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Microsoft Program Management for Dummies An insider's guide to Program Management at Microsoft: the myth and the reality By: Michael Surkan [email protected] Who’s Michael? Technical director at PC Week Labs and IT manager in past life

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Microsoft program management for dummies l.jpg

Microsoft Program Management for Dummies

An insider's guide to Program Management at Microsoft: the myth and the reality

By: Michael Surkan

[email protected]

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Who’s Michael?

  • Technical director at PC Week Labs and IT manager in past life

  • Worked for 9 years at Microsoft in both Product and Program Management roles

  • Program Manager in Windows networking group

    • Windows Firewall, Windows Filtering Platform, IPv6, Teredo, VPNs, Peer-to-Peer networking

  • Constantly pushing boundaries

    • Started Recession Study Group in 2005

    • Conducting personal research project into Linux in 2004, with 25,000 Linux survey responses

    • Fierce advocate for customers

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The amorphous PM

  • Job title loosely describes a variety of functions at Microsoft

    • Virtual development team leader

    • Partnering activities

    • Project scheduling

    • Evangelism

  • Oscillations between generalists and specialists

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Classical Program Management: the generalist

  • Classic PM role is a generalist:

    • Understanding the market, customer, and business requirements.

    • Creating functional specifications.

    • Managing schedules (and keeping them on track)

    • Coordinating the development and test teams

    • Reporting status across all team members, and upper management

    • Ensuring that marketing, documentation writers, and helpdesk teams are ready to support (and sell) the product when it ships

  • Has to get the “big picture”, responsible for success or failure of products as a hole

  • Leverage resources across company to get work done

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Strong yet Powerless

  • PMs have all the responsibility but no authority

  • Must be terrific salesperson to convince team-mates, and other groups, to sign on to work

  • You are the missionary spreading the word

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Turning Japanese: Leading through consensus

  • Microsoft is a matrix organization, with little central authority

  • All parties need to reach a mutual consensus

  • PM is the master of driving (and maintaining) this consensus

  • It is tantamount to a failure of leadership if a PM brings proposals to a VP that have not already gotten the badge of approval by all the teams, and individuals, who need to be involved.

  • Opinions of some individuals carry more weight than others.

  • No easy methods to navigate the eddies of political influence

    • Getting these key influencers to back your ideas, or projects, is the critical to getting your projects off to an auspicious start

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The great communicator

  • Key attribute of any PM is the constant stream of status updates and meetings they produce.

    • Necessary to keep all the loosely connected members of the virtual project teams coordinated, and keep senior managers from getting anxious.

    • E-mails with the notes, and work items, from every meeting should be sent the same day of the meeting. A central repository all notes, and documents, related to the project should be maintained.

  • Weekly meetings with all the key project members are the mainstay of PM life

    • Include everyone who needs to be involved (e.g. marketing, documentation, engineers, product support)

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Conformists only please

  • PMs expected to execute the vision, and ideas, espoused by managers.

  • Diverging from group consensus is a liability.

    • The bigger the idea, the more likely it will require getting the consent of even more teams, and people, to make it a reality, which makes it harder to get off the ground.

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PMs do it better

  • Microsoft strongly believes it’s PM culture is core to success

  • PM role highly coveted as springboard to career advancement

    • Self-fulfilling since many of the best employees want to be PMs

  • Somehow mistakes still happen

    • Microsoft is dominated by engineering, other firms by marketing

  • For good or ill, PMs are core part of Microsoft culture and business processes

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The PM interview

  • Use examples from your experiences

    • Don’t have to be directly associated with work or tech

  • Give examples of how you:

    • Handled tough decisions

    • Drove agreement across a lot of people

    • Defined a process for doing work

  • It’s the process

    • They don’t care about hearing the “right” answer for how to design or build something. They want to hear that you have a good process for coming up with the answers.

  • Show that you understand both engineering and business

    • A passion for meeting customer/market needs

  • Specialized knowledge in product area is more critical than ever

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  • Michael’s blog article on Microsoft Program Management

  • Steven Sinofsky’s view of Microsoft Program Management

  • Zen of PM article on Microsoft Program Management

  • Becoming a Microsoft Program Manager

  • Michael’s “anatomy of a job search” podcasts

  • Michael’s blog