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Can you spot the program manager?

Penny Lew
Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
Nov 21, 2023

It’s that time of year! The holidays are here! In the US, this is Thanksgiving 🦃 week and that means my eager Gen Z nieces entering the workforce will be asking me during our extended family gathering, “What do you do for a living?” and “How did you get your start in that?”. The holidays… when everyone gets to know each other better!

With the above in mind, I thought it would be great if peeps shared how they got started in project / program management. I’ll start!

Stumbling into program management

For me, it wasn’t something where I woke up one day and declared “I want to be a program manager” 😉 . Rather, one of my earlier roles in my career was a Consumer Insights Analyst at Gap Inc. It was a new role in a new department where the broad focus was on better understanding our customers. While the department and hence my role were getting more specifically defined, I worked on synthesizing survey data (1st and 3rd party) with brand financial data to id themes and opportunities. Eventually, I got pulled onto a broader effort dubbed the Customer Experience Initiative.

At that time, across the three Gap brands of Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic, there was one customer survey administered via telephone that asked 3 NPS questions on a scale of 1-10 (How satisfied were you with your purchase? How likely are you to recommend (insert Gap brand)?, and a 3rd question that I just can’t remember!). This survey was administered throughout a month with results compiled at month end.

You can probably guess from above that we we weren’t gathering insightful, actionable customer feedback on an optimal ongoing basis. And not being able to do so meant we weren’t hearing directly from customers (and non-customers) what their experience is like with the Gap brands and how it can be improved. Were customers buying because of the assortment of clothing, quality materials, or perhaps because of convenience? Did customers buy more because the store was easy to navigate, the changing rooms were well lit, and the bathrooms were clean? Believe me, in retail, this info is powerful as they’re all levers a company can use to influence your purchasing behavior and thus, a company’s bottom line.

Thus, the Customer Experience Initiative was born. The goals were to develop quality survey questions and improve administration and participation of that survey. All of this resulting in a robust, ongoing, scalable CRM survey program providing clear data points to improve a customer’s experience.

My specific role and responsibilities

So, where did I come in? I didn’t know it at the time but my role became a program manager (without the official title) as I worked on refining and driving the problem to be solved, the expected goals and outcomes, success metrics, and scope with a cross-functional team of technical and non-technical peeps. And that further meant leading lots of teams to deliver their parts in a sequenced manner to hit certain milestone within budget while managing risks. So, you know… program managed the hell in getting an outcome delivered! Eventually, we went from having a weak 3 question customer survey administered via phone to a robust, scalable customer web-based survey administered via the POS register systems.

We're probably connected

If you shop at the Gap brands, we’re probably six degrees of separation 🙂 . At some point in time, you may have gotten an invite to take a customer survey on your store receipt in exchange for a certain incentive. That was the program I delivered even though I didn’t have the official program manager name. (Hence, the title of this post.)

Et tu?

How did you get your start in program management? Did that role have flavours of program management without the official title?

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Miles Tillinger
Atlassian Team
Atlassian Team members are employees working across the company in a wide variety of roles.
Nov 22, 2023

Prior to joining Atlassian, I was an Agile Coach.  I'd never been a Program Manager, but as a long time fan of the company's products, values and culture, I was open to different avenues.  Atlassian doesn't usually have any Agile Coach roles (and still doesn't), but the role of Program Managers when I joined 6 years ago was quite diverse so my skillset blended quite nicely into this agile organisation.

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