/2007/08/will_work_for_food_why_i_left_microsoft_for_a_startup_.html


04 August, 2007

Can We Hire Them to Study Microsoft?

Bad bosses get promoted, not punished?

In [a] study to be presented at a conference on management this weekend, almost two-thirds of the 240 participants in an online survey said the local workplace tyrant was either never censured or was promoted for domineering ways.

"The fact that 64.2 percent of the respondents indicated that either nothing at all or something positive happened to the bad leader is rather remarkable -- remarkably disturbing," wrote the study's authors, Anthony Don Erickson, Ben Shaw and Zha Agabe of Bond University in Australia.

They faulted senior managers for not recognizing the signs of workplace strife wrought by bad bosses. "The leaders above them who did nothing, who rewarded and promoted bad leaders ... represent an additional problem."


And in the same vein:

Conformity, flattery, and favors, more than competence, make for influence in world of corporate boards, study finds

But we already intuitively know these things since we work at Microsoft, don't we?

I reiterate my second request of management at Microsoft to thin the management ranks of the non-performers and flatten the organizational hierarchy. I keep hearing how we're a data-driven company but I keep seeing blind mice when when it comes to organizational and management effectiveness data that MS Poll generates.

30 July, 2007

Orr vs. Scheisskopf while Snowden Dies and I am Dunbar

Microsoft is a study of opposites in constant dynamic tension.

Egalitarianism vs. unrestrained greed.

Transparency vs. misinformation.

Purity of mission vs. muddled deliverables.

And so on and so on and so on.

When I go to work and swipe my badge at the portal, I always get a bit of a thrill when the genuflection doesn't register. In those brief seconds before a second attempt, I am Orr, with my escape plan ready to be executed at the opportunity, never to haunt the halls again.

Then the reality of the world comes crashing back upon me as the beep-click grants my passage back into the corporate womb for more gestation. Settling at my desk and triaging my email, (because some do bleed for my attention,) and I lock back into my Scheisskopf persona, (can I get a marketing scenario card for that please?) pondering the rules I can exploit and the superiors I can impress by doing so.

And Snowden lays dying and in him I see the empty shells we sell to our customers. The only friend I had was Snowden and I didn't know him.

This forces me to take things apart and put them back together again ad nauseam in what increasingly feels like a futile attempt to make things better and extend my life.

The irony?

If our managers and leaders would get rid of the Captain Blacks, Colonel Cathcarts and the ilk like them that infest management, many of the potential Orrs would be happy to be Yossarian and be one of the boys.

Which is the entire fucking problem with this company.