Media Center is Cool, but...


That last post got a lot of comments. :)

I'm going to be back on topic for my blog here a bit more and talk about project management on such a cool product. Media Center is a lot of fun to work on, and as you can tell from all the suggestions, there are tons of ideas. So what do we do with all that, and what value does the project manager add?

The point at which we are at in the blog (which is brainstorming features, just like the teams do in Microsoft) is a lot like our planning phase - often called milestone zero. But where does it go from here?

Well that is where project management comes into the picture. We provide structure, process, and cohesion.

In this case, pretending that we are at the start of Vista, I'd work with everyone on this blog to make sure your feature specifications are written and "costed." Costed (not really a word) is about figuring out how much development and test time you need to get the work done and stable. Costing would also include making sure any help files are written, usability studies are scheduled as well making sure the overall schedule of a feature is on track amongst a whole slew of other pieces that don’t get thought about.

That's a big part of project management - to provide a schedule. We work with management and some primary feature teams as well as marketing to create a schedule. We would work to create an RTM (release to market/manufacturing) date with our marketing teams or management and work back from there. There is a lot more that goes into the scheduling then I'm going into right now as it can be an entire blog on its own, so I'm glossing over a lot, a whole lot. Tell me if you’d like to know more as I think a lot of people wonder why software development takes so long and how are dates really picked.

Once we have a schedule we drive that back to our feature teams and give them a framework, or a process, in which to work and succeed. For instance I might push a schedule that requires you to have your specifications, test plans and development costing done in two weeks. That would limit what you can do - and force you to focus on what is most important.

So next time you wonder why we didn't do a specific feature, or why we chose to do one thing over another, think about the fact that if we didn't make choices we'd either never ship or we’d release such a confusing unstable product that it would be unusable.

As a project manager I think about the health of the project as a whole. We call it the 10,000 foot view (as in I see big pieces like mountains and roads but not the little details like bumper stickers on cars), and I provide structure and process to get things done and to be successful. I've spent a little time thinking about processes that we use everyday without realizing it - from buying groceries to getting gas to eating at a restaurant to a simple phone call. All of it is a process - and it shapes how we communicate with the world and conduct business.

Next time I'll talk more about process in project management and the very delicate balance between too much process and too little. After all nobody wants to be too bureaucratic or a burden to creative ideas. :)