The World As Best As I Remember It : Broken Windows Theory — This is an excellent post and pretty much summarizes what is wrong with large corporations. It boils down to the poor quality of middle managers (aka VP’s).

When a vice president in Windows asks you whether your team will ship on time, they might well have asked you whether they look fat in their new Armani suit. The answer to the question is deeply meaningful to them. It’s certainly true in some sense that they genuinely want to know. But in a very important other sense, in a sense that you’ll come to regret night after night if you get it wrong, there’s really only one answer you can give.

After months of hearing of how a certain influential team in Windows was going to cause the Vista release to slip, I, full of abstract self-righteous misgivings as a stockholder, had at last the chance to speak with two of the team’s key managers, asking them how they could be so, please-excuse-the-term, I-don’t-mean-its-value-laden-connotation, ignorant as to proper estimation of software schedules. Turns out they’re actually great project managers. They knew months in advance that the schedule would never work. So they told their VP. And he, possibly influenced by one too many instances where engineering re-routes power to the warp core, thus completing the heretofore impossible six-hour task in a mere three, summarily sent the managers back to “figure out how to make it work.” The managers re-estimated, nipped and tucked, liposuctioned, did everything short of a lobotomy — and still did not have a schedule that fit. The VP was not pleased. “You’re smart people. Find a way!” This went back and forth for weeks, whereupon the intrepid managers finally understood how to get past the dilemma. They simply stopped telling the truth. “Sure, everything fits. We cut and cut, and here we are. Vista by August or bust. You got it, boss.”

Every once in a while, Truth still pipes up in meetings. When this happens, more often than not, Truth is simply bent over an authoritative knee and soundly spanked into silence.

related link:
Open Public Review of Vista Beta

  1. Uncle Dave says:

    Reminds me of a conversation I overheard in a Silicon Valley restaurant some years ago between two high level people at IBM. They were discussing how a former CEO simply didn’t want to hear bad news. So, his people constantly told him everything was just hunky dorry. No one had the guts to tell him the company was sinking. You may have noticed that it’s never recovered.

  2. Mark T. says:

    Wow, excellent article! I see some aspects of Microsoft at my company as well. My company also has too many middle managers that make schedule edicts without listening to the engineers that must fulfill those schedules. I will have to forward this link to the guys at the office.

    Depending on who you listen to, it sounds like Microsoft is about to implode under its own weight. I would guess that Vista will be the last MS OS that can be wrung out of the Windows architecture.

    It makes me realize that, despite all the doom sayers at the time, Jobs was right to scrap Mac OS 9 and go with Unix for Mac OS X. I wonder now if Jobs was counting on this when he decided to port Mac OS X to the PC architecture.

    I guess we now know why Gates is calling it quits. I wonder if and when he cashes out his stock if Microsoft stock will go through the floor. Interesting times!

  3. ECA says:

    Mac OS X, being mostly Unix/Linux based, has the ability to be ported to ANY Chipset.

    Thinking BACK, to about 1985.
    And having a parrellel processed computer(Amiga)
    A full winodwing environment, with 4096 colors, Stereo sound, Audio and video linking ability(sympte), time based correction, Ability to use a TV OR a monitor*as most cards do NOW.
    Then thinking of what WINDOWS has missed, and took another 10+ years to make SOMTHING like it. And finally getting REAL close, with Dual core, and all the current tech and 20 years..
    then I love that MS shoots themselves in the foot, by placing backdoors into WinOS, so they can sell advertising, and customising, Gif, Java, Perle, ActiveX, and many others so that Standardized browsers Cant see the web sites, THEIR WAY. then bring OLD tech forward, placing a new Plug on it, and calling it NEW(look up sun raster monitors, plugin).
    Many game makers used Linux to create games, port them to DirectX, using drivers(always changeing and costing MORE), they would never release the linux version, because they wanted the MS market, and WHEN they finally Start to release the Linux versions(as it WAS gaining as a CLEAN environment) MS changes the DX code again and again, and again… So, that Many game makers HAVE TO make games under WinOS.

  4. RTaylor says:

    Damn, are you suggesting that Dilbert has some basis in fact?

  5. Mr. H. Fusion says:

    WOW !!! That summary describes why so many American industries are failing. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen the same things happen in either the company I worked for or companies I was dealing with at the time.

    While most projects need a timetable to achieve their goals, they should be realistically set. Artificial constructs rarely succeed.

  6. Eideard says:

    Truly useful article — if anyone at the top of the food chain reads it. Made me only a little nostalgiac — since I used to belong to MSDN at a very junior level a couple thousand years ago.

