Technical Delivery Manager


SPEAKER:             Could you please state your job title and where you currently work?

SPEAKER:             My job title is a technical delivery manager and I work for Microsoft.

SPEAKER:             And how long have you worked in your current field?

SPEAKER:             My current field? Six and a half years.

SPEAKER:             Okay. How long has it been since you graduated from college?

SPEAKER:             It has been, oh geez, 2008, so I guess– –from

SPEAKER:             –from undergrad.

SPEAKER:             Oh from undergrad?

SPEAKER:             Yeah.

SPEAKER:             Um 2003, so it’s been [laughter] I can’t do math–

SPEAKER:             Fifteen years [laughter].

SPEAKER:             Fifteen years, yeah, okay. 

SPEAKER:             Could you provide a brief description of your primary job functions?

SPEAKER:             Sure. So as a technical delivery manager, I have direct oversight for 30 individuals that are a blend of either a consultant or what we call a PFE. A consultant is someone that goes in to a customer, does architecture, implements new design, new software for that company. A PFE is a premier field engineer and they are someone that goes in to really do fixes, workshops, those types of things.

SPEAKER:             Does PFE stand for something?

SPEAKER:             Premier field engineer.

SPEAKER:             Oh I’m sorry. Okay, yeah, thanks, okay. Can you please estimate, in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

SPEAKER:             So the unique part about this job is that I am directly managing these individuals but it is all remote. So the majority of my communications with them is through writing, either through email, or through text messaging, through Skype. We do have at least monthly phone calls, and then in the unique situation where we’re able to actually meet face to face, but we’re all located in different parts of the country so that doesn’t happen very often. So I would probably say at least 90 percent of my communication with them is through writing.

SPEAKER:             Wow, okay. That’s interesting you mentioned text messaging – so is that typical of this sort of relationship because you have to have such close contact with them and sort of rapidly, I guess?

SPEAKER:             Yeah. So we all have each other’s phone number because, like if I’m in a meeting and they know that I don’t have my computer with me, and they need an immediate answer, then they’ll have to text message me. So I’m constantly monitoring my phone when I’m in meetings too.

SPEAKER:             Interesting. Okay. You talked about how you communicate with them over email, over text, those types of modes but, are there other forms of writing or types of documents that you complete in writing?

SPEAKER:             There are. So part of my monthly one-on-one with them, we actually use OneNote, and in that OneNote it’s kind of a shared working document that we have with them. And in that OneNote, the first section is an agenda that I want to make sure that we hit on every month, because I’m not there working with them every day. Part of my job is to be able to communicate to my manager all of the amazing things that my people are doing so that I can give them the highest rewards when it comes to reward time. So part of the things that I touch on are, you know, what is the new work sold that you’re working on at your customer? So how are you increasing the revenue? How are you increasing the Cloud consumption with your customer? So if the customer is not on the Cloud yet, or how can we get them more licenses on the Cloud to get more Cloud consumption?

SPEAKER:             Can you just talk about the time, explain what that means in a little bit more detail?

SPEAKER:             Yeah, so because I work primarily with the government sector, a lot of our government customers are still on premise, meaning that they don’t host anything that’s not in the physical location at their company. But what they’re trying to move to is more Cloud based. So as you can imagine, there would be security concerns. So we have to make sure that, you know, we’re doing things in a way that has been approved by the government. And every agency is different. So it can actually take years for us to be able to write a security document that they agree to before we can even start talking about moving to the Cloud. So the first documentation that we do is the one-on-one agenda, and they’re talking about intellectual property that they’re developing. We talk about communities that they belong to, and how they’re contributing to those communities, and those are technical communities where, you know, you’re helping your fellow Microsoft employees around the world with other technical problems that they’re running into. So you’re, you know, utilizing the resources within Microsoft. The way that we judge our consultants and PFEs is we have three impact circles that we want to make sure that they’re all hitting on. And so we talk about that in the one-on-one and the three impact circles are: how are you contributing to the success of the business? How are you building off the work of others? And how are you contributing to the success of others? And so when I’m talking through these one-on-ones with my consultants and PFEs, it’s eye opening to them, too, if they don’t have anything to tell me under each of those bullets, and then they realize, “Oh those are some of the things that I can be working on, ” and I help them find ways to have more impact in those areas. And then the other thing that we talk about during those one-on-ones is their career development plan. So what’s their short term, long term, you know, do they need mentors, do they need training, things like that to help them get to the next stage in their career. So I provide them with the resources to do that, and then the other part of that is, if we are working on promoting them during the next promotion cycle, we’re working on you know, shaping that story so that when it comes time for the promotion it’s a much easier process than trying to scramble and find all the information that we’ll need to get them.

SPEAKER:             Interesting. Can we talk about that a little bit?

SPEAKER:             Yeah.

