December 2012


Tempted by a recent promotional offer I upgraded to Windows 8 three days ago. So far my experience is mixed, but I’m not going to bore you with that. Instead I want to point out two things that Microsoft is doing with Windows 8 that are in my opinion noteworthy.

First, this is the first true innovation in computer UI in years. Last thing this innovative was iPhone’s UI. While Android is – in terms of its UI – merely a clone of iOS Windows 8′s tiles are something new and very different. It remains to be seen whether this UI will be accepted, especially by the desktop/laptop users. By necessity innovative UI has some learning curve that is much steeper between Windows 7 and 8 than it was between XP and Vista/7. But even if people will reject it and MS will have to revert to the “Start” menu (invented for Windows 95 almost twenty years ago) they should still be praised for at least trying something totally new. Brave, risky – and, I’d say, a bit unexpected coming from an aging corporation.

Also, the concept of unifying the UI across devices to deliver a coherent experience on all of them is interesting. It is not exactly new – last time Microsoft tried it the other way round: Windows CE had desktop’s UI that required a stylus to navigate. In Windows 8 the desktop did get the Start screen that was clearly designed for touchscreen devices. While it usefulness on a laptop/desktop is dubious I have to say it is surprisingly easy to work with using keyboard and mouse.

But this concept serves another purpose. I think I see the MS’s strategy behind it. They want to regain lost position in the mobile world by leveraging their dominance on the desktop. They hope people will like Windows 8 on laptops and tablets enough to buy Windows phones to go along with it. This is both clever, daring and something they successfully did before – when they overslept the Internet phenomenon they fought they way back by winning the browser wars from their Windows stronghold. Now they want to do it again and the time is high, because if things continue as they are few years from now keyboard-equipped computers may be used only by professional software developers and the like. So current desktop dominance will become less relevant and it makes perfect sense to us it now while it still matters.

All of that of course explains why they sell Windows 8 for around $50 – much cheaper than before. They will do everything in their power to make sure everyone will be familiar with the tiles interface. One company that certainly hopes this will work is Nokia – but this is a completely different story.

I have recently met with a team whose manager was trying to be their Product Owner, their Scrum Master (the SM originally assigned to their group kind of slipped out unnoticed a couple of months earlier), their technical leader – and at the same time think of their department future, lobby for the product they were making (an internal system and associated framework) and overall provide political cover. One of our trainers was leading a retrospective and as I was listening in the team told that manager a couple of times: let us decide, let us do things, let us fail even. What was amazing was how those statements bounced off him – it was like if they were speaking Mandarin, the guy just didn’t notice.

This is a pattern that I see often: a manager that is trying to be everything for “his” team, play all the roles at least a little bit – and in the end fails to do any of them well. I think drivers of this behavior can be different in each case (for example this guy is not a power freak, but rather is intellectually drawn to everything: to him all is interesting and worth exploring, knowing, so he tries to get at least a bite of everything), but the net result is always the same – employees’ creativity is stifled, after a couple of tries their own initiative is gone and healthy self organization has no chance of occurring.

This is, of course, nothing new: delegation was always a challenge faced by leaders. However, the “traditional” delegation was the delegation of tasks – what we call for now is delegation of power, delegation of problems to solve. Even more challenging – so even more managers fail to do it right.

Key takeaway: if you are a leader don’t try to be everything, focus on what value you can provide (most likely strategic decisions or providing a compelling vision or coaching) and don’t get in the way of the team.