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Microsoft sharpening axe for marketing heads - report

Hundreds of jobs at stake in cultural revolution, say sources

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Another year and another shake-up is coming to Microsoft. A restructuring of the team responsible for how Redmond is perceived and sells itself will be announced in the next 30 days, Bloomberg reports.

"Hundreds" of staffers in Microsoft's Central Marketing Group (CMG) may find themselves on the business end of an axe wielded by marketing chief Chris Capossela.

Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg notes:

Changes may include shifting some of the more technical marketing workers to engineering groups, cutting employees who don't have needed skills or whose work is duplicated by other workers, and revamping how marketing groups are organized and where they fit into the rest of the company.

Microsoft, as you'd expect, has refused to comment on the story.

Change is an annual process at Microsoft. Among notable movements in the last decade or so:

  • Steve Ballmer named chief executive in January 2000.
  • Eight years later, the platform and services kingdom belonging to Jim Allchin is broken in two in the wake of the Windows Vista debacle.
  • In 2010, Microsoft shakes up its server and tools business to turn its Windows Azure cloud into a rain-maker while also protecting the Windows Server biz.

The explanation for this latest change is standard boilerplate: to help Microsoft respond to the competition. In this case that includes Apple, Google and Amazon. In the S&T 2010 rejigger it was VMware, Oracle, Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl, PHP and Python (LAMP).

This time, there's a bigger story, and it's something that hints a broader cultural change inside Microsoft and beyond the usual brass-shifting. That change is "Sinofskyisation".

Windows and Windows Live group vice president Steven Sinofsky is Microsoft's star, tipped by some as a future chief executive. Sinofsky shipped Windows 7 on time, without fuss and minus the kind of post-release fallout that had plagued past Windows chiefs. Before Windows, he also got the Office release train on track.

The source of the magic is considered to be Sinofsky's re-org of the Windows team grouping softies into programming units called the "triads". These cells comprise developer, tester and program manager and are aimed at speeding up and tightening up coding. The triads are important in the context of the forthcoming re-organisation. This is mainly because they favour Microsoft's engineering class and strip out non-programming generalist staff and those people who've tried to "own" products or technology domains – a category of employee inside Microsoft that's traditionally been a general manager or corporate vice president.

Triads have two important attributes: they flatten Microsoft's structure, putting the top – in the case of the Windows group management, Sinofsky – in direct communication with the do-ers and in control of those coding features. This has closed the gap on specification and delivery.

No more meetings about meetings

The Sinofsky process is hard driving: it's cutting out the Microsoft cancer, the culture of meetings about meetings, as meetings are not over until any hard decisions are taken, ending the tantalising temptation to reschedule for some other time.

Chairman Sinofsky has encapsulated his thoughts in a little orange book here.

All this compacting, stripping down and removing of the pure marketing and business layer is starting to have echoes of what Bloomberg is reporting; circumstantially, at least, signs are positive. The server and tools group's corporate vice president in charge of marketing Robert Wahbe has become the latest veteran to depart, Redmond announced this week. Significantly, Wahbe leaves ahead of the big marketing re-org that Bloomberg reports.

"They've been wiping out the VPs – flattening out," a former Microsoft exec gone within the last 12 months tells us on condition of anonymity. That cull is now being extended up to director level execs, he says.

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