Being a PM, making crazy comics, and not being on Channel 9 (yet)

Well, the other day I was minding my business, being a Program Manager, when I realized I had not chatted with Chris Sells in a while. I used to see him more often when he worked in MSDN, but now he has some ridiculously important job in a product team upon which the value of my stock depends. Go figure.

He's still a nice guy though, and we chatted about what it means to be a program manager. I've run into a fair number of people who think being a pprogram manager is some sort of license to kick back and boss people around. They think: hey, why should I write code/testplans/marketingcopy, when what I could really be is some bigshot PM (just one letter away from PMS mind you) waving my hands around and making other people write code/testplans/marketing copy.

Even people who know me and realize that I ship something on Gotdotnet, if not every few weeks, every month - people who see me stagger down the halls for a cup of coffee with the haunted expression of the caffeine-damned - have said things that made me realize they thought being a program manager was some sort of cushy hand-wave. Or maybe its commentary on what they think of ME.

("Hah," they think. "Who is this chick? She snorts Diet Coke accidentally up her nose all the time when she laughs the wrong way. I can do HER job.")

Well, if you read some of Chris Sells' posts on being a pm you will get more of the real insider deal. Steve Sinofsky did a super nice job too in his blog posts for college grads, but Chris is talking about things he's learning with his team on a daily basis. Agile development is the new watchword around the program management discipline; it mixed old fashioned accountability with a process that ties the team to results without making it too inflexible. It's not always easy to do right, but when it goes right, the process hums.

Anyway, as happens when you browse a blog as eclectic as Chris Sells', you can expect to something that just alters your brain from its previous genetic patterns. This comic from Rory had me laughing so hard, Sandy Khaund in the next office over asked me what he did wrong this time. I sent him the link and then went staggering, weeping like a baby and giggling the whole time, to the ladies room to try and get some sort of dignity back.

I am here to tell you that it sucks to snort office coffee up your nose worse than Diet Coke, even when figuring in the fizzy bits. Also, if women at Microsoft hear cackling of laughter coming out of the women's room, they tend to flush a lot more, hoping not to get involved.

(Other people have told me they "don't get" Rory's genius with this comic. I think for me it helps I have traded email with ChrisAn about BlogX in the old days, seen groupies follow Don Box around like puppies at conferences, and been mentored on public speaking by Chris Sells who taught me how not to puncture my own ego while speaking in front of an audience. I indeed have met Rory but he wore pants, so that was not actually an assist in deciphering the comic. You DO have to hear the Chris Sells Burning Man song. It was done with a wastebasket)

Sandy also has a great blog post right now called "Brokecode Mountain".  One thing that I think people forget about the program manager role is how much customer service and support really plays a part. Whether you are supporting internal customers, like I do the Microsoft employee bloggers, or external ones like our PSS support people do (or the GDN team for Gotdotnet), that ability to re-think, to re-absorb, and alter your point of view based on feedback is critical to your job as program manager. It's not just herding cats, but listening to them yowl. Sandy went to the frontlines and he listened.

Yowl on, everyone. Remember the Gotdotnet deployment Feb 20th - we hope for no downtime but exercise caution on that day.

Live it vivid! :)


EDIT: Man, I almost forgot, speaking of punctured egos. I might be on Channel 9 soon. More on that later when they actually shoot the darn thing. :)