Since taking a Program Manager role in a product team at Microsoft, I have realised that there are literally hundreds of different definitions of program management and this is partly due to the fact that PM is often used as a role type for everything that ‘isn’t another defined role’. 

This makes sense in a way. There is huge amount of variety in the term ‘program’ after all.

Over the past year I had a great amount of exposure to the different types of PM roles. I still don’t think I have discovered all of them, but will use this article to give a broad overview. 

The “Traditional”

If I had to describe the ‘most commonly encountered in the wild’ program manager (where ‘the wild’ is a Microsoft office) it would definitely be the type of program manager who is paired with an engineering team. (also known as a ‘Feature PM’) 

Feature PMs form the bridge between engineering, customers, and the business. They help to propose and prioritise new features and are closely aligned to an engineering lead. 

Candidates applying to a Feature PM role will usually have to prove that they have a technical background. While they may not write production code themselves, they may still conduct acceptance testing, write code samples for users, create technical docs, or build reporting dashboards. 

A big part of the role is to define clear measurements to show if features are successful. Increasingly measurements are tied directly to user telemetry and a lot of validation involves A/B testing with real users. 

The “Process Owner”

Big platforms require a lot of supporting services and offerings to run smoothly. Ever wondered where automated maintenance e-mails come from? There is a process owner for that. Ever wondered how content gets updates on big Microsoft websites. Again there is a process owner for that too.

Similarly there are people looking after areas like Customer Support, Invoicing, Learning Resources, etc. Arguably this type of program management is a little less technical (in terms of the day-to-day work) than what the ‘Traditional’ would come across. That is not to say that the role becomes any less challenging though. 

Just like the ‘Traditional’ program managers in a ‘Process Owner’ role need to spin plates and be champions in clear communication. Process improvement is just as important as its ownership and PMs in these roles don’t just keep things running, they also spend a big chunk of their time ‘steering the tanker’ in the right direction.

The “Evangelist”

Products need an audience and many bigger products and services have PMs running community engagement programs. In most cases these roles require a strong technical understanding of the product along with excellent presentation skills. 

PMs in ‘Evangelist’ roles will build learning offerings, speak at conferences, run social media campaigns, and oversee initiatives to gather user and partner feedback. 

These are just three types of program manager roles…

In the second part of this article I will cover even more. 🙂

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