One of the most valuable lessons I learned early on in Program Management at Microsoft, is that value is in the eye of the beholder.
One common pitfall is throwing a lot of time and effort at things, only to find that when you’re done, nobody cares. If you keep feeling a lack of appreciation, then ask yourself, “Who was I doing it for?” If it was for yourself, was it what you most cared about, or could you have invested the same time in something else and felt like you made a more important impact. If you were doing it for somebody else, ask them whether what you’re working on is really the most important thing to them. If you’re working on a lot of low-priority items, don’t expect to get the rewards. In fact, a pattern is that the more you work on low-priority items, the more you become a dumping ground. The more you become a dumping ground, the busier you get; the busier you get, the more overloaded you will feel. Now the worst happens—you’re overworked, underappreciated, and no fun to be around. By failing to work on what’s valuable and by failing to understand and reset expectations, you’ve worked yourself into an unrewarding, high-stress scenario.
On the flip side, working on the things that you value, inspires your passion, keeps you engaged, and builds momentum. Balance that with things that are valued by others, and be deliberate. Sometimes you have to choose you. Sometimes you have to flex and bend. Sometimes it’s “meet me in the middle.” Sometimes it’s simply reframing what you’re doing in a way that speaks to others, or vice-versa. Simply making mindful choices can help you dial up your passion where it counts. It’s a force multiplier.
To be a more effective Program Manager, start asking the question, “Who’s it for?” or “Who’s asking for that?” or “How important is that?” (and everything is always a trade-off.)