Monthly Archives: September 2010

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PMing my Technical Skills: a guide to ramping back up technically speaking

I’ve been transitioning away from a solely technical skillset to a PM skillset at Microsoft for a while now. That said, I have found that personally, I prefer to still keep my technical chops. Why should I have to sacrifice one for the other? My love for the technical world should drive my passion for the PM role. In fact, I’ve now found that I’m using my PM skills to compliment my technical skills as well.  I don’t mean to say that I’ve applied all of the PM principals to my technical studying. However, I have realized that I inadvertently used those things I’ve learned in my PM career in a very lose way to help my technical skills.

Competitive Analysis

I like to see what other people are doing. Not just from a purely social standpoint, but also to understand what skills other’s find valuable and easy to use, and what skills are most common among everyone. I often also cruise the job boards (Microsoft Career Site,,,, etc). I tend to look in various places around the country just so I know if certain skills are hot in one area, but not in another. So, I composed a spreadsheet of available positions, skills required (soft and technical), optional skills, pay, benefits, region, etc. I don’t do this because I’m looking for work, I do this because by gathering enough information, I can find that jobs that require iPhone app development skills pay more than say, Silverlight development skills. Once I had this data, I could see what skills were most valued. This serves as a rudimentary competitive analysis or “potential performance” and represents part one of a good gap analysis.

Skill Inventory Assessment (actual performance)

Part two of creating a good gap analysis, involves determining your actual performance to compare against your potential performance. To do this, I find it useful to also look at what skills I have in my inventory, see where they intersect with my “potential performance” from above, and see if I somehow missed your other skills as potentially valuable in the market. So, I made another sheet in my spreadsheet to list skills that I had and the self-assessment level at which I rank myself. For any skills that I added which were not in my “competitive analysis”, I did further research to see if those skills were found in the job boards or on friends blogs, or anywhere that I could assign some value to the skill. I use this as a secondary sanity check for skills that I might need to beef up on. Once I had this done, I moved on to the actual gap analysis.

Gap Analysis

I compared the competitive analysis against the skill inventory assessment and came up with a reasonable gap analysis of skills that I either needed to improve or acquire, and a list of other skills that I had which I needed to deemphasize in my studies for the next year. This list represents the gap that I have between where I want to be and where I am – otherwise known as the gap.

Action Plan

Once I had a my gap analysis complete, I had to create a plan to get from point a to point b. I looked first at books. While many people don’t learn well from books and prefer other methods, I still prefer a good solid technical book at least to start, and then I move on to other resources. So, for each skill, I set out to collect a list of books for each skill area on amazon. To assess each book, I looked at the number of ratings, amazon ranking, average rating, release date, and a number of other factors (including glancing through the table of contents to see if I felt those skills would be adequately covered in the book. Once I had the list of books, I didn’t stop there. I created a new sheet in my Excel file for each book that I intended to purchase. I listed each chapter and it’s length so that I could determine how fast I could read each book – giving myself milestones to complete by certain dates for each book. I made sure to account for downtime, upcoming vacations, goofing off (all work and no play…), and various other factors to give me a reasonable burn down rate on my learning plan.

Prioritizing the Plan

This is one area I thought about for a while. I could simply make this all about money and learn the most valuable skills first. However, I like to have fun, and I have specific projects in mind where some of these skills could be put to good use. That said, I opted away from prioritizing in any way that would be meaningful to anyone else. I am my own customer and I think it’s fair to let me set my own priorities in this instance. For others, however, you might want to prioritize based on projects you have at your job, getting a specific job, or just for pure fun. The option is yours.

Metrics / Performance Analysis

I’ve set clear goals for what I want to accomplish and set a timeline for completion. I have milestones that can help me determine my progress and help me assess risks. I have a project calendar and a burn down chart. I stopped short of creating a project file or creating work items in TFS. I’ll just use my spreadsheet to keep me in check for now.


This obviously doesn’t represent solid PM work, but I realized after the fact that I had just done a great deal of the same type of work I would do when I start a real project. It’s easy to say that you need to pick either PM or Development, but I’m finding that skills from both disciplines can compliment themselves quite well.