I talked a couple of weeks ago about how it is necessary to be brutal and cull the managers of internal products in an acquisition otherwise the management of the joint product roadmap would become completely dysfunctional.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably are aware that Microsoft had a catastrophic failure of their back-end server systems that support T-mobile’s Sidekick phones, losing most user’s data completely without any backup. There are various rumors around about how that happened, the most complete one is here. At root, part of the problem is having two internal groups, one acquired, one with a special conduit to senior management, doing roughly the same thing. The one without the conduit to senior management knew what it was doing; the other not so much. They didn’t cull (in fact they did the opposite, they created a new competing group).
Now, a new source has stepped forward to elaborate on why Microsoft’s Danger acquisition failed so dramatically. This source, intimately involved in the core engineering circle of Microsoft’s Pink Project, outlined that Pink wasn’t simply the acquired Danger group, but existed prior to the acquisition. While the Pink group operated within Microsoft independently of both Windows Mobile and Zune, this source claims that “Pink was in fact a Zune-phone,” in that “Pink was a third group tasked with taking Zune software and making it a phone.”
The pre-Danger Pink group was characterized as “A huge source of trouble,” with the source explaining that “the Redmond-based Pink designers brooked no feedback and won all appeals to higher management (presumably by leveraging face-time).” Pink was given Carte Blanche to assemble a team and get started, but external constraints prevented Danger from simply growing into the Pink Project within Microsoft.
This is the most extreme example of how catastrophically things can go wrong when the management of acquisitions is not clean. You need your best people working on the most important products as quickly as possible and, like in a game of football, you want to block all the political hurdles so that they run to the end zone as fast as possible.
The whole story will probably come out gradually. Sidekick is much more dependent on the servers than iPhone since it can’t synchronize to your laptop and the designers of Sidekick made the reasonable decision that they wouldn’t try too hard to protect your data on the phone: after a major crash they simple cold-boot and reload the data from the cloud.
There seem to be rumors of sabotage, which become more likely every day that passes without some person from Microsoft explaining how it was due to a lightning strike on the datacenter, or a coincidental failure of 3 things or whatever the fundamental technical error was. The idea that a hardware upgrade went wrong and that a savvy IT group would undertake such a thing without backing everything up doesn’t pass the smell test to me.