Being in the product business is one thing, but being in a product-driven business is a whole different thing. The role of Product Managers in a product-driven business is extremely crucial to the performance of the business. Before starting my online business and podcasting, I was a product manager for over 8 years, and this article is based on my experience (and that of several others I’ve been mentored by or worked with.
In this article, I share 32 tips you can (or, should!) put to action in the first 90 days. At the end, I also have included a 5 Strategy guide to help you with the next 90 days!
A Product Manager has greater impact on the company’s top line growth in a product-driven business. The importance of getting settled into the pilot’s seat early enough is very high. The earlier you settle into the cockpit, the earlier you can start to perform. The best Product Managers spend the first 90 days of their new role in sharpening their axe.Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe - Abraham Lincoln Click To Tweet
Many Product Managers today get right into the thick of things from week one, if not day one. I have seen Product Managers (even in Director-level positions) in some companies jump into tactical design and feature discussions and make decisions. Even worse, I’ve seen some of these Product Managers get on a call with customers and make commitments on features and direction.
The irony here is that some experienced Product Managers who’ve had a good history of creating and scaling good products, end up jumping in too early too.
From interviewing and observing many Product Managers and their stakeholders, I’ve come to realize that this boils down to three things:
These are just the core root causes, and there are a lot more that’s not under the scope of this article. Good and experienced Product Managers are sometimes overconfident. Some lack discipline in their Product Management practices and some are just unaware of how to get started.
Product Managers who start to fail either end up in low-impact roles. Some Product Managers have become Project Managers and some have just straddled multiple roles from Program Management to Product Architect and others. Needless to say, the products they managed have failed in the period they were in the cockpit. The results of not getting started on the right foot can be disastrous, to say the least.
Product Managers that kick ass are those that know and recognize the importance of sharpening their axe. You might be a first-time Product Manager or someone who has tons of experience as a Product Manager before – the first 30, 60 and 90 days in your new role as a Product Manager is key.
After talking to and observing many kickass Product Managers, I’ve compiled a set of 32 sure-shot must-dos that you should consider doing in the first 90 days as a Product Manager. For ease of read and measurability, I’ve split them into three parts:
These 32 steps will definitely put you on a winning streak, as they’ve been tried and tested by many including myself. I truly believe this will give you a mighty push in your new role, and feel free to add and remove new tips, techniques and steps to make them work for you.
Whether its your first time or not, the first 30 days as a Product Manager is crucial. Many refer to the first 30 days as the honeymoon period in any job, but I consider them to be one of the most important times in any job. That’s the period I’d use to establish my base. Here is what I think is important to get a grasp of:
As a new kid in the block, its helps when we get the key aspects of our new role right. Let’s jump into each of these quickly.
People and relationships are key to succeeding in our role as Product Managers. Connecting with people inside and outside the company can go a long way in defining your success in your new role. Below are things you may want to consider.
Connect with your boss and understand what he / she is focusing on. Understanding their goals is key. Understanding the company’s vision and the product’s mission is equally important. Try to get your goals discussed and documented.
Schedule time to meet with the engineering, marketing, sales, support and the finance teams, depending on your role. I’ve usually found myself getting a lot of useful information when I met with them over a cup of coffee.
Understand the existing challenges each of these stakeholders have. I usually use a mind map to take notes of these meetings and try and document their challenges in the mind map too.
Try to get the organization’s who’s who written down in a nice A3 sized paper and pin it in a pin board. I also try to get their pictures from the directory and pin them too. I tend to confuse names, and this has helped me connect the face to the name.
Try to get on any calls with customers and observe the conversation like a fly on the wall. Try connecting to key customers’ account management representatives to get an overview and outline of challenges in each of their accounts.
Product is your baby. Understanding the product first hand, its market and financials is important. Below are things you may want to consider:
Get in touch with the best SME or Quality Engineer in the engineering team and get a demo of the product. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t squelch those seemingly silly ones.
Meet up with a customer support engineer and get a demo of the product. Like you did with the SME, ask a lot of questions. Doing this helps understand how the product is understood by both these people. Understanding the product’s story is important.
Meet with one salesman and get them to demo the product to you. This can lead to some key revelations.
Get a dump of all the market data about the product including competitive information, analyst data, win-loss analysis and put them all into one working folder. Block your calendar to go through all of them.
Schedule time with the company’s financial analyst to get a dump of the financials. Understanding the product’s financials helps understand the performance and work backwards to identify its strengths and weaknesses. Combining this information with the market insight will lead to important discoveries.
