September 22, 2005 spout

My Product Group Fun: 2

I am having so much fun, I can’t not tell you about it.

After a few months of wallowing, I found out something about myself: I’m really good at digging into the state of the art, whether it’s one technology or a feature across technologies, if I have a problem I’m trying to solve. However, if I’m just wandering in a space w/o an explicit goal, e.g. give a presentation, build an app, write an article, I’m lost; I just can’t muster any juice. What this means is that when I present my thinking in an area where I’m wandering aimlessly, I’m not married to any of my conclusions. If someone pushes back, I can’t really get behind my conclusions because I just don’t care. If you’re giving a presentation on how you think a certain technology should be used and you don’t have a firm opinion one way or the other, that’s just death.

So it wasn’t pretty for my first couple of months in my new project team. I never felt like I was making any progress because I didn’t understand what problem we were trying to solve. How can you know how much further you’ve got to go if you don’t know where you’re headed?

So, when my boss walked into my office with an actual problem, I jumped at it. He asked me to understand one of the internal applications that another team built at MS and give a presentation on it. The presentation was to a group of architects from across MS. The idea was to pick something to build that was real and that we could learn from as we attempted to apply what we hoped our product would be when it was done (developing prototype product functionality along the way). The catch: I had 36 hours to prepare the presentation (16 of which would commonly be used for sleeping), there weren’t any product architecture docs and nobody knew anyone from that team. I didn’t get much sleep, but I did prepare a presentation that amazed the audience given the amount of time I had. Plus, we ended up picking that app and we’ve been building it all summer, with me writing some of the code and leading the team writing the rest of the code. We’ve been through two milestones and are in the middle of a third, learning a ton about what we were going to build from solving an actual problem. That learning has fed into a product plan that I’m working on with my boss and that we’ll use to capture our team’s thoughts and then getting our management and our internal partners on board.

This goes along with me learning how to be a real MS Product PM, giving my PDC talk, organizing a group to fix what I don’t like about the technologies that I found out about during the preparation of my PDC talk, working on three books and helping to get Genghis resurrected for .NET 2.0. So, I’m busy doing so many wonderful technical things that I can barely stand it. Wahoo!