Case Study from Real World Experience: Microsoft WinSE UEX/DevX Teams

04/23/2019 by Jon Fincher

Case Study: Microsoft WinSE UEX/DevX Teams

For a number of years, I was the senior Program Manager for the User Experience and Developer Experience (aka UEX and DevX) teams within Windows Sustained Engineering (aka WinSE). These Redmond-based teams were responsible for providing hotfixes and security updates for Windows operating system components such as the Windows Shell, Media Player, GDI, and windowing subsystems. I was one of several PM’s who coordinated servicing work with the engineering teams responsible for these components.

At one point, our team had two senior development engineers who were not located in Redmond. While I and the bulk of the team were located in the Pacific time zone, one engineer called the Central time zone home, and the other lived in the Eastern time zone. Both had a wealth of knowledge and ownership of their respective component areas, and were invaluable members of the team. Managing the teams required us to find solutions which included our remote colleagues.

Our daily and weekly meetings always included a conference call, which became Skype later. Remote members were expected to dial in, and the meeting was scheduled to be respectful of the time differences (i.e. not too early for the West Coast, not too late for the East).

Informal communications happened mostly in Messenger, later Skype for Business. Intra-team communication was not only encouraged but impossible to stop, and messaging became the standard fall-back when phone communications were spotty.

Twice a year, right around the twice-yearly HR review time, both remote engineers would schedule trips to Redmond. The project teams used this time to help increase team cohesion through team lunches, dinners, and morale events.

All our project deliverables were tracked in Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, which provided transparent views into the team, as well as easy reporting and roll-ups to higher level (we were only two out of a dozen or so teams).

These processes and tools were not just used for these two specific engineers. They proved invaluable for team members who were:

working from home for one reason or another

working remotely on business trips (or sadly, on vacation)

stuck in traffic (conference calls with commuting participants were very common)

Unhappily, as Microsoft grew and changed focus over the years, these two engineers found other positions which were better suited to their geographical situations and I was no longer working with them. However, the tools and processes we put into place to integrate them into the team proved useful otherwise, and are still used by teams on which I work today.

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