If your co-worker knew something about you... that you forgot to put deodorant on, or that you had toilet paper stuck to your shoe, or that your habit of sending angry incoherent emails before you had consumed your morning coffee was about to become a career limiting move...
Would you like them to tell you?
You would, right?
So here's the catch... if you would like your friends or co-workers to give you feedback when they notice an area of opportunity for you; you have the responsibility to do the same for your friends. Be honest, but respectful. Find the right time and place (generally constructive feedback should be done in private), and let the person know your candid feedback. Once they have received it, they get to choose what they do with it, but you have given them the gift of knowing where they stand. As Wikipedia says,
"In organizations, feedback is a process of sharing observations, concerns and suggestions between persons or divisions of the organization with an intention of improving both personal and organizational performance."
In other words, given correctly, feedback is a very good thing. By FAR the best advice I have read on holding these tough conversations is in a great book called Crucial Conversations, which discusses several ways that you can make it safe to talk about almost anything, and to reach a pool of shared meaning. I cannot possibly recommend it highly enough.
How does this relate to Microsoft? You've probably noticed something that we aren't doing as well as we should have. Maybe you've written one of those "Zune Sucks" blog posts or "Micro$haft Sux!!! Only TOOLZ uze Vista!" posts on /. or Digg. That's okay. As Penny Arcade points out in their Greater Internet F-wad Theory (sorry, this is a family-safe blog), a normal person, plus anonymity and an audience is just asking for trouble. It's really easy to think of us as the Borg.
But guess what? We're not. Microsoft is made up of some of the smartest, most creative, intelligent, and hardworking people I have ever worked with. If we left of your favorite feature in the latest release of Product X, It's not because we all got together and said: "Hey! I know it would make Steve's life a lot easier if we just added a widget button in the print dialogue box. It would only take a day or so to code it, but I really don't like the guy. Let's leave that feature out just to spite him!" Features are prioritized based off of a number of criteria, balancing feature requests with customer impact, with a desire to ship software on a (semi) regular basis.
Windows Server 2008 doesn't come with the Vista Sidebar. Would you have been happy if W2K8 didn't release until April, and ran slower (but you could see a pretty slideshow on the side of your server desktop)? Probably not. If we added support for Windows NT4 into Exchange 2007, it would certainly not have shipped when it did as the Development and Test burden would have increased significantly. If we had built Windows Home Server on top of Windows Server 2008 for the first release... guess what? It wouldn't have shipped yet. As we are often reminded, "Shipping is a feature too". By prioritizing features, we are able to ship on time, get your feedback, and incorporate it into the next version. If we try to boil the ocean and fit everyone's favorite feature into the project, you end up with Vista's too-long development cycle, where nobody is happy at the end.
So how do you let us know what those important features are so that we can plan them into the next version?
First... you can always email firstname.lastname@example.org. Yup, that's an actual address, and real humans read the feedback and shoot it off to the appropriate team. Be constructive in your feedback... don't just tell us that Vista sucks, let us know how it is not meeting your needs, and what we could do next time to make it better. Some teams (such as Zune) have dedicated feedback sites. Just search the Internet for "Product X Feedback" and see what you find.
The next place to leave feedback is on our TechNet and MSDN blogs. Most product teams have a blog, and we really do read the comments. If you have a comment on Internet Explorer 8, go leave a comment on the Internet Explorer Team Blog. Exchange? Head over to You Had Me At EHLO. Windows Vista? They've got a blog too (Windows Vista Blog). We probably won't reply to every comment you post (we need some time to do actual coding), but they will get read.
Even better, head over to the Microsoft Connect site and sign up for betas. This is where the product teams host their pre-release software (both public and private), and you can file bugs and provide feedback that goes directly into our internal systems. For example, right now the Solution Accelerator team is refreshing the Microsoft Operations Framework to integrate MSF and to include guidance on planning and governance. Really good stuff. They would LOVE to have feedback from the field as to how we can make this guidance better. Sign up (instructions here) and let us know how we can make it meaningful to you.
If none of these feedback mechanisms work for you, feel free to leave a comment in my blog or shoot me an email. As long as your feedback is specific and constructive, I promise that I will get it off to the right people. 🙂