Monday, February 7, 2011

One Strategy: Steven Sinofsky

If you are reading this blog, there is a more than 90% chance that you're reading it on a machine powered by Windows. Microsoft Windows is an amazing piece of software, one that practically brought into reality Bill Gates's vision of  "a computer on every desktop in every home, and Microsoft software in every computer".

Given the complexity — some may like to call it bloatedness —  of Windows, it is not surprising that developing each subsequent version of it requires a lot of analysis, thought and careful planning. Windows Vista that arrived in 2006 wasn't really a great success. Even though the operating system had a lot of technical improvements over its predecessor, Windows XP (launched way back in 2001), it failed majorly on the user experience front.  While Apple was successfully wooing consumers with its path-breaking products like iPod and iPhone, Microsoft was left only to play catching-up game.

It was in such dire situation that Steven Sinofsky took over the Windows product team. Sinofsky, a two-decade veteran at Microsoft, had successfully managed the Microsoft Office, another of the company's cash-cows. He took over the reins of Windows in mid-June 2006, when the team was preparing to release Vista.
After the Vista debacle, it soon became clear that Microsoft desperately needed to release a better version of the OS  — better do it quickly. Sinofsky set upon a journey that would take three years and thousands of man-hours for he and his team to create Windows 7, codenamed as Vienna (earlier, it was Blackcomb).
And rest, as IT people know, is history. Windows 7 generated an enthusiastic and very positive response from critics as well as consumers. Within a year, it sold more than 300 million copies to become the most successful operating system in computer history.

One Strategy, written by Stephen Sinofsky in collaboration with Marco Iansiti, is not about how Windows 7 was developed. 

But yes, the book does use Windows 7 project as a background to get across some ideas about project management and strategy. 

Throughout the duration of the project, Sinofsky wrote than 200 blogs for the product team, which was shared on the Microsoft's internal network via SharePoint beta. 

One Strategy is a collection of some of these blogs, with some annotations and explanations to support it.

As I read through the book, two things began to irritate me throughout. The blogs are left as written by Sinofsky, which is a very good thing; but at the same time, some ridiculous edits have been made to 'correct the language'. These supposedly useful 'edits' comprise of 'significant' changes such as capitalizing the first letter of each  quotation or inserting dollar signs ("this could be a big [$]100M decision") as if the reference about costs was obscure until that dollar sign was inserted! 

The other thing that bothered me was the text that accompanied the blogs. Rather than helping the reader by explaining the ideas in the blog in further detail, the text merely paraphrases the same stuff, that too in a more abstract and wooden 'management lingo'. There are any interesting tidbits of information nor any trivia that would excite the reader. There is no background information about the blog, nor is there any groundwork for the ideas that would come up in the actual blog.

After a couple of chapters, I realized what I needed to do: just read the blogs by Sinofsky and skip the accompanying material. This made a world of difference. 

In the blogs, Sinofsky shares his thoughts, ideas and opinions on strategy, vision, planning and tactics. He talk about 'strategic integrity' and the dangers that inertia can pose to a seemingly 'healthy' organisation. He writes about the importance of collaboration, communication and clear directions. He gives insights about what it takes to become a developer or a project manager or a general manager at Microsoft. In response to queries from team, he also shares the way he manages his time and the way he works with his team and seniors. 

It is amazing that Sinofsky could manage to write such detailed, thought-intensive blogs considering the huge team-size and scope of the Windows project. Blogs as a communication tool for project managers is an idea that is becoming popular and the blogs by Sinofsky serve as an example how to exploit this medium to its maximum extent. 
Though written specifically for the Windows 7, the blogs are a must-read for every manager that is leading a complex project, be it in software or any other field.  

Recommended reading:
  • Engineering Windows 7: This is the public blog for Windows 7, with articles contributed by Sinofsky. During the development of Win7, it served as the focal point for communication with Windows users.
  • Steven Sinofsky's TechTalk: Blog written by Sinofsky, about how is it to work at Microsoft and career options at the company
  • The Old New Thing: a popular blog by Raymond Chen, which discusses Windows history, Windows programming and 'Micro-Speak'

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