Microsoft sharpening axe for marketing heads - report
Hundreds of jobs at stake in cultural revolution, say sources
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.
Next page: The weak shall succumb
I'll see if I can shed some light as I've worked in an engineering company recently. Marketing is now enemy #1 in most of them. I think this is a FANTASTIC step on MS's part. As you mentioned, MS's marketing has been lacking (for 10 years or so by my count). The reason is that Marketing in many engineering companies have taken over. Rather than selling and making suggestions, they've been giving orders instead, which leads to a lot of "look - squirrel!" type of reactionary actions. Its what I call, "Followship" instead of "Leadership". It destroys any sort of innovation (and morale) from the engineering staff, since they just take orders from the equivalent of Dilbert's pointy haired manager... It also leads to engineering sitting in confusion waiting on their current project to get killed because it's no longer the "hipness du'jour". Nothing worse than having a bunch of your work just thrown out, because a marketing type got a new bee in their bonnet about what is "hot" right now. It's like working for Paris Hilton...
* "Sinofsky's organisation seems a little strange according to this description - one coder, one tester, one PM? - but he does seem to be turning in the goods."
This is called the "Agile" program management method or some variant thereof. Popular in the open source community, and increasingly in corporate dev as well, it does allow for faster time to market, *if* marketing is removed from the equation. It sounds like MS is removing Marketing from the equation. :) It allows you to plan/design/prototype faster, and with QA's input at every step should you be about to pull a boneheaded move as a developer. It allows to break up giganto projects into manageable portions as well and have it come together nicely and more quickly, *if* handled correctly... Big *IF* there though...
* "But making *60%* of your staff "uncomfortable"? That strikes me as a really easy way to destroy morale..."
Agreed x10, but this *might* be a step up. I would venture to guess that it might be 80-90% of engineering staff already being generally unhappy right now to due Marketing interference in their day to day operations.
Overall I think this is great news for MS, and maybe for the rest of the tech industry where marketing has been running roughshod over the development organization in the company. Probably bad news for all the folks with marketing degrees though. :)
Start With The Buffoon In The Awful Golf Wear
If anyone has an image problem, it's Ballmer. He dresses like the most boring man at a party who just may try to interest you in a copy of the watch tower.
They've been making my life a misery for years. Buggerm.