The New Windows Organization

The departure of Jon DeVaan and Grant George reignited my interest in writing about the organizational structure that Terry Myerson has put in place for Windows.  Now realize I’m doing this with very little information and lots of assumptions, but I think what I say here will be mostly right.

First a dive into history.  Originally there was a Windows (9x) team and a Windows NT team.  The Windows NT team built a Server product and a client product called Windows Workstation, but the priority was on Server.  Then the Windows team was merged into Windows NT and the Client business began to dominate the merged organization.  To fix this Windows was broken into three organizations: Core OS, Windows Client, and Windows Server.  Core OS consisted of most of the shared components of Windows, though there was sharing between the Client and Server organization as well.  For example, Printing was the responsibility of Windows Client even though it was important to Windows Server as well.

Originally Windows Core, Client, and Server were really three branches of one Division but over time they gained more independence.  While Windows Core remained a technology organization, Windows Client and Windows Server became business units.  Then Windows Server moved from Windows into a new Server and Tools Business.  This structure continued through Windows 7.  When Steven Sinofsky became President of Windows and Windows Live at the beginning of the Windows 8 effort he eliminated the separate Core OS organization and merged it with Windows Client.  He then had the combined organization report to him at a functional level, leaving no identifiable individual below him responsible for delivering Core OS functionality to Windows Server.  Or, other “clients” of the Core OS functionality.

Even when Core OS existed as its own Division (COSD) the Server guys often found themselves buried by the requirements and priorities of Windows Client.  But with the organizations merged the pain level grew dramatically.  Fortunately Bill Laing, the CVP who ran Window Server before it was functionalized to Satya Nadella and currently runs the Development function, had worked out processes for Server to work with the Windows organization.  But this did result in considerable overhead, stress, and lack of agility.  And then the situation became intolerable on a company-wide scale.

With Azure, Windows Phone 8 and Xbox One building on the core of Windows the lack of a separate Core OS organization went from being something that the Server guys just had to deal with to something at the heart of friction within Microsoft.  This isn’t the real topic of this post so I’ll stop here.  Microsoft now builds several products including Windows (Client) Windows Phone, Xbox, Azure, Windows Server, and other things on a common Core Windows.  And they are all moving to share a larger set of common services, not just the lowest levels they share currently.

Last summers reorganization put the three end-user oriented Windows offerings into a single organization, combining Windows (Client), Windows Phone, and Xbox into a new organization led by Terry Myerson (who had led Windows Phone).  Then Terry did his top-level reorg, and we can learn a lot about how he is thinking from that reorg.

Terry essentially split Windows into three (ignoring the consumer services work under Chris Jones):  Windows and Windows Phone, Xbox, and “Core OS”.  Wait a moment you say, what is this Core OS thing?  Well, that is the thing that Terry kept functional to him.  The work that is shared across all Windows platforms belongs to the organization that has David Treadwell running Program Management, Henry Sanders running Development, and Mike Fortin running Test.  And this is also where I think most of the analysis of the departures of Leblond, DeVaan, and George falls short.

Using Jon DeVaan as an example, he ran development for all of “Windows Core” and “Windows Client” (for lack of a better way to say it).  Henry only has development for Windows Core.  So it’s a much narrower job.  Ok then, so why Henry over Jon?  First of course is the question of if Jon was even interested in a significantly narrower job that he had for Windows 8 and 8.1.  Then, of course, is the point that Jon owned all (Dev, PM, and Test) of COSD for Windows 7.  So this new assignment would have been much narrower than anything he’d been responsible for in many years.  My guess is that he wasn’t interested, though I have no information to support that view.  Meanwhile for Henry, one of the former development leaders in COSD and head of development for Windows Phone, this is a very natural next step on his career path.

A similar story exists for both Grant/Mike and Antoine/David, though the Antoine story is probably more complex.  Keep in mind that Antoine had only been leading Windows PM for a few months at the time Terry took over.  And he’d only moved into Windows (from Office) at the start of Windows 8, to create the Windows Store.  So besides being on a course that had him with shrinking responsibilities from the days when he owned all of Office client, which I’m sure wasn’t attractive to him, he wasn’t a platform guy.  Meanwhile Treadwell has been one of the platform leaders, across multiple Microsoft organizations, for many years.  A lot of people went home and celebrated when they discovered he’d be running PM for the Core OS.

With Core OS taken care of Terry created two client teams, one for Windows and Windows Phone and one for Xbox, and set them up with their own leaders instead of having them report functionally to him.  It’s pretty obvious that the Xbox client team would have a leader from Xbox given the unique requirements of that platform.  So I’ll say no more about it.  Let’s dig in on the Windows and Windows Phone organization a bit.

The first thing that should be obvious from putting Windows and Windows Phone in a single client organization is that Terry (and Microsoft) now think of them as flavors of the same OS.  In the future that is, the story will be more like (if not identical to) the iOS and Android stories than today’s bifurcated OS story.  Then the obvious question is who to lead the effort.  Let’s take the available executives and consider them.

Jon DeVaan could certainly have been a contender from the standpoint of the broad set of efforts he’s lead in the past.  But look more recently at Jon’s participation in the Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 efforts.  Jon lead COSD for Windows 7 and then the development discipline for 8/8.1.  Meanwhile the Client effort is a Program Management-dominated effort.  Design, user experience, relationship building, etc. are at its core.  That doesn’t sound like Jon (not that he couldn’t lead such an organization, by putting the right person in charge of PM for example), but Terry already had one of the gods of these things available to him.  Joe Belfiore.  Given the scope of the organization Joe was a pretty obvious choice to lead it.

What about Antoine?  I think I already covered that in the discussion above.   All other factors aside, he just didn’t have enough time to prove himself in the OS space making Joe a much stronger candidate.

The bottom line on all of this is that Microsoft has returned to the general structure of a Core OS organization along with a set of client organizations.  In doing so the responsibilities of all of Terry Myerson’s direct reports narrowed significantly in one or more dimensions from the reporting structure that Steven Sinofsky and then Julie Larson-Green had in place.  And that left Jon DeVaan, Antoine Leblond, and Grant George without appropriate positions in the Windows organization.

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10 Responses to The New Windows Organization

  1. Abdullah Alturki says:

    Very insightful. Thank you very much.

    If I may ask, I’m interested in why you think Joe Belfiore is the obvious choice. Did he do an excellent job in his work on WP or was it something else?

  2. dafowler says:

    As always a sane analysis. Its interesting that Myerson seems to be moving back to having separate versions for consumer and business users (at least according to reports).

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  4. yuhong says:

    Reminds me of how Win8.1 was treated as an “update” even though the system requirements for the 64-bit version increased while Server 2012 R2 is treated as an upgrade.

  5. Joseph Williams says:

    A great skills-based analysis, Hal. But the politics side of things are also inevitable. I imagine Terrry wanted people in the room he was comfortable with and who he felt would execute on his vision. Regardless, really enjoyed your analysis.

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