On Being a Program Manager

My newest job takes me from product management (marketing) to program management (product creation). I've worked with PMs (program managers -- oddly, PM never got to meant product manager) for my 7 years at Microsoft and learned that, despite what the internal HR Website might say, PM is not a specifically-defined job. Neither, for that matter, is product manager, but PM is even odder. So after I took the job, I met with some of my favorite PMs and devs to ask them what it takes to be a good PM vs. a good product manager. I also watched Chris Sells's blog with some interest since he's making a transition into PM-hood as well. Some of the tidbits I picked up:

  • Make friends with your dev lead. I got this from nearly everyone I talked to -- after all, a feature spec is no good if your dev team laughs at you and ignores it. I'm planning on buying my dev lead chocolates or lattes regularly.
  • Meet in person, not on the phone. Evidently, the 12-button interface on a phone is too complicated for most PMs, so they prefer to meet in person. But seriously, it seems that the phone, which is very much a tool of marketing, is deprecated in favor of casual in-person conversations.
  • Fill in the gaps. Whatever isn't being done that needs to be done, that's the PM's job description. Write code. Build a positioning framework. Drive through code signing. Whatever it takes.
  • Make sure it ships. Everybody told me this: the PM's final job is to make sure that the thing you said you'd build gets built when you said you'd get it built.

I thought the phone one was probably the funniest.