When in a new land, its important to know the terrain. Like a hunter, its important to know the forest, its animals, the tribes, weather conditions and finally your hunting weapon 🙂
Try to meet up with the engineering team to understand how they work on building software – release durations, development processes (Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, Kanban, etc.). Not knowing this can sometimes throw in surprises, especially when your past job experience happens to be very different than the current one.
Understanding how the company has been releasing software is key. Some companies are process heavy and some don’t have process at all (think of the continuous delivery models).
Understanding how travel and discretionary expenses are managed is key. Your boss should be able to help with that. Get a grasp of how expenses are claimed.
Knowing how frequently you have product reviews with management, board meetings, investor meetings, analyst meetings is key. Understanding key contacts to talk to analysts will prove very helpful.
Finally the tools. As people, we get used to some tools and we need to sometimes learn new ones. Learning is hard, and it gets even harder when we don’t have a clear idea of all the tools we need to learn. From getting used to using a Macintosh to not using Lotus Notes, each of us have our own set of challenges. Here are some things to keep in mind:
I hope you find this useful. The idea of making this list was to help get a jumpstart without having to waste much of our time. These are what I consider the standard operating procedures (SOP) on changing jobs or roles as a product manager. If incase you managed to do all of the above, scroll down to the second 30 days!
If you’ve weathered the first 30 days, Congrats! You’ve now moved to the next set of challenges – the second 30 days!
What we did in the first 30 days of being a Product Manager was establishing the base. If you’ve seen military warfare, the soldiers and units move in the warfront from one base to another and get ready to attack. They prepare the bunkers, load the guns and layout the map, mark the targets and get ready for the next counter-offensive or offensive strike.
A disciplined product management approach is good for the product and for its stakeholders.
So what do we do in the second 30 days as a Product Manager?
..and start to connect and reconnect the dots as you learn new things about the product and its ecosystem. Focusing on the following will be really important:
These are the three key elements for the second 30 days in the role of a Product Manager. The key is to listen more and talk less, more now than any other time. This is because the first 30 days has given set the bearings of people, process, product and tools, the mind is freed of the clutter and the context is clear. Let’s jump right into each one of them.
Learning can happen in multiple ways. Here are some ways that are guaranteed to work well to get you off on the right foot.
If you’ve jumped in the middle of an ongoing release that’s coming to an end, use the opportunity to do a retrospective. You can offer to run a release retrospective with the teams. This is one of my favorite things to do when I’m new to an organization or team as it gives me the advantage of being an outsider.
I’ve seen that people are generally more comfortable doing retrospectives with someone who hasn’t been around when the release took place.
Retrospectives give a good sense of how things went in the release, what went wrong, and how people believe they can be improved. It’s a great way to come up with a set of improvements to work on too.
Read my article on 5-Steps to Actionable Agile Retrospectives for a case study on how you can make these retrospectives measurable and actionable. Also, here is one of my favorite videos on Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby.
Start to dig deeper into the win-loss analysis of the product that you managed to get access to in the first 30 days. These are treasure troves of great information about the product. I’ve found it helpful in going through the analysis sheets from successive quarters and looking for trends.
Agreed, the sales teams would’ve done this every quarter. But the fresh perspectives you bring in from outside the company sometimes helps spot interesting data. Taking time from someone from sales operations is another great way to dig into some insights.
While retrospectives is a great way of getting knee-deep into product engineering, many times we won’t be there in the right time to do a retrospective. Taking time to be a part of standups (if engineering is following Scrum) is one great way of getting a pulse of how engineering works.
Depending on your role, trying to analyze releases and how features are developed, how they are planned, how much of what’s planned is actually delivered, how prioritization has been done, how impediments are flagged, are great learnings.
In general being a fly-on-the-wall in any product and business meetings is a great experience. You do run the risk of being on too many meetings and sometimes these meetings can just have discussions that you may feel is irrelevant. It’s important we walk ourselves out of such meetings and find better use of our time.
Learning can soon get lost in the melee if we aren’t able to assimilate the data and information. I’ve found it extremely important to find the right set of tools to help assimilate data and information. Here are some options that’ve worked for me:
I’m a big big fan of using mind maps for almost everything in life. Any kind of learning, be it from meetings or from discussions and analysis, I take a quick 10-15 minutes to dump my learnings into a mind map.
I have the habit of even using smileys to remember how a certain person reacted during a certain comment or thought exchange. I also document the location of these discussions and anything more that can help me recall the discussion as vividly as possible.
Using a medium like a wiki or a Google doc to start writing down and crystallizing some of our learnings is another great way to assimilate. This works really well when we’ve seen gaps from going through win-loss analysis, product documentation, etc.
