Microsoft as a Learning Org LO9745

Magnus Ramage (
Wed, 4 Sep 1996 20:43:17 +0100

Replying to LO9715 --

The book which John Paul Fullerton mentioned, "Microsoft Secrets" (M
Cusumano & R Selby, Free Press 1995 / HarperCollins 1996) is well worth a
look as a study of the subject.

In particular, they give a lengthy chapter (c.100 pages) on Microsoft as a
learning organisation. I haven't read the book in detail, so can only
offer a brief summary, but perhaps it'll be of some use.

They identify four key areas in which they hold this to be the case:

1) Learning from past mistakes - they discuss the "post mortem" that goes
on at the end of each project, to analyse it and pull out lessons for
future projects;

2) Feedback to the project while it goes on in terms of metrics and
quantitative measures (I forget if these are of the lines-of-code sort or

3) Customer feedback is built into the design process, through market
research, customer support hotlines and usability testing [Cusumano &
Selby use the slogan "Customer support being seen as part of the

4) Communication takes places across project/product groups, though they
say this could work better.

Interestingly, there is no direct reference to any learning organisation
research in the book (they say it's an idea in common currency though, and
they are academics at MIT and Univ of California at Irvine respectively)
but Senge gets quoted on the cover as recommending the book...

One point in Keith Cowan's interesting message caught my attention, btw:

>Gates sees that Internet could take over the desktop by replacing the
>Windows standard with a browser and Java-based client/servers. Unlike
>GM, Microsoft will never get caught in their paradigms. They are scrappy
>competitors in the image of their founder and leader. They are constantly
>learning from their competitors. Their world view is that their market is
>the world of computing and communications that involves people. Because
>everyone (except maybe Cray) is their competitor, they are learning lots.

To me this has a somewhat negative tone to it, suggesting that Microsoft
are simply organisational cuckoos, waiting for an idea to develop and then
taking it over. Or maybe you meant it positively. What is good about
Microsoft is the energy with which they have pushed forward the computer
revolution - it took them a long time to reach the same standard as Apple
in terms of usability and consumer accessibility, but they appear to have
more or less reached that point. I understand their mission statement is
"a computer on every desk, running Microsoft software". I'm ambivalent
about the latter part, but if it makes the former more likely (and it
appears to) then it does something of a service.

(NB Apologies if this is getting overly computery. The thing I'm
interested in here is Microsoft as an organisation rather than as being
specifically concerned with computers. And I mainly wanted to bring that
book chapter to the list's attention.)

Magnus Ramage


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