The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 2

Tribes are something we humans seem to never quite shake off and will often seek out mini tribe clusters in everything we do. If you’re into cars, you will typically find a club or social arena where others like you dwell, same with chess, fishing, running, riding bikes etc. pick your hobby and chances are there are others like you surrounding you.

This primitive trait is consistent in technology today, if you are a hardcore Adobe Flash developer you’ll defiantly be hanging out in a spot where others like you hang. If WPF is your cup of tea, you’ll do the same whether it be online or offline. It’s how we learn, communicate and develop our careers into new areas of expertise and it something large corporations know on some level that this is vital to the future success of the company in questions future.

In this second part to my coverage of Microsoft UX Platform state of play, I’m going to zero in on the first generation of tribal elders – Evangelists. As its important to get this part out of the way as in Part 3, I’ll be talking more about how the Design discussion inside Microsoft has been abandoned – or should I simply say, shut down / suspended.

Every tribe pedigree needs an evangelist.

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This tribal mentality is why Evangelism is commercially sponsored as by hiring a bunch of people who are passionate about sharing and asking them to go off and spread the gospel of the respective companies technology is part of the overall marketing via influence. Evangelism isn’t a sales role, it’s in fact a marketing role. A good evangelist is someone who can market a product from a basis of trust, meaning they actually believe in what they are talking to others about – thus why Evangelism and religion often are similar in DNA.

The downside with Microsoft Evangelism is that recently I think it’s lost its way, that somehow it’s gotten into this rut of now being metric focused evangelism. It’s now become obvious that depending on each fiscal year the evangelism team(s) within Microsoft will often suddenly switch gears and start talking about a completely different product than they would have before – simply because it’s new and has to be seeded.

The metric system suffocates evangelism.

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Let me explain what I mean by that having been both a Microsoft Evangelist and Product Manager.

Firstly, as a Product Manager the goal for us as a team was to find Evangelist to flood the market in and around what’s coming up and why it’s important everyone in the field as we called it, paid full attention. Asking the field to do this without a metric attached was simply a weak posture for us as a team to have, as it meant that any who did evangelize our products did so for free, but on the flip side when it came to these said Evangelists handing in their homework for the year (i.e. the fiscal metrics and commitments) they could really only use this kind of work stream as "extra credit".

Extra credit was the carrot you would dangle, but the harsh reality is that being an Evangelist you have basically nearly every team inside Microsoft asking the same thing of you "Please Evangelize this new thing". This in turn would give you some interesting and often absurd metrics to go after when it came to figuring out what you as an Evangelist was about to do for the year.

For example, one year I picked the metric "Grow Silverlight by 20% in the community" and committed to my manager on this. This was essentially me gaming the metrics as in truth, if others world-wide did their jobs I’d get a 20% bump in developer share simply by turning up to work – so it was a low hanging metric. I also had to pick a harder metric like find "5x Silverlight case studies" back when Silverlight was just given its name let alone had teeth around being an actual product. It was an almost impossible metric to have, and so it mean my entire year would be focused on finding or enticing someone in the community to not only adopt Silverlight but make a professional product out of it all within a fiscal year.

I look back on my Evangelism metrics and almost laugh at how easy they were compared to being a Product Manager where the stakes were now higher, but my point is Evangelism lost its way in that it has become metric focused and less on well natural Evangelism?

Product Team vs. Evangelist

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It’s not the said Evangelists fault either – actually they are the innocent ones if you ask me – it’s really more the Product Team(s) in question fault (that and the DPE overlords). I say this, as being in a Product Team we used to set metrics for DPE to go off and fight knowing full well they’d either make them with next to no effort or there was no way in hell they could even come close to the benchmark’s we’d set for them (as we’d set the benchmarks high knowing full well our goal metric was much lower, but felt if we gave them the said metric they’d back off the pedal as soon as they hit it? – reverse psychology kind of thing).

This doesn’t sound bad if it’s a 1:1 relationship between an Evangelist and Product Team? If only that were a possibility, the reality is that an Evangelist gets this same kind of dosage from multiple product teams so in this in turn creates the inherit flaw in the overall system – as if the Evangelist is smart, it’s now a case of gaming the metrics to give them ticks in the boxes they need to in turn focus on what they originally were going to do anyway? evangelize a product they have a strong preference / interest behind?.

Confused? don’t be, but watch a TV series called "The Wire" and the above will start to make more sense, as in the end the overall internal culture within Microsoft is pretty much the same – figure out how to game the metric system(s) internally first, figure out how to do what’s actually important to you second as this will ensure you survive the mid and end of year reviews – as this is where the stupidity of the overall system really comes home to roost (read this article for a better explanation of how retarded this is).

