Much of my career at Microsoft I had the role of program manager, and today I had lunch with another ex-Microsoft program manager and discussed data center/IT operations and what is needed to address the silos and fiefdoms that exist in IT. After a bunch of discussions, I asked why isn't there program manager for data center systems?
GPS navigation has a system program manager which interesting enough sounds like it could describe an data center/IT system.
GPS World: What do you see as the
current priorities for the GPS Joint
Col. Ballenger: Our No. 1 priority
is mission success. How we accomplish
that is to make sure that our users, both
military and civil, receive their position,
navigation, and timing information —
with high availability and high assurance
— wherever they are around the globe. I
translate that into two key jobs that we do
here in the Joint Program Office.
Number 1: Sustain the capabilities
that we have on orbit today — and that
includes designing, launching, and replenishing satellites, and making sure that the
ground control system and network of
ground antennas stay properly maintained
and sustained and upgraded over time.
Job Number 2 is modernizing the GPS
capability to move us into the future. So,
really, mission success has two constituent parts: Sustain the constellation and
modernize the constellation, the constellation being a euphemism for the larger
Program managers have different types of roles at different companies and over time the roles can change. I remember once being in a meeting with Paul Maritz when he was a Microsoft VP, and he explained how program manager have different roles at Microsoft than other companies. Here is what program managers used to be at Microsoft.
When I was hired 1994 there was a cult around the role. Program Managers had a reputation for being people worthy of being afraid of for one reason: they knew how to get things done. If you got in their way, they would smile. And then eat you. They drove, led, ran, persuaded, hunted, fought and stuck their necks out for their teams with an intensity most people couldn’t match. The sort of people who eliminated all bullshit within a 10 foot radius of their presence. How to be this way, and do it without being an asshole, was one of the things I tried to capture in my book, Making things happen. All teams need at least one leader who has this kind of passion and talent regardless of where you work or what you’re working on.
As this post continues it is difficult though to set up program managers for success when bureaucracy grows.
One change is the enormous growth of Microsoft since I was hired. I started in ’94 as employee #14,000 something, and now there are nearly 90,000. Bureaucracy, overhead and dead weight collect in big successful companies and Microsoft is no different. This makes it much harder to consolidate the kind of power a PM needs to behave the way I described above. The PM role has been stretched so thin there are PMs for everything, and if ever a position needs to be created that isn’t quite a marketing, programmer or tester position, but isn’t a leadership or management role, the PM label gets used anyway. Somehow it’s a crime for there to be more than 10 job titles at a company. I’m not sure why.
Changing data centers system is required to green the data center. This requires a concentration of power into smaller group of individuals which is probably why data centers and IT don't have program managers the way that Microsoft used to.
If the US military has figured out they need system program manager for complex systems like GPS, shouldn't the idea work for data centers?