My PM journey at Microsoft: What is a PM?

Hi, I am Chhavi, a Program Manager who transitioned from Software Engineering role within Microsoft. I have received many requests about the shift, why I did it and how I moved. To explain the process in depth, I am writing a 3 series blog(might become more or less parts in future 😛). For any questions please reach out to me on LinkedIn.

  1. What is a PM? — In the first part I will explain about the day to day activities of being a PM, what all the work entails. I will explain the differences between different types of PM(Product Manager, Program Manager, Project Manager). I will also try to cover the skills required to be a better PM 😊
Product Management lies in the center

What is a PM? A product manager is the person who identifies the customer need and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, articulates what success looks like for a product, and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality. In short, a PM takes a concept to revenue.

So What does a PM do? Short answer: Everything

A program manager:

· Delivers benefits to organization

· Manages strategies

· Removes impediments

· Deals with stakeholders

In any company, a PM tries to figure out what game the company is playing and help keep its score. They understand business strategy and execution, identify who their customers are, what problems they face and then set up a solution and vision using data and intuition.

Why do we need a PM?

A PM ensures what is being delivered is “right” and will deliver real value against business opportunity. No point in making developers work for a month on a feature no one needed in the first place😅.

PMs create a product roadmap and market strategy, to reach the product vision. On the other hand, an Engineering Manager drives technical strategy and architectural vision.

Day in life of a PM:

A PM generally has to attend meetings. No kidding. Meet with customers to understand what they want. Back that research with data and create ppt. Meet with stakeholders to pitch this idea. Meet with Engineering Manager to explain this idea. Meet with Engineers to decide implementation. Meet with Designers to close the UI. Meet with … you get the gist.

Product Manager vs Program Manager vs Project Manager: Similar terms different connotations. Product Manager manages all the above explained things. A program Manager will look at a specific component of that product, and interact more with engineers, follow up on their tasks and deadlines and ensures the program meets the deadlines for the product launch. A Project Manager manages multiple products under their belt. PS: the same term might mean different things across different companies, there are no hard fixed definitions for these roles.

Things you should consider for the switch:

  1. Aptitude and Attitude: This is all the difference between “What are you actually good at” and “What do you actually like to do”. Do you like using a marker on a whiteboard and creating short forms? A PM works on OKRs to create MVPs based on prioritization using RICE.😂

On a serious note, As a PM, it may be useful to understand basic models like Kano Model, Pareto Principle, PESTLE analysis, Fogg Behavior model etc. These things are taught in B-schools, and you may try to learn these by yourself. If these things interest you, along with the idea of understanding the business logic for a particular product, doing research on customer pain points, and interacting with stakeholders, you may explore this role.
It is good to have certain soft skills like leadership, team work, speaking skills etc. However don’t fret, you can always learn anything, including soft skills. Yes, practice definitely helps, and you can learn on the job as well. Grit by Angela Duckworth teaches how to develop..(you guessed it), Grit! Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck is another helpful read. There are a lot of PM specific courses and websites as well — more on them in the second part of this blog series.

2. Future Growth: Comparing between a SWE and PM, where do you see yourself in 5 years? As a person responsible for product, improvising with changing market trends(Covid, recession, industrialization), fighting fires in new launches, getting new customer base, thinking new features etc. Or as a person owning a service end to end, understanding its in depth architecture, design and bottlenecks. You would be working on the code, finding new ways to improve performance, meeting industry standards, creating new features etc.

3. Salary/ Compensation: Nothing is set in stone and obviously compensation varies across all roles and organizations, so it cannot be generalized. Once you have decided that you need to switch, try speaking to employees or look up salaries on glassdoor, levels.fyi etc to get the true picture.

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