Program and project management at Microsoft

Microsoft had a problem in the late 1980s regarding how to coordinate engineering efforts with the marketing and business side of each division (some might say this is still a problem for Microsoft and many other companies). A wise man named Jabe Blumenthal realized that there could be a special job where an individual would be involved with these two functions, playing a role of both leadership and coordination. He'd be involved in the project from day one of planning, all the way through the last day of testing. It had to be someone who was at least technical enough to work with and earn the respect of programmers, but also someone who had talents and interests for broader participation in how products were made.

For this role to work, he'd have to enjoy spending his days performing tasks as varied as writing specifications, reviewing marketing plans, generating project schedules, leading teams, doing strategic planning, running bug/defect triage, cultivating team morale, and doing anything else that needed to be done that no one else was doing (well). This new role at Microsoft was called program manager. Not everyone on the team would report directly to him, but the program manager would be granted significant authority to lead and drive the project. (In management theory, this is roughly the idea of a matrix organization,(5) where there are two lines of reporting structure for individuals: one based on function and the other based on project. So, an individual programmer or tester might have two reporting relationshipsa primary one for her functional role and a secondary, but strong, one for the project she works on.)

Jabe played this role on a product called Multiplan (later to become Microsoft Excel), and it worked. The engineering and development process improved along with the quality of coordination with the business team, and throughout the hallways at Microsoft there was much rejoicing. After many memos and meetings, most teams within the company slowly adopted the role. Say what you will, good or bad, about the resulting products, but the idea makes sense. By defining a role for a line-level generalist who was not a gofer or a lackey, but a leader and a driver, the dynamics of how development teams worked at Microsoft changed forever. This role of program manager was what I did through most of my career at Microsoft, and I worked on product teams that included Internet Explorer, MSN, and Windows. Eventually, I even managed teams of people who played this role.

To this day, I don't know of many companies that have gone as far in redefining and formalizing a specialized form of project management. It was rare in my many interactions with other web and software development firms to encounter someone who played a similar kind of role (either they were engineers or business types, or on rare occasions, designers). Many companies use team structures for organizing work, but few define roles that cross over engineering and business hierarchies deliberately. Today, there are more than 5,000 program managers at Microsoft (out of more than 50,000 total employees), and although the power of the idea has been diluted (and in some cases misused), the core spirit of it can still be found in many teams and groups within the company.

But regardless of what it said on my business card, or what Microsoft lore you choose to believe or ignore, my daily functions as a program manager were project management functions. In the simplest terms, this meant that I was responsible for making the projectand whoever was contributing to itas successful as possible. All of the chapters in this book reflect the core tasks involved in doing this, from early planning (Chapters 3 and 4), to spec writing (Chapter 7), to decision making (Chapter 8), to implementation management and release (Chapters 14 and 15).

Beneath these skills, certain attitudes and personality traits come into play. Without awareness of them, anyone leading or managing a project is at a serious disadvantage.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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