SPEAKER:             If you’re putting one of the people who work for you up for promotion, that phrase sort of “shaping a story” is really interesting. So I assume that those promotional materials happen in writing?

SPEAKER:             They do., yeah

SPEAKER:             And so can you talk a little bit about like what you mean by shaping that story, in terms of promotion materials?

SPEAKER:             Yeah, so what I want to do is if I’m promoting someone to the next level, I want to make sure that they’ll be a success in that role. So I want to make sure that they are already demonstrating some of those qualities that we would expect in that next level. And so if I’m not seeing that they’re doing these things, then I’ll give them some ideas on, you know, based on what they’re interested in. You know, “Here are some ways that you can explore your interests at Microsoft while having those impacts to be able to say that you’re ready for that next level.

SPEAKER:             Got it. Oh that’s really interesting, yeah.

SPEAKER:             And so the one-on-ones are one form of writing that we do. And then the other piece that we do in writing that’s more formal are our Connects, which are really reviews that we do twice a year, and that’s to make sure that the first Connect of the year is to make sure that they’re clear on what all of their core priorities are, and that I can make sure that they have a good plan to achieve what they need to achieve that year. And then if they don’t, then that’s, you know, a further conversation that we have so that I can help them shape that plan. And then the Connect at the end of the year is really, you know, “This is how you did   throughout the year, you know, here’s what you could have done better or here’s what you excelled at. ” [Crosstralk] a conversation.

SPEAKER:             Okay, gotcha okay. And are there other types of documents that you write frequently? Or that pretty much covers it?

SPEAKER:             That covers the documents. And then there’s the email communication that tends to happen on a daily basis.

SPEAKER:             Perfect. That makes sense. Could you walk me through the process for maybe a recent specific writing project, maybe one of the more complex writing projects that you do, sort of from start to finish, like what that process looks like for you as you’re actually preparing to draft, drafting, revising–?

SPEAKER:             Yeah so probably the most complicated writing project that I have to do is the Connects, because I have 30 individuals that I need to write all of these write ups on. Part of that also is– or a part of it that I like to get is, what we call at Microsoft, perspectives -that’s where you request feedback from people that you’ve worked with throughout the year. And that’s really helpful for me as a manager that’s not working directly with you you know, because if you have a project manager that’s there on site at the customer with you every day, it’s great to get their perspective, and understand, “Here’s what you did well, here’s what you should keep doing, here’s what you might want to rethink. ” And then it’s really interesting because, you know, every individual can see what people are writing about them, but we’ve kind of shaped the culture where we accept that none of us are perfect, and we all have things that we can work on, and so it’s really kind of interesting to read those and just how people can just take them and realize, “Oh you’re right, I can be a little bit better at that. ” Yeah. And so that’s part of the write up is getting all the perspectives from everybody that they’ve worked with. And what I have found–

SPEAKER:             Sorry to clarify, those perspectives might be coming from a Microsoft employee but maybe not? Would they ever come from a client?

SPEAKER:             They are always within Microsoft. On a rare occasion I’ll get an email from a customer to tell me about how someone is doing, but the perspective’s tool itself where we gather feedback is just Microsoft. Yeah. And then what I find helpful in the Connects, because I have so many to write, is I create a template based on what I know that I want to say to everybody, and then as I write each individual’s, I’ll customize it based on what they’ve actually accomplished, and what they actually need to work on, or what their actual next career steps are.

SPEAKER:             Okay awesome. And then as you’re actually drafting, you’re looking at the perspectives, you’re looking at other documents, sort of being retrospective about their work for the year, and then does anyone, when you’re done with it, is it final or is there someone who reviews it?

SPEAKER:             When I’m done with it is final, but it is a really good item to have, or artifact to have, if that person ends up changing managers, because then, once that person changes managers, then that manager can then go in and see all of the historical information for that individual to kind of see, you know, how are they performing before, were there any things that they needed to work on, or are there things they excelled at.

SPEAKER:             Gotcha. Oh that’s. interesting, okay This is a broad question, but how did you know how to perform these types of writing?

SPEAKER:             That’s a good question. I talked to a lot of people that had been in my particular role for longer than me to understand how they did it, and what I found really helpful was to make sure that I didn’t just talk to one person. I talked to several different people, and then what I kind of did was took everything that they all said, and the pieces that I liked and that worked for me, and then put it together into a way that worked with my style. And then that way I felt like I wasn’t missing anything. And it was really interesting how everyone really did have their own style. And so I feel like, you know, sometimes it’s better to, you know, get all of those different styles, understand what framework you have to follow, but then do what works for you, because I feel like you always have to be true to yourself and your own style, or else it really s tarts to show within your work.