Sponsoring an Evangelist vs. Hiring one.

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Evangelism shouldn’t be about this? it should really be about finding individuals for a given technology set and hiring them or even sponsoring them to evangelize the said topic. Microsoft and other companies realistically shouldn’t make these individuals full time staff? if you ask me and you do simply by reading this post, Evangelist should be put on a 2xYear contract that has very basic level of metrics that are focused on gauging enthusiasm for the said technology and less on faking it. Once the 2year is up, go find others who are then interested in the next wave of technology and so on…

That’s at the subsidiary or geo-location level. The product team’s in question should then be focused on creating street evangelism at the core? in that how do you arm anyone who’s both Microsoft and non-Microsoft with both information, presentation materials and demos etc. so they can in turn evangelize on your behalf? As out of that pool you can then find really good ones to sponsor!

It’s more of a natural evolution, it gets rid of the fat cats who are given this role of a life time and lastly it insures a fresh perspective is put into a community that retains both trust and enthusiasm.

How does this relate to UX Platform?

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Evangelism is the core of what will make WPF/Silverlight and more importantly design audiences pay attention to the future of this product. It needs to be the machine that sustains the said technology within their respective communities. It also needs to be that area of influence and advocacy as well, as having an Evangelist you can reach out to and discuss things is important – as these are the individuals who should know how to find ways to convince the Product Team(s) on how important xyz feature request or bug is!

Majority of evangelism inside Microsoft has been abandoned and is reduced to random twitter/blog conversations that in truth hold little weight. MSDN Blogs are an abundance of noise and at times Evangelists are more preoccupied nowadays at being geek-famous then they are helping others figure out why xyz product is a good/bad bet!.

Evangelism is a contact sport, individuals need to be on planes/buses etc all heading to technology events and cubicles around the country, informing a variety of decision makers of the said technology they felt passionate about – whether it’s showing Silverlight/WPF to a CIO, Creative Director, Developer, Receptionist whatever…

This fiscal year, you’re going to see most of the Evangelist focus in around 2 main products, Windows Phone 7, Windows Azure and lastly Internet Explorer 9 (with a focus on Php compete). I dare you to find an Evangelist who talks about WPF 24/7 as if it was their only metric?

Scott Out

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  • kr4ster

    @MossyBlog Decent post.. I notice you don’t discuss MVP’s as a cheap alternative to hiring evangelists..

  • Joe

    I don’t understand why ie9 needs evangalism. Where’s the tooling? Where’s the framework support? What’s the benefit for MS?

  • Aaron

    I remember seeing Bill Gates at an event in Sydney 2000 where he said his goal of a PC in every home was achieved and the goal of Microsoft for the next 10 years was that of a paperless office. Well Microsoft failed but Apple is doing a pretty good job of it.

    And remember that interview with Gates where he said his biggest fear for Microsoft was sliding into Mediocrity?

    The only product of Microsoft’s that isn’t mediocre is VS 2010 and C# 4. But for my own long term job security I’m learning XCode and Objective C now.

  • Fallon Massey

    Well, what you said has come true. The IE9 team looks to have won, and Silverlight is OUT!!!

    Balmer basically says Silverlight is depreciated at about the 2 minute mark of this video, when asked about HTML 5, Silverlight, or buying Adobe.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iI47b3a9cEI

  • Good article. I’m a designer who started doing silverlight as a job 2.5 years ago. I pulled a lot of hairs out because so much of SL is oriented to the developer and so little to the designer. It was and still is near impossible to get a lot of help from anyone in this area. I’m still a full time SL designer who flys every week from STL to Dallas because the company can’t find SL designers out there so they have to import the ones they do find and pay them big bucks.

    So much of the MS culture is geared toward the developer and I get snears at workshops when I make the point that a true designer is needed for any app. Developers think they can do it all, but because they don’t have the design/marketing education/experience they don’t know what they don’t know. So most apps I see that get built by all these greater-than-thou developers look like crap and will never see a store shelf.

    Who knows what the result of all this will be? You need bling bling in order to push a product and by the time MS realizes this and puts a whole lot more effort into the GUI/UX abilities of Blend/Design, HTML5 may be right on the doorstep attracting the majority of designers to their side of the ring.

    Let’s be honest. A lot of Photoshop/Flash guys came over to dabble in SL/Blend 2.0 and were so burned that many of them swore to never come back claiming that this was just a fade that would never have the ability to compete with Adobe. They may have been right. Time will tell.