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Microsoft Secrets: How the World's Most Powerful Software Company Creates Technology, Shapes Markets and Manages People

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Today, Microsoft commands the high ground of the information superhighway by owning the operating systems and basic applications programs that run on the world's 170 million computers. Beyond the unquestioned genius and vision of Bill Gates, what accounts for Microsofts astounding success?
Drawing on almost two years of on-site observation at Microsoft headquarters, eminent scientists Michael A. Cusumano and Richard W. Selby reveal many of Microsoft's innermost secrets. This inside report, based on forty in-depth interviews by authors who had access to confidential documents and project data, outlines the seven complementary strategies that characterize exactly how Microsoft competes and operates, including the "Brain Trust" of talented employees and exceptional management; "bang for the buck" competitive strategies and clear organizational goals that produce self-critiquing, learning, and improving; a flexible, incremental approach to product development; and a relentless pursuit of future markets.
Cusumano and Selby's masterful analysis successfully uncovers the distinctive way in which Microsoft has combined all of the elements necessary to get to the top of an enormously important industry -- and stay there.

528 pages, Paperback

First published October 19, 1995

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Michael A. Cusumano

58 books13 followers

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for Sam Motes.
938 reviews32 followers
September 30, 2016
When I picked this up it showed the release date of 2016. I am just grateful it was a library book and I didn't buy it. Deceptively this is really dated material. Windows three windows NT Windows 95. Still some interesting stuff on how technology leadership work at Microsoft. All things considered this was not worth the read Couldn't finish it
Profile Image for Tom Schulte.
2,984 reviews58 followers
September 21, 2012
Working at a technology company I found this a fascinating work. The candid quotes from MS employees on what was working, and what didn’t; what was being attempted and to what mere lip service was paid was very enlightening. Of course, the 90s technology has been left behind, but skipping over those parts (which I am surprised the original authors though to include), the organizational insight is telling. Here is a list of what I found most interesting, in no particular order:

1. p. 432: the process of self-analysis, post-mortems (p. 331), and maintain a historical base of metrics (p. 431) should probably be embraced by all software development firms and since it is not widespread is probably a big reason why software engineering is not as formalized, repeatable, reliable, and rigorous other engineering disciplines.
2. Planning timelines with built-in buffers for the unexpected … and vacations (pp. 201,4)
3. A logical, piece-by-piece and order development cycle that recalls to me Descartes’ Principal Rules Of The Method.
4. “Features Need to Be Twice as Good to Justify Being Different”, p. 280
5. Team development groups (p. 25), integrated with testers (p. 85; almost one to one!) and PMs for management (p. 64).
6. Ladder-leveled career paths, including pure technical along with managerial: "We're very conscious of the dual career concept, where a guy who doesn't want to be a manager can progress in his career and get promoted just as well as a guy who does want to be a lead or a manager." (p. 115)
7. Encourage expertise, specialization (p. 251)
8. Training (p. 105-7, 112)
9. Inter-group sharing and explicitly arranged collaboration (p. 343, 355)
10. The classic “eat your own dog food” (p. 345)
11. An open discussion of MS’s weaknesses in the approach to growing middle management (p. 420)
12. Embracing customer contact to drive feature planning (p. 369, 431)
13. Detailing development staff to PSS duty (p. 374)
14. A Product Improvement Group internally maintain focus on customer Top Tens (p. 371)
15. Focusing on user activities over behavior is a weak approach (p. 428)
16. The book summarizes MS strengths at this point starting on p. 405, including scaling small scale culture to larger teams and incorporating customer feedback.

More reading notes:

Microsoft Secrets

interviews (all tape-recorded and transcribed into several thousand pages)

(documentation for users)

"execution is the thing that distinguishes"

"millions of lines of code"

"These little offices, hidden away with the doors closed. And unless you have this constant voice of authority going across the e-mail the whole time, it doesn't work."

"...what you have to do is make that structure as unseen as possible and build up this image for all these prima donnas to think that they can do what they like."

"It's like he's this huge computing machine that knows how to make money."

"The status reports are brief and have a standard format."

"sanity checkpoint"

"a comprehensive argument that views the world differently"

End User Group

"infinite defects"

"...we don't understand how the pieces will work together."

"...developers, without structure, are reasonably irrational: Left to their own devices, they will do things which may not make sense for marketing reasons or supportability or anything else."

"'Well, what about this?' To ask an insightful question. To absorb it in real time. A capability to remember. To relate to domains that may not seem connected at first. A certain creativity that allows people to be effective."

"I've seen stupid companies where they just hire bodies and attempt to make up for their hiring of lots of bodies by putting in lots of rules. I guess it may partly fix the problem, but the root cause of the problem was not lack of rules. It was hiring people that needed lots of rules to do their job."


"private releases"

"end users' needs"

"someone detached from the spec"

"track bugs"

"They have followed the lead of the other specialties and formalized many of their procedures, and even characterize their processes in terms borrowed from software development." [manuals & documentation]

"Any company that has HR people do the hiring is doomed."

"maximize the number of individual offices with windows"

"The Microsoft way: Wake up, go to work, do some work. 'Oh, I'm hungry.' Go down and eat some breakfast. Do some work. 'Oh, I'm hungry.' Eat some lunch. Work until you drop. Drive home. Sleep."

"embarrassment drives the world"

"So we look for people who are eternal skeptics. They don't take anything for granted."

"Inexperienced but smart people"

"the first moment that they're here on campus has to be an exciting moment that wil carry forward for their whole career."

""Word Internals," "Excel Internals," and "Newcomer.doc.""

"We're very conscious of the dual career concept, where a guy who doesn't want to be a manager can progress in his career and get promoted just as well as a guy who does want to be a lead or a manager."

"Testing simple features for low-volume consumer products is probably at the lowest end of the skill requirements...."

"make old products obsolete"

"platform standards"

"character-based and graphical computing"

""golden master" ... the copy of the product from which Microsoft will make all others."

"describing clearly "what the product is not" as opposed to "what the product is.""

"For example, the initial specification for Excel 5.0 was 1,500 pages before the start of coding, and the complete specification when the product shipped was 1,850 pages."

"Word 6.0's initial specification was approximately 350 pages, and its complete specification was about 400 pages. A very early version of the latest Office specification was about 1,200 pages; Microsoft has not printed it recently, but it is now too large to bind as a single document."

"less emotional attachment" [to software]

"They just want it to work, and they don't want to learn it."

granular document

"It's a little like reading the ingredient list for an automobile and trying to figure it out, is this thing a sports car or what?"

"important of frequent user activities"

"spec the exe"


"sim ship"

"the virtues of creating and using your own tools"

"usage scenarios"

"technical exchange"

"what runs great in 16 megs might thrash like crazy in 4 meg"
14 reviews1 follower
March 27, 2010
I worked with Microsoft guys who introduced me to a lot of the techniques in the book. Saw Cusumano at MIT conference. He was insufferable as he kept saying "as I wrote in my book..." The audience started groaning. Really turned me off to the guy. I think he basically just took notes at Microsoft since I didn't get the feeling he had original ideas.
Profile Image for John Hoag.
23 reviews
April 27, 2009
From VMS to WNT, this book takes a year-long snapshot of the development of NT. Read along with Judge Jackson's US vs Microsoft decision, it's a chilling but dated look at "winning" at technology. Where's Philippe Kahn?
Profile Image for Brad Smith.
15 reviews3 followers
January 24, 2012
Great insight into how Microsoft works and how it's structured. I should have read this book years ago.
Profile Image for Eliot.
Author 2 books10 followers
July 30, 2014
Learned so much from MS back in the day. Some useful insights.
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