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My toughest challenges of being a PM (Program Manager)

<Warning>Non technical post follows</Warning>

I was in a mail thread this morning with a friend who recently stepped in the PM role, on the challenges of being a PM. These are my particular set (which I’ve updated from the version in that thread).

  1. Digesting all the different data points we have and prioritizing
  2. Finding the biggest bets that yield the greatest value with the smallest effort
  3. Driving customer scenarios into the team
  4. Getting the team bought in on a design when there is controversy.
  5. Keeping focused on the prize, and resisting the urge to just do stuff because we can.
  6. Making tough tradeoffs / cuts.
  7. Meetings that go no where.

Update: I forgot one really big one that is critical for me, “Listening rather than speaking”

These are the challenges I have faced in particular. If you ask other PMs I am sure you will see variance in the list, though I suspect there will be quite a bit of overlap.

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  • Raj

    The leadership is all about giving right directions and bringing clarity..I guess you are mentioning incapable leadership… people “just reading emails” are not necessarily worthless,they could also be contributors at leaders..

  • http://twitter.com/gblock Glenn Block

    Steve, go check out @brada’s old msdn blog, blogs.msdn.com.brada. He’s got a great series of posts on being a PM. He was the PM master.

  • http://twitter.com/stevehebert Steve Hebert

    Do you have any books / sites that you’ve found useful in your microsoft PM role? I’m asking because the Microsoft PM role is so different from 99% of other companies. It would be nice to gain an understanding of what makes it tick.

  • http://kevinontheweb.com Kevin Webber

    #7 is a huge challenge for everyone in tech. The real problem is when you get into larger enterprises that harbor entire swaths of people who don’t really do much. Every time they boot their computer, read an e-mail, or pick up a pencil, they set up a 2 hour meeting to tell everyone all about it. It can completely destroy the productivity of an entire team if that person happens to be in a position of authority.

  • http://www.devgig.com Geoff Niehaus

    These are all examples of leadership, and not management. My experience is that leadership is not practiced at senior levels, and that trickles down into the organization. The most important part of any project or product is having c-level or vp sponsorship and the understanding of how important the project is to the business as well as how the project aligns with the business strategy. It is difficult to get people to really invest themselves in a project, and take ownership of their part if it is not seen as being valued. What happens is people become “check box” workers. I see this in internal staff, and especially in “consultants”.

  • http://PracticeThis.com alik levin

    I am a consultant, not a PM. Nevertheless i think there is ton similarity between the two. No formal directs, budget burn rate, being responsible for the overall outcome, etc… My biggest challenge when working with the customers is paraphrased #5 and that’s keeping everyone’s eye on the prize. Consultant, like PM, do not have direct reports so the challenge here is using best influence w/o authority techniques to make sure everyone moves to the right direction, the prize 😉

  • http://SourcesOfInsight.com J.D. Meier

    That’s a sweet set of challenges.

    These would be my top 3:
    1. Getting air cover in the early stages.
    2. Switching gears within thin slices of time.
    3. Taking what’s in heads, and putting it out in shared form (slideware, visios, … etc.)