SPEAKER:             Yeah, that’s really interesting. Can you describe a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

SPEAKER:             Yeah. So I was asked to do a presentation during an off-site without an notification at all, and it was on a topic that I wasn’t that clear on. And s o what I decided to do was to turn it into a working session, because I decided that if I wasn’t quite clear on the subject, then probably most of my peers in the room weren’t clear on it either, and so it would be a good opportunity, since it’s really rare for all of us to be in the same room together, to talk through it and, you know, kind of have it be more of a working brainstorming session than me actually presenting to them on a topic that I wasn’t quite sure of. So it ended up working out, and it and it led to an additional project that I worked on, it was helping to shape subcontractors working with our contracts. And so yeah.

SPEAKER:             Yeah that’s interesting. o in terms of like strategies to get yourself up to speed, you talked about talking to other people, asking them about their process and their style, and you talked about this presentation and sort of rethinking like, “Okay what does my audience really need? What can I offer? ” and thinking of things that way – are there other strategies or techniques that you’ve put into place about your writing to adjust or improve? Are there other things that you’ve done to improve or grow as a writer?

SPEAKER:             Yeah I think it’s really important to have other people read your work, because I think sometimes you can know a subject so well, and you think that you’re being clear because you understand that subject, but in reality, the person that could be reading it might not have that level of understanding that you do. And so I have found that when other people read my work and they ask questions, it’s really enlightening to me to realize, “Oh I think I need to take a step back sometimes and do a little bit more explaining of what the actual subject is and any definitions. ” One of my biggest pet peeves is when people use acronyms right off the bat, and you know, I think we’ve all run into cases where there can be the same acronym for multiple things. And so it can be totally misinterpreted. And so I think it’s really important to have people review your work, and also do a good job explaining in the beginning.

SPEAKER:             That’s really interesting, yeah. Is there someone, like sort of in the built in structure of your team or your hierarchy, that is sort of a natural fit for asking to look at your work, or do you have to sort of seek out those people that you would feel comfortable getting feedback from?

SPEAKER:             Yeah I have to seek out the people. So I kind of tend to know, you know, who would actually take the time to read what I’m going to send them, and then also someone that I’ve seen a good work product from. So, you know, that tends to be who I go to, but I have to seek them out.

SPEAKER:             Okay, okay. Does anyone oversee your writing?

SPEAKER:             Nobody oversees my writing.

SPEAKER:             How long, and I’m sure this varies project to project, but how long do you typically have to complete a formal writing project?

SPEAKER:             Typically the turnaround tends to be very quick at Microsoft. We usually have a very small window of time. So I would say that, like our busy times really tend to be cyclical based on, you know, what is coming up, but it’s always a quick turnaround time. So it’s always, you know, “This is our busy time all hands on deck, ” and then a kind of quiet down for a couple of months.

SPEAKER:             Okay. When you say quick are we talking like a month, weeks, days?

SPEAKER:             Probably like a week, a week turnaround time. Like the Connects I was talking about it’s usually, you know, if I know I’m going to be having those Connects with those five people, then I’ll be working on writing those the week before. But just with everything else going on during the day, it’s impossible to get them all done earlier than that.

SPEAKER:             Of course,. Right yeah. And you’re working on multiple versions at once for different people–

SPEAKER:             Yeah, exactly, yeah.

SPEAKER:             Right, okay. Sort of now looking back, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to do as an undergraduate student?

SPEAKER:             Oh wow, that was a long time ago. As an undergraduate student, I feel like I did most of my writing, most of my actual writing in my world civ class. Yeah that seemed to be the most intense writing. And so that was, you know, reading all about, you know, different events and and really giving my opinion and take on why things happened certain ways. I did a creative writing class and that one didn’t feel as intense, I don’t think, because it felt more like open and free to write what I wanted to write. But the world civ one was very, it entailed a lot of research and a lot of reading about topics that I probably would have never read about if I hadn’t been in that class.

SPEAKER:             Yeah. Can you see any tie – let’s take that world civ class specifically – to the skills or the writing strategies that you use there, do they have any applicability to what you’re doing now?

SPEAKER:             Yeah I think that, well, I mean, not directly. The, you know, doing research and then having to write about it – that piece definitely. I mean the subject obviously doesn’t tie together, but having to do the research, and then writing, definitely does tie together. The other thing too, as being a people manager, I also find that I’m reading a lot of like leadership books and manager books and things like that, just to make sure that I’m staying in that right mindset of, you know, remembering, you know, that I’m there to really help facilitate these people to succeed. So doing a lot of that I think has been helpful to, because I think that it makes you more empathetic to the people that you’re managing. Like everyone has stuff going on in their life, they’re not just there working, they go home, they have things going on at home too, so that’s been helpful to.

SPEAKER:             That’s really interesting, yeah. W hen you think back to college and think back to the kinds of writing that you did there, are there things that would have been useful to learn or to do to have had an easier transition to writing in the workplace?

