I work at Microsoft. Microsoft is the ultimate dojo of personal growth. The picture shows you a view from my office, where on a Sunny day, I can see the mountains in the distance. Mostly I like the Evergreens. It’s like living in the forest.
The hallways are bursting with brilliance. It’s amazing the experience, capabilities and backgrounds. That’s the thing that always amazes me at Microsoft, you’ve got rocket scientists, doctors that write code, former teachers of all levels, authors of best-selling books, Entrepreneurs, amazing business leaders, and everything in between. Oh, and did I mention a small army of developers who write code to empower people to change the world?
Mostly you have people with a passion for more from life.
And that’s what makes this place special … Great people.
At Microsoft, I’m a Principal Program Manager. You can think of a Program Manager as a technical Entrepreneur. I ship stuff, which means, I drive ideas from cradle to grave, and I bring ideas to life. The power of program management is in that it’s a blend of customer focus, business, and technical skills. It’s literally about driving programs, which are themes and collections of projects. As my mentor put it, I’m rewarded for, “Smart and gets results.”
The beauty of my job is that I learn how to ship stuff with skill, and I get better at it over time.
The Business of Business Transformation
My last two years have been in the business of business transformation. I’ve learned amazing things about connecting business and information technology (IT). I got to see how companies around the world are using the cloud to get back to business, reinvent themselves, and leap frog their competition. I got to meet CxOs and find what’s really top of mind, and to help shape ideas around business transformation.
Mostly, I got to help shape the productivity story for the Cloud for the Enterprise. What that involves is figuring out the most useful scenarios for customers to make the most of the cloud. It means identifying scenarios for end-users, their IT staff, and their IT platform itself. It means helping customers build, “business-ready” clouds.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned is how to drive a program of change to help an Enterprise go to the cloud. I’ve had to learn a lot about change leadership, and adoption and readiness planning. I’ve had to learn a lot about business value realization, and how to identify meaningful metrics, and how to demonstrate business impact.
Leading Epic Adventures
It’s always an adventure. And many times, it’s an epic adventure.
I treat all my projects as epic adventures. That’s how I inspire the team to world-class results. It forces us to think out of the box, and to challenge ourselves to bring out our best. It’s how we find the strength to take on big hairy challenges. It’s how we get our game on.
The way I lead these epic adventures is important, because I’m usually in a situation where I’m leading a distributed team around the world. My strategy is to get clarity on the outcomes and to flow value as quickly as possible, while creating a learning system, so we get better, and better. We get better at identifying true value. We get better at execution. We get better at responding to change. And we get better at anticipating what’s next.
The most important thing we get better at is having fun and flowing value.
Coaching and Mentoring
I’ve shared my approach for leading epic adventures in the book, Getting Results the Agile Way. As I tell people, Agile Results is a simple system for meaningful results. Ultimately, it is a personal results system that helps you unleash your best. Lately, I’ve been coaching more teams around Microsoft on it. In fact, last week I presented to more than a hundred Softies for one of our women in technology groups. Again, this is the beauty of Microsoft in action … a tribe of powerful people coming together to support each other, and lift each other up.
I’m also an avid mentor I tend to carry about ten people that I mentor, which is a lot at Microsoft. I mentor on a variety of topics. The most important things people usually seek me out for are either leadership skills, or strategy skills, or career guidance. Another popular topic is productivity. In fact, I’m helping a few of my mentees (the people I mentor), with effective email management. When people find out that I get more than 150 emails directly to me every day (not including any distribution lists), and that I only spend a max of 30 minutes each day in email, and I keep a zero inbox (I call it the Zen of Zero Email.), they want to know my approach. One of my favorite examples, is where I showed one of my mentees how to do this, and the next day she sent me stats on how her productivity went through the roof.
Fixing email flows usually involves fixing workflow, and that’s why it’s such an exponential impact.
Customer Value and Business Impact
At work, I’m known for customer value and customer-focus. I’m also known for getting results and driving extreme execution. As a Program Manager, my value to the business comes from orchestration, streamlining processes, and basically, making things happen. I’m also known as a “change the business” person, and an “ideas” person, but trusted to turn ideas into reality.
In terms of execution, one of my most significant contributions last year was streamlining execution and turning $1 million investment into a time savings of ~75,000 hours, and a value of ~ $17 million.
At Microsoft, I’ve created many frameworks and methodologies, and shaped many more. For several years, I was in the business of best practices – so I have deliberate practice in the art of proven practices. I learned how to develop methods and techniques to rapidly share and scale expertise. I also filed patents related to information models and information architecture that would change how we think about security and performance in business applications and software in general.
A Week …
So what is an actual week like? On Mondays, I get with the team to figure out our three wins for the week. There is a lot on our plate, so it’s a lot of questions about priorities. It often involves quick brainstorming on the next best thing to do, what’s truly important vs. urgent, and how to unblock any blocking issues. It also involves finding dependencies, and sequencing the work right, so everybody can be successful. The bulk of the week is largely about pushing priorities from idea to done.
Along the way, it’s triaging, brainstorming at the whiteboard, influencing without authority, dealing with conflicts, and teaming up with people on tough challenges.
As a habit, I make Mondays and Fridays my “beat the streets” days where I try to connect with people inside and outside the organization to stay in the know and keep the pulse on what’s important.
I use Fridays as a catch all, and for reflecting. Each Friday I ask myself what are three things going well, and three things to improve. I ask the team to do the same, and the goal is to carry the good forward. It’s always a learning system.
Startup Routine …
My days often include heavy lifting. I need to be able to solve significant challenges, and to drive results. So I start my day, a very simple way: I wake up, throw my shoes on, run for 20 minutes, shower, eat breakfast slowly, then take the back way to work. On my way to work, I play my favorite music, and I think of three wins that I want for the day.
Notice how so far, it’s not about news, it’s not about email, it’s not about anything other than getting myself ready to respond to the day, and make the most of it, with clarity on my top three wins.
Throughout the day, my three wins help me stay on track. They remind me of what I thought was important. They help me make tough trade-offs. They help me feel a sense of accomplishment throughout the day, as I achieve my wins. They also help me articulate to my manager, what’s hot, and, consequently, what’s not.
Shutdown Routine …
In any job where you give a lot, it can be tough to shut down, or “turn it off.” My shutdown pattern at work, is pretty simple. I dump everything on my brain down onto a page (specifically, I have Notepad open.) It’s all my unanswered questions or next steps. It’s any links that I was researching. It’s anything that’s bothering me. I dump it down. I then simply save it with today’s date. Dumping my day frees up my mind.
That’s how I say, “My day here is done.”
On the way home, I take the back roads. I prefer the trees and the winding roads, to bumper to bumper. I try to leave at off times, to avoid traffic as best I can. In fact, I periodically experiment with starting and leaving at different times to both shake things up, and to find which patterns feel the best. It’s amazing how even 15 minutes can make a dramatic difference in the experience.
And after all, life is about the experience.