To say that the role of a Program Manager (PM) at Microsoft is unique, is an understatement. The usual parallels drawn from the industry are the “Product Manager” (product companies) and “Project Manager” (service companies) roles. Neither of these are accurate, though there are elements of the PM job at Microsoft that could sometimes overlap these roles. It is not a marketing role, but a very clear engineering role. It is not a people management role, though there are PM career paths both in management as well as in individual contributor streams. It is an inwardly facing role, though customer empathy is a key competency requirement and customer connection is a key role attribute.
Partner with development and work through the entire product cycle as the advocate for end-users and customers. The role entails the following three distinct “phases” in cycles: Learn, Spec, Deliver.
Learn: Spend time learning about customer problems and available products and technologies that are relevant to these problems. Work with the planning team to understand competitive products or new products in the marketplace. The output of this phase is a prototype upon which the PM will author specifications.
Spec: Convert the learning into a customer experience by creating exhaustive, prescriptive and succinct specification documents which will serve as the defining documents for what functionalities the product will deliver and how the product will behave.
Deliver: Track the development progress, assess and reinforce quality, validate the usability of the product, refine the specifications based on early customer input and finally deliver the finished product on time as per the specifications laid out.
During all three phases, a key requirement for the PM is to be able to constantly convince and evangelize to peers, management and the development team about the right things to do, by bringing in the customer perspective and being the customer advocate at all times.
Strong passion for technology
Breadth of technical knowledge
Great communication and collaboration skills
Intense customer empathy
Razor sharp focus on execution and delivery
Strong analytical and problem solving skills
Ability to influence without authority