Authors Richard Selby and Michael Cusumano spent two years inside Microsoft, interviewing top executives and poring over confidential documents to find out what makes the world’s most successful software company tick.
Their book, “Microsoft Secrets,” doesn’t tell readers what Bill Gates wears to bed. Instead, it explains how programmers who are allowed to set their own working hours and spend the day playing practical jokes on co-workers manage to get a product out on deadline.
“This is not about personalities. This is a book about how Microsoft works,” said Selby.
The 500-page book explains how Microsoft creates technology, shapes markets and hires and manages people.
Selby explains it is a book for business executives, computer enthusiasts and investors who may want to try some of Microsoft’s successful business practices for themselves.
“People who read the book will learn how Microsoft works and how to apply that knowledge to their company and the industry,” said Selby, who teaches computer science at University of California, Irvine.
Microsoft sanctioned this book, giving the authors access to the company’s sprawling Redmond campus for two years beginning in March 1993.
Selby and Cucumano interviewed 40 top executives, including Gates, and came to their conclusions based on what they saw and heard.
It’s largely a positive summary of what Microsoft is.
Selby, who also has studied AT&T;, IBM, Raytheon, TRW and Unisys, said he and Cusumano - an MIT business professor - chose Microsoft because it’s “fascinating and tremendously successful.”
Despite all its successes, Microsoft has been criticized for releasing buggy or incomplete software. By giving the authors access, the company is able to tell the public how it produces that software and what it does to guarantee quality.
So, what does Microsoft do well? Almost everything, the authors say.
Using what the authors call a “synch and stabilize” approach for product development, Microsoft coordinates small teams that work to quickly define, code and test successful versions of products.
These teams compile their computer codes each day so new features fit smoothly into the current product version.
They also stabilize the product version every two to four months by fixing almost all bugs. That allows Microsoft to add or cut features late in the product development schedule to react to changes, Selby said.
To its credit, Microsoft has figured out a way to integrate an informal work environment with structure. It allows employees to essentially set their own hours, as long as they meet the daily deadline for compiling their day’s work.
“Flexibility allows people to be creative and build new products. Structure allows people to keep things under control,” Selby said.
“It’s like telling children, ‘Do anything you want all day, but go to bed at 8 p.m.’ “