What does a Program Manager do?

Yesterday and today I am in training called "Engineering Excellence for New Program Managers".  It has been very informative so far.

It was interesting that we spent almost the entire first day talking about the PM job description.  One of the hardest things for a new PM to figure out (at least at Microsoft) is "What are my responsibilities?".  The instructor put up a slide with a bunch of different shapes on it.  The shapes had different labels: "Development", "Localization", "Test", "User Experience", etc.  Next, he told us the responsibilities of each of these groups.  Significantly, Program Management was not one of the the shapes.

Then came the punchline: Program Management was the white space around all the shapes, and management of that area was our responsibility.  Our job is to make sure that all the other groups work together and move forward on our projects, and we are ultimately responsible for getting the project done.

I thought this was a very interesting illustration.  Any observations?

Comments (6)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Read blogs to find the “job description behind the job description.”

    In the past, GlobalGal and…

  2. Dave Fourputtinski says:

    The hardest thing is predicting how long things will take and budgets.

  3. Nishant says:

    Bill –

    So, what exactly do you own as a PM in your group? Just curious…

  4. Bill Canning says:

    I will be at liberty to say sometime soon…


  5. Christian Buckley says:

    As someone who has been in Program Management for the last decade, and who is currently interviewing at MSN (loop next week), it has been interesting investigating PM roles across Microsoft. Depending on the group you talk to, the role could be dramatically different. But from a process perspective, the PM charter seems very simple: do what it takes to get the job done. You are the liaison between the business team and the engineering team – you make sure there is communication across the table, and progress being made.

  6. Steve Lamb says:

    Very interesting. I’ve worked @ Microsoft for the last two years and have been staggered at simply how many Program Managers there are and how much their roles vary!!!!

    At one point I was referred to as a Program Manager as I ran an Early Adoption Program in the field!

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