Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Redmond PM - the whole poem

Henry Longfellow inspired me to write a whole poem on Microsoft PM, borrowing from his lovely composition The Village Blacksmith. Disclaimer - this is purely for creative purposes and no money is being made. (if someone sues me, I will plead fair use)

So here it is -

In the evergreen state of washington
The Redmond Campus stands;
The PM, a shrewd man is he,
One of the many on this land;
And the grey cells of his sharp brain
Are lithe as rubber bands.

His spec is detailed, signed-off and long,
the whole product spectrum it span
His presentations are jazzy and fun
His scenarios as clear as they can;
And interacts with the whole team,
For he works with every man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his thoughts flow;
You can see him schedule meetings,
his visio diagrams glow,
Like a rock in the sea
He faces every blow

Customers demanding new features
The requests come to his door;
He hears the product planner demand
He hears the developers roar,
Balancing the schedule and resources
Because ye dil maange more [because everyone wants more]

On weekends he takes the days off,
And parties with girls and boys;
Alls well and fun and frolic,
Till he hears his manager's voice,
New requirements, schedule resets
Adds flavor and the spice

Onward through ship cycle he goes;
Each milestone sees some tasks begin,
Each RTM sees it close
Customer demanded, we provided,
Has earned a nights repose

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Each role has its special function
Every one plays his part
Together we create a successful product
That everyone can be proud of

Best part about being a PM

Program management is the most talked and the least understood position in Microsoft from an outsiders perspective. A number of blogs about PMs talk about this art (and science) and they make a fascinating reading (Joel on Software; KC Lemson; Vernal). The more you read, the more confused you get. And that exactly is what the job is about. Its about chaos; unstructure, unplanned chaos. It can be daunting, frustrating, challenging and satisfying - depending on the kind of person you are.

The best part about being a PM though is the people factor. If it hasn't been said before, Microsoft has some of the brightest mind in the software industry. There is so much talent - raw and honed. And as a PM, you get the opportunity to work with a lot of them. I wont list the job disciplines that a PM interacts with because that has been mentioned a lot of times. But the point I am trying to make is that when you work with people with different backgrounds (cultural, educational, experience, age, gender, etc), your outlook (not the email client) broadens. And when you wrok with the very best, you realize how much you have to grow to reach the caliber of these talented pool of people. It is scary but highly motivating.

For me, being a PM is the best job in the world. Reasons

1. I get to work on my people skills and still not lose touch with my technical background
2. I get to work in the rights management (www.microsoft.com/rms) which has been my passion for all my career (educational and professional)
3. The work is dynamic - my job description changes every day. things are never stale (almost) and every morning is a different ball game
4. Amazing team - Great work, great people, great product and great fun
5. Work Profile - great set of features to work on

To borrow great words of Henry Longfellow and add a lil bit of creativity, you get the PM verse title 'The Redmond PM'

Onward through ship cycle he goes;
Each milestone sees some tasks begin,
Each RTM sees it close
Customer demanded, we provided,
Has earned a hefty bonus


Thursday, August 26, 2004

WHY - The elixir of life

If you followed me till now through the seemingly nonsense journey of how and what, well you are in for a surprise. Today I answer the question that has troubled generations of men. And if you wish to know my qualifications for making these esoteric statements, well it’s pretty simple. THIS IS MY BLOG, I can say whatever I please.

How often have you thought about WHY? Why does this always happen to me? Why today? Why couldn’t my boss wait till my anniversary was over to drop this extra shit-load of work? Why don’t women understand us? As the questions probably show, why most often exacerbates problems (for e.g. asking your wife why did she spend 200$ on a new nightgown) or is used to vent our frustration. And here I am, the stubborn, haughty know-it-all claimant who says the Why is the answer to What (which I may remind you will eventually lead you to how). But stick with me and sense will surely ensue.

To make sense out of nonsense is pretty simple in most cases, just put things in perspective. Apply a context. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll apply the context of program management (for those oblivious to this great of art of handling people and technology simultaneously, refer to aMicrosoft College Website or even better What is a Microsoft Program Manager.html).

As a program manager at Microsoft, it’s my job to figure out WHAT. What are the customer requirements? What scenarios will the user use this feature? What is the schedule for the feature? What milestone of Windows will this feature ship? What do I tell the dev and what should I shield from them? What are my goals and commitments for next year? And how do I go about answering these questions? By asking and answering the question WHY. Why do the customers need this feature tells me the pain they are facing. This allows me to formulate user scenarios that the user will use the feature and drive requirements from them. This aids me in tackling the problem the right way, by having cause drive the effect (you’d be surprised knowing how many times, especially in the software industry, that it happens the other way round). Why do I need to ship this feature in this milestone tells me what features my feature depends on and features that depend on mine. Answering Why do devs need to know this (or not know) helps me tailor my spec (for the uninitiated, it stands for functional specification) in the right level of abstraction so that I don’t make it too high-level (devs hate pure biz talk) or too detailed (I’d be intruding on dev territory then). This is something they don’t teach at any PM course at Microsoft (the courses are really helpful, I’m not undermining their value, but just explaining this simple rationale would do wonders, IMHO).

But this does not imply that WHY applies only to program management. It transcends all human interactions and behaviors. Just think about WHY in a positive connotation. Contemplating why my girlfriend always complain about me not giving her enough attention tells me what I should get her for our imminent monthiversary (n. pl. monthiversaries - the monthly recurring date of a past event, especially one of historical, national, or personal importance). So whenever, you are fazed by a WHAT problem, always give WHY a try. It may be worth your while.

Monday, August 23, 2004

What - Part 1

WHAT is something everyone worries about. Everyday we wake up wondering what to do today. A trip to the supermarket is a treasure cove for what. Which shaving cream to buy, what about the new 2% fat milk, what is more cheaper, etc. The more choices we have, the more scarier WHAT becomes. WHAT has known to be the nemesis of several of my work days and is constantly endangering my daily night sleep.

The more I thought about WHAT, the more I got confused coz I had no idea what (pun intended) I was thinking about. The job of a PM is so much concerned with WHAT, that if you don’t figure out a way to deal with it, it is highly probable that your stint as a PM will be short-lived. 3 months as a PM and I am still struggling with it. And I know people who have been at this job much longer and still undergo the sadist cruelties of it.

At this point of time too, I am wondering what more should I write about WHAT (its getting recursive). And as almost everyone who ever took a computer science course knows that every recursive function needs an exit condition to prevent it from becoming a housewife (well for those single folks, it means turning into a never-ending nightmare). And guess what, after utmost concentration and a momentary flash of brilliance, I have found out the solution. The answer to the WHAT nightmare is………………………………….WHY.

Why did I arrive at WHY will the topic of my next posting. Give a thought to what WHY does to WHAT and you’ll realize why WHY is the nemesis of WHAT. Till then adios


Sunday, August 22, 2004

My venture in the land of thoughts

Words have always eluded me (well, except Microsoft Word). Never thought I'd embark on a journey which had to deal with lot of words (and even more important was to coherently link them together to form meaningful statements that depicted somewhat accurately what I had undergone in a specific duration of time). But well, here I am.

Thinking how to write is certainly difficult (as I portrayed rather verbosely in the previous paragraph). Thinking ‘what’ to write is exceedingly more difficult. The bulk of the job I do at Microsoft as a program manager is to figure out what things need to be done and then our great developers figure out how to do it. So I thought blogging would give me a channel to practice ‘what’. So my next blog is about…………………well you guessed it, What!!.

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