Commerce, customers, construction

August 09, 2018

My first job out of college was "program manager". It is a very weird job they have at Microsoft where you're responsible for a lot of things, but have little real power. I was clueless and my manager was distracted, so I went to the library. I found The Art of Project Management, written by ex-program manager Scott Berkun, who decided a career in writing was a better fit. I'm glad he did; he's a fixture of Seattle's tech community, a practitioner happy to share his accumulated know-how (we need more of this). The book's a little long in the tooth at this point (13 years since publication), but I think it could become like "The Mythical Man-Month", a book written some 40 years ago, read as much for historical interest (how we got here) as practical advice (what works today).

Section 3.2, "Approaching plans: the three perspectives", begins:

You may have noticed how each of the deliverables mentioned earlier represents one of two perspectives on the project: business or engineering. On many projects, these two views compete with each other. This is a fundamental planning mistake. Planning should rarely be a binary, or either/or, experience. Instead, it should be an integration and synthesis of what everyone can contribute.

To make this happen, a project manager must recognize that each perspective contributes something unique that cannot be replaced by more of something else (i.e., no amount of marketing strategy will improve engineering proficiency, and vice versa). For good results, everyone involved in project planning must have a basic understanding of each perspective.

Berkun's (software industry) perspectives are "business", "technology", and "customer". I liked Berkun's idea so much, I made my own version of it, which I think is both easier to remember, and more accurate.

I call it "the Three Cs":

  • Customer: what do people want? When do they want it? Is it easy to use? Affordable?
  • Construction: how do we build this? Which technologies? What UI stack?
  • Commerce: how is it sold (channels)? How much does it cost? Is the business model tenable? P&L, budgets, revenue, etc.

I think these three things are the basic determinants of high-tech success, especially software. That means you have to do all three of them to succeed. But it also means that if you can manage to do these three things well—hard, but possible—you'll do alright.

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