Updating this for the first 90 days will serve as a great initial report that you can share with the teams (and yes, your boss too!). Assimilating what we learn can sometimes lead to ideas that can either turn into newer products or help monetize existing products better.
Asking is not about getting people to tell us what to do, but to get people to tell us what they need. I’ve found it helpful many times when I’ve had conversations with engineers and even bosses to understand what they need. That helps us prioritize and sometimes help them clarify their sometimes-rather-fuzzy need. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
It’s true that people don’t know what they need, until they have it. But when we share the insights gained from conversations, meetings and reading multiple documents, with people, they help validate. Offering to help them with the need is a great way for new Product Managers to start doing something in the first 60 days of joining.
Product Managers largely play the role of facilitators to the creation of the product and its business. Even the tiniest help in such an early period will be remembered and will help build relationships.
Asking your manager to adjust the goals based on what you are learning is another good way to get started on the right foot. Sometimes goals are set in the first week, signed-off and revisited only after six months or a year. I prefer revisiting these goals on a continuous basis for the first 90 days to make sure they are tangible and that we indeed delivering value.
Alright, that brings us to the end of the second 30 days!
How are you doing? Maybe you should take a stroll to the water cooler and get some water. Yeah? When you are ready, scroll down and let’s talk about the last 30 days!
You are one level up – third 30 days – Congratulations!!
You’ve been through the first two months in your new role as a Product Manager, and that’s a lot of time to have been through successfully. I hope the checklists for the first 30 days and second 30 days was helpful. If you haven’t read them, never mind – its never too late to read them.
..and learning about the product and its business is quintessential to a successful stint as a kickass Product Manager.
Having been through the self-imposed grind in the first and second 30 days, you are now ready to rock the dance floor in the third 30 days, so to speak. In other words, it’s time for some action.
You probably start to realize this, but your role has suddenly started to become more active – you find yourself getting invited to help make decisions, asked for opinions from all fronts – you have arrived!
Here are 3 things that’s worked well for me, to ride on the learnings from the first 60 days:
There is a lot more you may want to do and follow, but the above three areas are irreplaceable and try to make them the cornerstones of your career in Product Management. Let’s not waste any time and jump right into them.
This is one of the key areas that can make you feel satisfied while getting a good reputation in your new role. Here are some things you may want to try and follow:
Theme your days, or in other words try to get your calendar setup to do certain things on each of the days in the week. If you have a 5 -day week, you may want to consider making..
I generally keep one day pretty open to accommodate any discussions or things that just fall-off from other days’ activities.
I did hint this in the first 30 days, but here I want to stress it more. As a Product Manager you will be soon finding yourself swimming in an ocean where currents pull in multiple directions that you just don’t feel in control of yourself – you would’ve had this experience if you’ve been in the role before. I’ve found a few personal habits work well here:
Every time you enter the workplace with a plan, there is someone trying to distract – can be your boss, colleague, CEO, irate customer or just a phone call. Focusing on the essentials is always the key to your success.
A well balanced Product Manager is one who is on top of all aspects of the product. Being able to demo your product in detail is as much important as understanding when and why the sales cycles are sluggish. It’s important to live in the moment.
Decisions galore, and you find yourself in the middle of them all. While analyzing the options and taking the most appropriate one is nice, it sometimes gets extremely tough and grows into you. This can prove detrimental to the success of you, the product and the company.
Bias to action is the ability to act now, and contemplate later. Psychology experts and research prove that the human mind understands and takes a lot of decisions driven by the unconscious mind. Sometimes we call this gut and some call it intuition.
Here’s an article I like on 9 Effective Practices That Will Drive You To Take Action Immediately.
I hope this article helped you focus on the first 90 days of your new job. But what next? Well, most often we wonder about it on the 91st day. One thing that’s helped me a lot (and that of many others) in my career is building relationships and a reputation online. Let me explain.
Many people work hard and build a name for themselves inside the companies they work. They connect with people inside the company, and do everything I mentioned in this article. The irony however is that the world outside hardly gets to know about it. But why bother?
Well, in the digital world we live in, it’s important that you have a professional digital identity that people can connect to. LinkedIn is a platform that I’ve seen as a place where most of us exist as professionals, yet don’t have anything going other than having a profile. What if you could do more with LinkedIn, that will help you build your reputation and influence?
Your first 90 days sets the pace for the rest of the year and future. But it’s equally important for you to build your reputation and influence on LinkedIn. Doing this will not just make you more visible outside the company, but also within your company. Plus, people take note of what you do and you can start to get opportunities and jobs come your way, than you having to look for one.
Download the 5 Strategies to Build Your Professional Brand and Influence on LinkedIn guide below, and step-up your game in the second 90 days!
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