    Maybe I was lucky. I worked for three firms = 14 of the 17 years I spent in the wholesale/design/mfg side of sporting goods — where you could pick up the phone and call [or email, later on] the boss. And in 2 of those 3, you got results instead of a pat on the head.

    They all turned out to be very successful, making a lot of bucks for the owners who decided that was the way to do it.

  7. GregAllen says:

    How come Google, Yahoo or maybe Sun jumped in here with their own web-based OS / net appliance?

    It seems like Microsoft is giving them a window of opportunity large enought to drive a truck through.

    Same think happened during the huge delay between Win 3.1 and 95 but, back then, it was OS2 that could have stepped in, but they blew it.

  8. ECA says:

    And to think that in 1985, I had a multitasked machine.(the amiga).
    It had 4096 colors(compared to the 256 of intell, at the time)
    direct memory management, and hardwear Memory management(insted of Software).
    Stereo sound(compared to mono)
    Real winodowing(when MS was in Dos2 and windows 1).
    video and audio linking(sympte, vidoe standard)(which MS/intell still dont use).
    video output to a monitor, OR TV(which video makers are going back to)
    And it was the TOP of the heap, for 10 years…
    And I see MS standards, modifying Java, ActiveX, Perl, Gif, and many other formats, JUSt so standard Browsers WONT work with MS styled sites.
    I see, OLD standards being brought forward, and a new Plug placed on them, and being called NEW(look up Raster/SUN graphics monitors, still wish I had one)

  9. Mike Voice says:

    And to think that in 1985, I had a multitasked machine.(the amiga).

    Yeah. Us Mac-user’s saw the prototypes and thought “we bought the wrong computer” … and then Commode-door bought it and released the Amiga 500 & 1000… Whew… Our investment was safe.

    Limited memory & expansion, and forced to use a TV for output – great for all those colors and animation, but sucked for doing WYSIWYG word processing.

    A co-worker had a 2000, which he added a 68040 processor to… used to invite me over to show me how it would run circles around my Mac… B#stard! [grin]

    It is still amazing – to me at least – that the Amiga 2000 had the lock on the Video Toaster, and Babylon 5 “bragging rights”.

    If only a company other than Commode-door had run with it….

  10. Mark T. says:

    Yeah, I had an Amiga 500 and later upgraded to an Amiga 4000. They were both awesome machines for their day. Unfortunately, Gates had already colluded with the hard drive manufacturers by that point and every OEM hard drive came pre-loaded with Windows 1.0. The tidal wave of MS machines buried everyone else.

    Commodore’s inept and greedy owners did in the Amiga, though. What a shame. It had so much potential. I think it was was a full five years after the introduction of the Amiga that MS finally added multi-tasking with Windows 3.0. Back then, everyone kept talking about the “killer app” and “compatibility”. This just showed how little the general public knew about computers of the day.

  11. Neal Saferstein says:

    Mac users, are starting to sound like old OS/2 nuts. (remeber what happened to OS/2)

    Neal Saferstein

  12. ECA says:

    Win OS is still Multi-threaded.
    It wont acn cant be Multi tasking, until MS, lets INTEL make the proper Chips. Intell want to make them 10 years ago but MS, said NO.

    amiga FINAL, 2 meg chipset for video. could add a device to give 16million colors and 16 meg video.
    64 meg ram, WHICH is alot, when 1 program fit on a floppy, I had 110,000 Progs, DLL, INF, and so forth(MS terms) on a drive with less then 1 GIG, ABOUT the same a 40-80 gig drive DOES NOW.
    68060 CPU with FPU, running 50Mhz ran faster then a P2 400Mhz, and it could have 8 windows open, and run all of the progs, and NOT skip a beet..

    video Toaster and video Flyer, PUSHED everyone ELSE in to the graphics market…And NOTHING could match it, EXCEPT, the B-BOX with B-Os… WHICh is still being USED as a graphics render engine, IF you can find one.

    shadow of the BEAST 2..
    Frontier Elite and ELITE, were the FIRST 3D open ended, SPACE RPG, and ran BETTEr then ANYTHING out even now…If they released it with Better graphics, NOW…I would sit here for the next 5 years(AGAIN) and play to my hearts content…And IF they added internet…YOU WOULD NOT, SEE me leave my HOME, EVER again.

  13. ECA says:

    as to the Elite programs, the space sims…
    I can Guarentee, 1 million PLUS would by it the first month..
    IT was the FIRST game to sell over 1 million.(remember the TIME frame)

  14. Philip Su says:

    Thanks for the compliments, John. I’ve been reading PC Magazine primarily for your column for the past 15 years, starting from high school. It’s surreal to be linked by you. 🙂


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