A friend of mine recently joined a big company as a Sr. Product Manager after heading the product at an early stage startup. He asked me how should he go about joining a big company, which will be very different in culture, pace, processes, and expectations perspective compared to his early stage startup.
I was surprised he asked me that question as he is an experienced product manager himself with 5+ years of relevant product management experience under his belt. In any case, I shared my thoughts with him and then thought I should expand it more and share it with the larger audience so that all newly hired product managers, irrespective of their position, may find this useful too.
Here are few tips (mostly in the order of its priority) on what you should do in your first 30 to 90 days as a newly hired product management professional in your new company —
1. Be excited
First and foremost, you need to be excited about joining this new company and the new possibilities. You’re going to meet new people, work on new products, and solve new problems. So bring your excitement to the office every day. There will be a lot of information overload and at the same time a lack of clarity in the early days. So unless you’re excited and motivated to come to the office every day, it will be hard to navigate through this haziness.
Also, your colleagues will notice your excitement and enthusiasm. They will understand you are there because you’re interested in the problem they’re solving and want to make a difference and not just to earn yet another paycheck.
2. Understand the vision and strategy of the company and your product
Your understanding of what the company is doing and what is their vision will be limited based on just interview conversations with them. So you need to dig deeper and make sure you truly understand their vision and strategy.
Talk to the CEO or VP of Product and understand the vision and strategy at the company level. Also, talk to your manager and peers to understand the vision and strategy at your product level.
Make sure you’re able to connect the dots between your product’s vision and strategy to the company’s vision and strategy. If you’re not able to connect the dots, then discuss in detail with your manager or VP of Product to explain how your product aligns with the company’s vision. That clarity in alignment is absolutely crucial to make sure you will be spending time on the important and required things.
3. Meet 1:1 with as many relevant people as possible
Make sure to meet every single person from your product development team — not just the leads or managers, but every single person.
Identify which other products your product is dependent on. Accordingly, meet other product managers and engineering leaders of those products as well.
The success of a product is not only dependent on the product builders (Development, Design, etc.), but also on the business functions of the product too. So meet with all key cross-functional leaders like — Marketing, Sales, Finance, etc.
The common theme in these meetings should be — introduce yourself, but more importantly, learn about them. When did they join the company, what do they do now, what do they enjoy most, what do they hate most, what do they expect from your product team and specific from you, is there anything you can help them in the short-term, etc.?
4. Write down as much as possible
Take good notes. Everything will be new to you — people, products, processes, acronyms, etc. So take good notes when you’re meeting people 1:1. It will come handy in future as you start executing.
It would also exhibit your disciplined and detail-oriented execution approach to your colleagues.
5. Build relationships
Don’t treat 1:1 meetings as a one-time checklist item. As they say, it’s a people business. Continue to hang out with your teammates at lunch, coffee, or any casual occasions and build the relationships. It will be a lot easier to get things done from people when you’ve good relationship with them.
But make sure you don’t abuse your relationship. Be authentic. Everyone is smart. They can smell your fake or aggressive tactics. It takes months to build a good relationship, but it would take minutes to destroy it.
6. Understand the culture — mend or bend as necessary
While talking with people, learn how do they work —
- How are decisions made — authoritative or consensus?
- What gets rewarded — results or efforts?
- What is preferred — pace or perfection?
This will help you understand what’s the true culture of the company. Culture is not what’s written on the “About Us” page of the corporate website or some posters hung up on the office walls.
Once you understand the culture — decide what you want to mend and when do you want to bend. As a newbie, you will find a lot of things different, inefficient, and broken. But resist the urge to fix everything.
First, try to understand the context and history of why certain decisions were made in a certain way. Accordingly, decide what you absolutely need to mend based on your product goals and vision. Sometimes, some battles are not worth fighting, at least in the early days of your career, so just learn to bend during those situations.
7. Be a power user of your product
Based on what kind of product you’ll be managing — a consumer product or a B2B/Enterprise solution, there will be a different level of easiness to access and play with your product. In either case, setup a demo of your product—and be a power user.
Observe everything — friction points, delightful experiences, wow moments, bugs, lack of documentation, etc. Make notes of these observations and discuss with your design and engineering leads about shortcomings and understand if this is something already known to them, and if it is on their roadmap or is it something by design a particular thing was done in a particular way.
Your goal is to not fix everything. It’s to understand your product in and out — what are its strengths and weaknesses, the reason why it’s designed and engineered that way, etc.
8. Understand the nuts and bolts of your product
Once you become a power user of your product, it’s time to understand the mechanics of your product. Meet with the engineering leaders and architects to understand the basic building blocks of your product —
- How data flows end to end?
- How your product interacts with other products in your company?
- Why was this architecture chosen vs other?
- Why was a particular tech stack chosen?
- What are the limitations of a current solution?
At the end of this exercise, you should be able to draw a high-level architecture on a whiteboard.
