Part of the deal initially was that Wave would be compensated much like a startup, base salaries were supposed to be low but with heavy performance linked bonuses which would have made the Wave team rich upon Wave's success.
During the course of negotiations and building the Wave product, the "heavily reward for success" part of the equation remained but the "punish upon failure" got gradually watered down into irrelevance, making the entire project a win-win bigger proposition.
Because large parts of the performance bonus were tied to intermediate performance goals, the Wave team was more motivated to hit deadlines than to ship good product. Product began to suffer as the team pushed to fill in a feature checklist on time.
Reflecting on my own time as a program manager at Microsoft early in my career, I have to say the push to ship intermediate milestones and hit dates can have some serious unintended consequences.
The classic software project management quandary rears its ugly head again, over and over, and seemingly everywhere.
Quality, scope, or shipping on time: Choose two.
One thing I disliked about being a PM at Microsoft was how one of the main things we ended up having to do was punt bugs in order to ship on time. We were implicitly and systematically reducing quality and scope in order to ship on time.
If you don't sacrifice quality, then you're sacrificing scope. And doing that mid-stream for a project is often death by a thousand paper cuts, especially for user experience. Product teams end up spending as much time designing to duct tape together incomplete features and broken scenarios as building them in the first place.
And when you don't scale back scope, you sacrifice quality and end up with Google Wave. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.