“When Steven Sinofsky and Jon DeVaan took on joint management of Windows 7, they made several significant changes to the entire organization. Two profound changes were creating a single centralized plan and switching to a functional organizational structure. Given the success of Windows 7, some Microsoft engineers are asking, ‘If my PUM is a bum—is it time to throw the bums out?’
Maybe, but let’s not get too hasty. Knee-jerk nitwits who act before they think are doomed to repeat old failures in new ways. Everything has its own purpose and place. Before you throw the bums out, consider the role that product unit managers (PUMs) play and how best to balance product and functional demands. Forgotten? Never understood them in the first place? I’ll remind you.
‘Is your PUM a bum?’ was one of the most popular of my early columns. It reappears in chapter 10 of my book. PUMs are typically responsible for a self-contained collection of functionality, such as Microsoft Office Excel, DirectX, or ActiveSync, though none of those groups are run by PUMs anymore.
PUMs are multidisciplinary managers responsible for the strategic and operational decisions needed to engineer a Microsoft product or major component—at least in theory. In practice, PUMs are often dysfunctional—marginalized from above by their general manager (GM) or from below by their discipline managers. However, when used properly PUMs give small innovative products agility in their market by handling business and execution decisions like a startup-sized team.
PUMs typically appear toward the bottom of product organizations and don’t appear at all in functional organizations. Functional and product organizational structures aren’t new—modern versions of both have been around since the 1970s. Is there a ‘right’ choice? Let’s break it down.”
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We hope that you’ll also check out I. M. Wright’s “Hard Code,” by Eric Brechner (Microsoft Press, 2008). Eric Brechner is Director of Development Excellence in Microsoft’s Engineering Excellence group.