1994: “Doing Business at Microsoft” class

With the recent news that Microsoft is permanently closing its retail stores, I recalled the time I was inspired to propose a “Microsoft Store” on 9/2/1994, as I was finishing the 5 day “Doing Business at Microsoft” course.

This course was offered by the Executive & Management Development group at Microsoft, and was intended to expose senior “non-business” employees (software engineers like me) to what was going on in the rest of the company.  It was a very miniature MBA.

Here is my high-level feedback on the experience.

From:	Ben Slivka 
Sent:	Monday, September 12, 1994 5:17 PM
To:	Renee Fondacaro; Executive & Management Development
Cc:	Brad Silverberg; John Ludwig
Subject: RE: "Doing Business at Microsoft"

bens critique of 8/29/94..9/2/94 DB@MS course

Overall, I thought it was a very well-run, worthwhile course.  I got a quick
snapshot of the major pieces of MS: where they stand today, where
they are headed in the future, and the problems they are grappling with.
It made me want to be a business development guy and go out and
buy companies and technologies and start MS stores and theme parks!

Meeting and working with people from other parts of MS was very 
enlightening and educational, and the resultant "network" (though I
dislike the term, it is appropriate) should prove useful down the road --
it helps us understand that our actions radiate out and affect others
inside (and outside) MS, and that there are opportunities for optimization
across groups.

The case study work at night help cement relationships and the 
knowledge presented during the day (though the legal "case" was
really more of a regurgitation test from the billn lecture), and the
"real-time" MS problems was an *excellent* way to take a stab at
global MS problems and apply the information and skills in a more
holistic sense.

Key Notes & Ideas I took away with me
o Finding information one of the core problems.
	Cairo's content indexing should be a good start here, but many
	of the problems we face as a large organization come down to
	providing a way to quickly and efficiently manage a large amount
	of information (be it e-mail, finding a doc or spreadsheet out on the
	net, getting up to speed on a large code base, understanding the
	sales figures for Europe,or surfing the Internet).  We need to invest
	early and often in making the location of information as easy and
	fast as possible, just as we've focused on GUI and making great
	information construction tools (Word, Excel, etc.).
o Security vs. Efficiency in knowledge dissemination is a big issue
	Today there is a lot of information at MS that may be useful and
	relevant to my job, but I can neither find it nor get access to it in most
	cases, due to network security.  Other large organizations have similar
	problems, and generally err on the side of security.  So, managers
	become information conduits, and thus information is power for them,
	which mitigates further against sharing and leveraging our size.  This
	is among the biggest problems we have (other than figuring out how
	to manage ourselves and ship products on time).
o We absolutely need to automate localization
	With Consumer becoming more important, we need to get very
	aggressive about doing computer translation (which allows localizers
	to become editors) -- should work with MS Research on this now.
o MS should start a "Microsoft Store" (like Nike Town)
	I sent detailed mail a week ago describing the benefits to our
	brand marketing strategy, learning more about the channel and
	about consumers, polishing the MS corporate image (better
	service than Nordstrom), and spending some of that excess cash.
o Legal(?) should maintain a Works-in-Progress licensing database
	As we are becoming bigger and more acquisitive, it is becoming
	more and more likely that two groups in MS will license similar 
	technology from two different sources -- this obviously works against
	our internal goal of technology sharing.  There should be a SQL(?)
	database that tracks all these things.
o Chicago v2 team needs to work with Consumer (tony garcia) on games.
	His team is already working on Multi-user game APIs (something
	we talked about for Memphis) and a common 3D object/space model.
o Should we reissue the Font Packs to coincide with the Chicago launch?
	Pick up another wave of purchases, maybe cut the price?
o Construct an Organization and Process database
	Right now it is difficult to figure out who owns what at MS -- we have
	the WinOrg tool with very short titles.  A more complete tool (with
	the individual being responsible for describing what they own)
	and good search tools would help spread information flow.  Today,
	you have to know who to ask to find the person who owns what
	you are interested in.  If we had the above database, you could
	do interesting queries to find out how many people are working
	on the same problem!
o Construct an overall and detailed MS vision/strategy document
	One presenter suggested finding a copy of "Microsoft Directions"
	-- an outside newsletter that summarizes MS's 1995 strategies.
	Why can't we create that for ourselves and make it available
	internally?  Having everyone rowing in the right direction is a
	good thing.
o Start collecting customer's "bad" disks and analyze them for cause.
	We have no idea why customers report bad disks today; if we knew,
	there might be preventative steps we could take.
o MSINFO should be in Chicago (instead/in addition to MSD)
o Send mail on low-quality of VanStar service
	If I don't complain, how does anyone know there is a problem?
	VanStar (or MS) should also do follow up surveys to measure how
	they are doing on price, on-time delivery, customer satisfaction.

Key Changes for the next iteration of this course:
1) Provide more pre-reading, especially on the areas where lots of
	jargon/details might be covered:
	a) Provide org charts
	b) Provide process charts (especially for manufacturing,
		sales channels)
	c) Provide acronym definitions and relationships (all the
		marketing plans - Select, MOLP, MVP, etc., for
2) Keep presenters focused on the broader goals, accomplishments,
	and challenges for their group (this will also help keep them on-time)
3) Consider providing data for cases in online (Excel spreadsheet) form --
	this would help get to the analysis part more quickly, but could
	of course channel thoughts in limited directions -- it may be OK
	not to do this.

Things to keep the same
1) Have key executives/managers make the presentations
	They are closest to the action and the culture of MS, and so are
	best positioned to communicate that to us.
2) Have nightly case work and deprive us of sleep
	This both cements the knowledge in our own minds as well as
	forces us to get to know the other class members
3) Have the "real-time" MS problem sessions (again with key players)
	This gives us a chance to try to apply our knowledge, and may
	well yield significant insights/solutions to these problems

Weakest presentations
1) PSS - too much detail (presentation went 1hr over 1.5hr schedule), and
	not enough high-level coverage; I felt like she was trying to sell
	me on how complicated and important PSS is.
2) Organization theory - too many buzzwords (billg would have gone nuts) from
	the professor, although the talks and Q&A with Dawn Trudeau and
	Chris Gibbons (who both worked with Prof. Cy Olsen to help refine
	their organizations) made me feel like the discipline was useful.  A
	better attack would be to do the real-world at MS first, perhaps, and
	then go through some theory, and then come back to Q&A?
3) Market Research & Segmentation - again the presenter used a few too
	many buzzwords, I felt like he was selling his job/function rather
	than explaining it to me.
4) Microsoft Controller -- just a bit too much detail -- would have been OK
	if he had given us some pre-reading to do; simply too many charts.
5) Marketing Business case analysis -- Professor Lal only had a "2 years after" 
	data point on the company and its success/failure, and didn't have any
	details on why it was where it was 2 years later.  Especially with our
	focus on long term thinking and success, he should have done some
	more research to find out what happened, or select a case that also
	fit the bill and had this follow up info for the next 5-10 years.
6) Law case study -- this was really just a set of questions that asked for 
	regurgitation of billn's lecture.  A few happened to spark interesting
	issues, but most were too skeletal to stir up any debate.


Author: benslivka

19 start-ups, software, hardware, biotech, space launch, neurodiversity, learning, free markets, food, wine, cycling, walking, Seattle, Microsoft, Northwestern University, Garfield HS, DreamBox Learning, IBM, Amazon.

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