Microsoft Reorg Needs Soviet-Style Display of Power
It would be so much easier to understand what happens at Microsoft if only its corporate headquarters had a big balcony.
To announce a reorganization, Microsoft would hold a parade and wed watch who appeared to review the troops, Soviet-style.
Wed note where each Microsoft leader stood, who was next to whom, and how many medals each wore on his chest. New participants and disappearances would be carefully noted.
With this method, there would be no more wimpy reorganization press releases that tell much, yet reveal nothing.
No, I want straightforward Kremlin-style displays of power: Employees marching by, heads turned toward the leaders in salute, product banners unfurled.
The number of employees, number of banners and each groups place in the parade would tell us a lot. So would seeing which MS exec saluted as the troops marched past and who averted their gaze to avoid eye contact. What a vista that would be!
Putting this weeks reorg into the context of a Soviet-era spectacle, what wed have noticed about the balcony is the absence of technical skill.
Jim Allchin, who is retiring after Vista ships, wouldnt have been on the balcony. So, we would have been left with Bill Gates and four people whose best skills arent technology.
It is hard for me to imagine Kevin Johnson, a gifted organizer, sales manager and customer relationships guy, having any real say in what goes into post-Vista versions of Windows.
Jeff Raikes has been around, well, forever, and is probably the best of the three presidents in fit-to-job running the business group.
Robbie Bach is a talented exec who, running entertainment and devices, is still waiting for his Elvis moment.
In Robbies case, this would really be a Steve Jobs moment. Indeed, Mr. Bach may be too technical for a job that really requires being able to tell the public what it wants in a way that makes the public actually want it. Nano, anyone?
As for the marching order of the troops, MSN seems to have moved way forward. Not to the front, but pretty close.
The immediate question, however, is why MSN is in Mr. Johnsons Windows group and not Mr. Bachs entertainment group. If you look at MSN for the user perspective, this certainly seems like a mismatch.
Microsoft, I believe, doesnt see MSN as being so much a consumer online service as a way to deliver services to the Windows client.
Putting MSN and the client into the same development group is an indication that software-as-a-service and competing with Google are major priorities in Redmond.
The reorg also seems designed to reduce Steve Ballmers reports from many to only a few. The three presidents, rather than adding a new bureaucracy to Microsoft, may be able to make better decisions more quickly than has lately been possible.
More important than the high-level reorg weve seen will be the organizational tuning that follows.
Microsoft will remain organized into seven business units for profit-and-loss purposes, but streamlining is certainly possible and could make more difference than who reports to whom six levels up from the people doing the actual product development.
The new organization may also reduce what my friend, Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft, calls the "strategy tax."
This is the opportunity and dollars cost that Microsoft developers "pay" because they must adhere to a strategic direction, sometimes small but other times companywide.
One of Microsofts strengths is its ability to do these big things, one of which was the implementation of Internet features across a broad range of products in a relatively short time. But, that was a decade ago.
Today, trusted computing is an example of a "good" strategy tax, according to Cherry, because despite requiring resources, the strategy is absolutely essential for customer satisfaction.
My example of a current "bad" strategy tax is the .Net framework, which has been costly to implement but thus far hasnt exactly taken the world by storm.
I would feel much better if Microsoft had just named three presidents and a technology czar for each group.
Bill Gates cannot provide this sort of day-to-day "right now" leadership and follow-up. This would be someone capable of making rapid decisions on technical direction, while still retaining the respect of the losing side.
I know these people exist in the company, but it bothers me that none are considered important enough to earn a place on the balcony.
Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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