After The Vista Disaster, What Did Microsoft Do Differently To Create Windows 7?

What Can Microsoft's IT Leaders Do Differently To Make Windows 7 A Success?
What Can Microsoft’s IT Leaders Do Differently To Make Windows 7 A Success?

Isn’t it every IT Leader’s nightmare: you work long hours, pull of miraculous feats of IT project accomplishment in order to create one of the most complicated pieces of software ever, only to have all of your customers hate it?

That’s what it must have felt like to be working at Microsoft when Vista was rolled out. After getting rejected by their customers, what did Microsoft’s IT Leaders do differently the next time around?

A Broken Process

After the debacle of Vista, Microsoft realized that they had lost their way. In the past they had successfully developed operating systems and suites of software successfully; however, something had clearly gone wrong with the Vista project.

Everyone agreed that Vista had two major flaws that doomed it almost from the beginning. The first fatal flaw was that it simply took way too long to develop: a total of five years. I think that we can all understand what must have happened there: scope creep. Add to this some fundamental team communication problems and all of a sudden you’ll keep overshooting your due dates.

The second flaw that did Vista in was that even when it finally rolled out the door, it really wasn’t done. All sorts of software drivers that were required in order to support customer’s various pieces of hardware including monitors, printers, mice, scanners, etc. just weren’t ready yet. Once again I think that we’ve all been there: after five years, somebody high up in the food chain said “just ship it”.

What Got Changed

Their key insight was that they had, like so many other companies, allowed silos of developers to get created. This meant that they had highly skilled workers who were experts at one thing (e.g. GUI interface design) off working all by themselves. Plans, features, and interfaces were not being shared between teams.

When Vista rolled out the door these internal communications failings became obvious to all. Code that worked perfectly by itself all of a sudden didn’t seem to work very well when it had to play ball with other parts of the operating system.

Ok, so realizing that you’ve got a problem and then actually doing something about it are two different things. To their credit, Microsoft appears to have done a good job of tackling this problem.

The solution appears to have been implemented in two steps. First, the Microsoft IT managers changed their way of thinking. Instead of each IT team having their own unique development plan, there was a single development plan that was owned by all.

Secondly, Microsoft forced the development team to think beyond the Microsoft campus and insisted that they work closely with computer makers (HP and others) in order to identify potential problems early on and fix them before they became major issues.

What All Of This Means For You

Lots of people like to throw stones at Microsoft in part because they are so big and successful. The problems with the Vista product clearly showed that the issues that IT Leaders everywhere face are the same sorts of issues that Microsoft was facing and failing to deal with.

To their credit, they appear to have learned from their recent past mistakes. They’ve torn down the internal walls that had built up between development groups and they’ve become humble enough to reach out to computer makers to ask for their help in making sure that Microsoft’s software will work with the hardware that it’ll be running on.

The lessons for all of us are pretty straightforward: when we make mistakes, we need to evaluate what went wrong, change the way that we’re doing business, and reach out to others in order to create a solution that will work in the future. how let’s see how that new Windows 7 product turns out…

Do you think that Microsoft’s reputation as a solid IT shop can recover from the hit that it took from the Vista failure?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Life is hard for IT Leaders and it’s not going to be getting any easier anytime soon. Those “touchy-feely” workplaces that places like Google and Apple have sure seem to be missing the mark — work is for work or have these companies forgotten that?

8 thoughts on “After The Vista Disaster, What Did Microsoft Do Differently To Create Windows 7?”

  1. This is the worst BS piece I read in a while. Not only you don’t communicate anything of substance, but you clearly have no idea how Microsoft develops products. What’s worse, you don’t even understand the difference between software/product development which is a R&D function and IT management which is an Operations function.

    Here’s a tip: talk to someone who works there before you write anything and if you don’t know anyone who works there, abstain from voicing opinions which make you look like a wanna-be insider.

    Fix the bad link to your “consulting” website from the about page and give me back the 10 minutes I wasted reading your brain fart and writing this. Merry x-mas!

    • Stephan: fantastic — if I’ve been able to write the worst blog post that you’ve read recently, then I truly feel as though I’ve accomplished something because there’s some really bad stuff out there.

      You took some time to write your comment, but you didn’t really point out what you thought was wrong. A couple of facts that you can’t argue with are that the Windows 7 product did take less time to create than Vista did (so there!) and they seem to have done a better job of having drivers ready when the product came out (if for no other reason than Vista drivers work with Windows 7). So what’s your point?

      The creation of a software product is really a development function — more like a factory than an R&D shop. IT Management is closely tied to how that factory is run. The creation of the Windows 7 product required substantial changes to both how the software was written and how the development process was managed. So how about you explain why you think that there’s been a disconnect here?

      Trust me, I’ve got no deep desire to work in the boiler room of Microsoft’s OS development shop; however, after spending 20+ years doing IT development and management I’ve got a pretty good idea how it all works. Microsoft isn’t perfect, but they can show us how to make changes when things go wrong.

      Oh, and you were spot on about the broken link to Blue Elephant Consulting — it’s now been fixed. Thanks.

      Happy New Year!

  2. There was yet another issue: never before Vista beta testing of the product was so blatantly offshored to call centers in India. Understandably, workers in those centers had “support” experience, had no idea about the objectives of the beta testing, and were trying to “help” everybody who was reporting a bug by doing everything they could to make the problem to go away. Another problem is that marketing apparently had infiltrated Microsoft beta program too much, so the center of gravity had moved from quality assurance to PR. With Windows 7 the first aspect has improved somewhat, but the 2nd remained the same.

    • Jimmy: you bring up some very good points. Now the real question is why did both of these things happen? Who’s fault was it? I’m going to bet that somewhere in Microsoft’s IT department there were some IT managers who should have stood up and said “Stop, this isn’t right”. Clearly that didn’t happen…

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