10 years, 11 months ago

Will Microsoft’s Reorganization Work?

I note Microsoft are reorganizing, again. From a products divisional organization to functional. Evidently they want to copy firms like Apple that have been demonstrably successful at delivering integrated products. The problem for Microsoft is that down the years they have worked in a silos quite deliberately to foster inter-organization competition. The culture is inherently adversarial. This worked under Bill Gates because he was more than able to control the teams at a fine grained level and ensure he got what he wanted (most of the time). But the inevitable outcome of this way of working is greater complexity because products have to be retrofitted to work together.

Microsoft has never been good at coordination or collaboration. I recall meeting Bill Gates many years ago; it was shortly after the period that Microsoft was head to head with the US Government, so it must have around 2001. I asked Bill about componentization of the portfolio and in his answer he was clear that coordinating inter product, let alone intra team was something that he wasn’t interested in. Now you might infer that this was a political response, because monolithic architecture suited and supported his position regarding Internet Explorer, but Bill is a software engineer, and he of all people gets this idea.

I also note in the book Microsoft Secrets (Cusumano and Selby, 1995) there is a reproduced memo on Zero Defects code that includes the interesting statement, “There are lots of reasons why our products seem to be getting buggier and buggier. It’s a fact that they’re getting more complex, but we haven’t changed our methods to respond to that complexity . . . The reason that complexity breeds bugs is that we don’t understand how the pieces will work together. This is true for new products as well as changes to existing products . . . “

Yes, 1995 was a long time ago, but the culture of the company has clearly not changed a great deal, hence the need for Balmer to reorganize. My recommendation to Balmer and co is that reorganization alone is insufficient. You need agile architecture, coordination and governance to establish service, capability and product line architectures. In fact if you have these you don’t need to reorganize!

Let me declare my interest. I am a long time customer of Microsoft. Right now I am staying on Windows 7 and using an iPhone. I would like Microsoft to fix Windows 8, but it will take MUCH more than tweaking with the Start menu and such like. I need an OS that works, alone and also with products like Skype! I would like an integrated OS across my devices, but that is a second order issue. I believe the reason the PC market is declining is because millions of PC users like myself are staying put on Windows 7. Like many I am starting to look around at the alternatives, and not really liking what I see, but if Microsoft doesn’t get its act in order, then I and millions of other users will make the big move. So Mr Balmer, please act now to fix the root problem, and stop moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. I and a whole lot of people would like you to be successful, but you don’t have a lot of time.