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?