Sinofsky’s TechTalk, and How Agile is MS?

If you haven’t found it yet, you should click over to Steven Sinofsky’s Techtalk – he’s a senior vice president at Microsoft in the Office group. (more info available here). Today in his posting on “Bureaucracy. Threat or menace?” he talks about a class teaching a case on the development of Office 2000 and the topic of bureaucracy, and the need to balance agility with planning and design… while keeping your external partners and customers customers satisfied.

There’s been a great deal of discussion on how agile and innovative Microsoft is vis-a-vis the perception and reports in the reports in the press that the company has become overly bureaucratic. What we see internally are how the improvements we’re making, which take time. As Carol Grojean pointed out, Jon DeVaan (who leads the Engineering Excellence effort) frequently references the article “Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems That Never Happened” which addresses the reality every manager faces: dedicating additional effort to either work or improvement can increase the performance of any process. (As Carol wrote: “The issue at hand is do you go down the destructive work-harder loop, where you feel short-term gains despite long-term consequences, or do you follow the constructive work-smarter loop, where you feel short-term pain for long-term investment in capability?”) Jon has said many times that people should have the courage to change:

“Generally, most people know what the problem is and perhaps even how to fix it; the difficult part is just getting people to change. Everyone recognizes the problem and oftentimes it gets expressed over and over again in cynicism. The true insight is getting every level of management to understand that they are part of the problem when they continually reinforce the work-harder loop.”

Of interest may also be how we look at the evolution of how we develop software at the company, through the creation and use of the .NET Framework, and the effort to implement an agile yet highly disciplined approach to product development. . This paper discusses the nature and impact of these two dramatic shifts to the development practices at Microsoft.- this insight from our own Eric Brechner at the Int’l Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2005) earlier this year on the “Journey of Enlightenment & the Evolution of Development at Microsoft”. Eric is working on improving our software development practices across the product teams. The slides are an interesting read, ‘though alone it lacks the impactful delivery and depth Eric brings to his talks.

(Also a good read: Eric’s ACM paper “Things they would not teach me of in college: what Microsoft developers learn later”)