SPEAKER:             I think maybe having people that had actually been through, you know, a professional work environment would have been helpful, because I think sometimes– you can kind of tell, I think, when t he teacher is just going off of what’s in the book and they don’t have anything else to add than what is actually in the textbook, you know? ‘Cause to me I feel like I learn best when I’m hearing about people’s real life examples like, you start putting it into action versus just reading about it. So that would have been really helpful I think.

SPEAKER:             I think. What is at stake in your writing?

SPEAKER:             There’s a lot at stake in my writing. So based on what I write in someone’s Connects, in someone’s reward review at the end of the year, their whole compensation is tied to what I write. So I’m very cautious about, you know, putting anything in writing if I’m feeling emotional about what someone is doing. So I usually have to take a step back if I have someone that I’m just, you know, having a hard time with, because I know that the impacts that it could have on that person if I put that in writing. Yeah. So I like to always give people the benefit of the doubt, and I think that the majority of people have good intentions, and so I like to have those conversations with them. Instead of putting things in writing in those difficult times, I’ll usually have more conversations with that person versus writing, because I think that – I want to understand why the messages isn’t getting across.. You know, is there something else going on? Because a lot of times there it is. Like once you start digging, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. And then, you know, once you get that person to start opening up, then they might start trusting you a little bit more and in turn, you know, hopefully performing a little bit better So yeah, a lot can be impacted by what I put in writing. So I’m really cautious about what I put in writing, yeah.

SPEAKER:             That’s great. That makes a lot of sense. What is the most difficult thing about writing in your specific position?

SPEAKER:             The most difficult thing I would say is making sure that I am being fair, because, you know, there’s always going to be those people that, you know, you just connect with more on a personal level, even though you are their manager, that’s always going to naturally happen. So I kind of always have to take that part out of it, and really look at it from a nonbiased standpoint. Satya talks a lot about, during his company meetings, about unconscious bias. So I always try to remember that, like, why do I think this person is doing such a great job? Is it because, you know, he complements me all the time [chuckle]? Or is it because he’s really doing a great job? So I have to really take a step back sometimes and think about, you know, am I judging people on the same level? Because I think that’s really important. And also, when I took over the team from the previous manager, he had all of his perceptions of people. And so I decided I was going to just wipe all of that clean, and I was going to start from scratch. Once in a while, if I’m having like a weird moment with someone, I’ll look back at his notes and see, like, is this is just his personality or is it me? You know, and that helps, but I think just having like a clean slate sometimes and your own fresh perspective helps too.

SPEAKER:             That’s great. Has anyone helped you with your writing formally or informally?

SPEAKER:             I mean I think that probably– I can’t really think of anyone specific, but I feel like just, you know, taking feedback as I’ve gotten it throughout the years, and, you know, just being aware of that feedback. So like if sometimes things come across too harsh when I feel like I’m just trying to be direct, I’ll try to, you know, soften it a little bit. Things like that. But I can’t think of a specific person.

SPEAKER:             Okay. How would you say that you have evolved as a writer over the course of your career, or improved?

SPEAKER:             I’ve gotten a lot more confident. I think, you know, in the beginning I would reread and reread emails over and over again before hitting send and still nervous, how’s it going to be interpreted, you know? But I think also as people have gotten to know me within the company, they know who I am, so I feel a little bit more comfortable with my emails and don’t scrutinize them as much before I use them.

SPEAKER:             To what extent do you think writing is valued at Microsoft?

SPEAKER:             I think writing is– I mean we’re a worldwide company, and you’re working with people and every single time zone, and so a lot of times, you know, that might be the only way that you’ve ever communicated with someone is through writing. So I think it’s highly valued. I think what I’ve definitely learned though, is that if you have sent an email and you can already tell right away that it’s not coming across the right way, either because a person is misinterpreting what you’re saying, or because, you know, of a language barrier because they’re in a different country, and you know, English is not their first language and that’s my first language, then, you know, then I will have to find the time to do a phone call, because we think sometimes that just cuts through any of the miscommunications that are happening.

SPEAKER:             And the last set of questions – so how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus successful writing now?

SPEAKER:             Yeah, so I think that a successful writing as a student, you tend to have a lot of guidelines around formatting or writing style. You obviously have topics that you’re usually given that you have to go out there and write about, and I think now the writing is more, for me anyway, the writing is more about documenting of what has happened, what needs to happen, and then also just day-to-day communication. So it’s almost like, for me, the writing in my position has really taken the place of being face-to-face with my employees a lot.

SPEAKER:             And would you say that you’re a successful workplace writer?

SPEAKER:             I would say that I am, yeah. I very rarely have things misconstrued now. So I think I’m successful in communicating with writing.

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