While understanding the past and current mechanics of a product is a great thing, it will be equally important to understand what will be its future. Make sure you get some inputs on —
- What new architectures or technologies these engineering leaders are considering to use in the near-term future?
- How will it help to achieve the desired business outcomes?
9. Understand your product’s metrics
Get access to your analytics system and understand the usage of your product. Understand which metrics are most crucial that defines the success of a product. Don’t just look at the numbers, but ask your manager “why” certain metrics are they way it is. It will help you understand how your customers behave.
If there are certain insights you want to know and if those are not available, then discuss it with your manager and see if can you add it. It will accelerate your learning of the analytics and reporting system inside your company.
10. Get in front of the customers or users
Numbers will tell you “what” is happening — like which product is growing, or which feature is not working. But it will not tell you “why” is it happening — why certain functionality took off or why no one is using a certain feature.
The best way to learn these things is to get in front of the customers or users. You can be a silent listener on meetings scheduled by other colleagues, attend any usability research interviews, listen to customer support calls or read customer support emails/chats. Your goal should be to understand why certain customers are happy vs some are frustrated.
11. Deliver or ship something
Once you understand what’s working well and what’s not and why it is so, look for any low-hanging fruit that can provide high value. Ship and deliver the end to end functionality and announce it to the customers who needed it. Make sure to measure the impact of that functionality and report it to management.
By shipping and delivering a functionality end to end — however small it is — even a bug, you will be exposed to a lot of processes (security reviews, tech support trainings, etc.) and systems (infrastructure, monitoring, etc.) in the company that are required to ship any feature or a product. This will be a much faster way to learn things than reading hundreds of documents.
12. Achieve or exceed your goals
Once you start shipping some features or new product releases, you’ll feel the momentum of day-to-day execution. But make sure you’re not just spending time on checking off the product backlog items. You need to achieve important goals too and show that you’ve moved the needle.
At the beginning of your joining, ask your manager what’re her expectations from you. What 1 or 2 goals you should achieve by the end of 90-days and what should be its success criteria? And then make sure you focus on these 1 or 2 goals and do your best to achieve those. Ideally, you should aim to exceed these, but since there is a lot going on, simply achieving those would also be great. In general, having a goal-driven mindset is more important than simply getting things done.
13. Develop your execution frameworks
Once you learn how your company works, what are the top sources of inputs for feature requests, what is valued more — vision or customer requests, etc., now it’s time to define your own frameworks for execution.
These are frameworks for —
- How do you prioritize requested features?
- How do you do quarterly roadmap planning?
- How do you communicate product updates with the internal team, cross-functional teams and even customers on a regular cadence?
- How do you run your sprints, retrospectives, and demos?
- How do you handle any escalation situations, etc.?
The more you’ll have clarity and disciplined approach in handling these things, the more effective you will be in your execution. You’ll be in a driver’s seat rather than just getting driven by everybody.
14. Read market research and industry insights
By this time, you should have a good understanding of your product — what problems it solves, who has these problems, how does it solve it, how well it solves it, etc.
Now it’s time to start looking outward and learn —
- In which domain your product gets categorized by analysts or customers?
- What is the landscape for the underlying technology you’re using?
- What are the key next technology trends or consumer mindset shifts happening?
Subscribe to some of the newsletters, start following few blogs, take any online courses, or buy books and learn as much as you can about your industry and it’s future. You will be able to provide a lot better recommendations in overall product strategy and future roadmap.
15. Develop a point of view
Product managers without a point of view will be just project managers — who will get things done that have been told by the upper management. But if you truly want to drive a product, then you have to have some point of view, unique insight, and some foresight about the market shift and next trends.
90-days is a good period to learn about the market you serve, your product’s strengths and weaknesses, competitive landscape, technology trends, etc. Once you have all this information, your job is to synthesize it and develop your own point of view. You need to able to clearly articulate —
- What’s your product’s core belief?
- What will your product stand for? How will you position it?
- What will you do and not do in your product?
- How will your product be different compared to competitors?
16. Educate and inspire the broader team
As you start researching about the industry and future technology trends, share interesting and relevant articles with the broader team. This is an opportunity to inspire your team by sharing with them they’re working on something that’s going to be the future of the company and going to improve the lives of many customers.
You can also share articles or podcast episodes about the best product management practices and processes that other companies are following. Be the catalyst to bring good practices in your new company.
17. Have fun
The most important thing — don’t forget to have fun! Enjoy new learning. Celebrate wins and mini-milestones. Embrace mishaps and failures. Make friendships and laugh. If you’re not having fun in what you’re doing, then it would be very hard to give your best.
While this may not be an exhaustive list, I hope I covered most of the key areas. And I hope this will help you make a great impression and build a great rapport with your team in the first 90-days of your new career.
☞ If you enjoyed reading this article, then please tap or click “♥︎” below to share these thoughts with others.