A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
So, you’re scaling your product management team. Congratulations! Your company is clearly doing something right if you need to bring in more professionals to oversee your products. But hiring product managers takes time. And most importantly, you want to give those new product managers a successful transition to your company and get them contributing as quickly as possible. In this post, we will discuss some dos and don’ts for onboarding product managers.
First, though, let’s review a few industry statistics. This research illustrates why it’s so important to have an onboarding process for your product managers (or any new employees, for that matter).
As the following data points on new employees show, a strategic onboarding plan for new product managers is a must-have for your product team.
There are plenty of resources to help new employees onboard themselves. ProductPlan’s Annie Dunham, for example, offers a list of 12 things every product manager should do in their first 30 days at a new company. If you’ve hired the right product managers, true self-starters, they might track down self-onboarding resources like these themselves. But you can’t count on this as your strategy for product management onboarding. You need to take a proactive approach and develop a smart, strategic plan for bringing your new product managers up to speed. Here are some dos and don’ts.
Consider another industry stat: 60% of businesses fail to set milestones or goals for new hires. Your new product managers will not walk in the door on day one knowing your company’s priorities or what you expect from them.
As PivotalLabs’ Heddy Stern points out, product management is not a fully defined position. The role can mean different things at different companies.
One way to make onboarding more effective is to sit down with your new product managers right away and give them some concrete expectations and metrics to aim for. Obviously, this means part of your onboarding process will be to develop specific goals for new product managers—and to have them ready before those product managers start their first day.
Another important component of product management onboarding is getting your new product managers familiar with both your team and your product.
For product context, you will want to give your new hire immediate access to all relevant information and tools. This includes the product itself, which your new product manager should start playing around with on day one, if possible. But it should also include access to product research, usage information, previous marketing campaigns, and of course the product roadmap and backlog.
Developing people context at your company is just as important for your new product managers as developing an understanding of your products. Product managers have to deal with teams and departments across the organization. The sooner your new product manager can meet everyone and learn who does what, the better.
If you already have a product team in place, one way to speed up the onboarding process is to let your new hire shadow one of your current product managers.
This will give the new product manager a chance to see how things really work at your company—how meetings run, how your cross-functional teams work together, how strategic decisions are made, etc.
You can sit down with a new hire and explain how sales sells the product, how the development team works, and how your sprint standups run. But nothing beats actually seeing these things happen firsthand.
So, if you can do this without upsetting any of your teams’ workflows, expose your new product managers to these areas of the company as early as possible. Let them sit in on sales calls, “stand” in on your daily standups, and spend some time watching the development team operate.
Giving your new hires some time with your products right away can help speed the onboarding process for several reasons.
On their first day, new product managers are probably thinking about your company and product only in the abstract. This can make everything else about the job feel hazy. So if you can get them actually using your products right away, that will give them a much more concrete sense of things.
Also, playing around with your products before they have a chance to talk to everyone else about them can give your new product managers an unbiased view. So a second part of this strategy should be to ask them to record their first thoughts about the products as they use them. This will help your new product managers gain a clearer picture of what they’ll need to do, over time, to improve your products.
Finally, each time you onboard a product manager, you should plan to be accessible during those first few weeks or even months to answer questions and help guide your new product manager through difficult situations.
You should also set aside some time each day at first to discuss your new hire’s observations, impressions, insights, concerns—whatever. This can actually help you both. Your new product manager will have someone to bounce ideas and thoughts off of, and you will gain the fresh perspective of someone new viewing your products and your business.
Now that we’ve walked through some best practices for product management onboarding, let’s quickly review some pitfalls to avoid. Missteps like these are part of the reason so many new employees start looking for a job within a few months of starting a new role.
Your newly hired product manager needs time to process a lot of information about your product, your market, and your company. Don’t rush in with a checklist of product manager tasks.
You can’t walk a new product manager around the office making introductions and then say, “Good luck.” You need a documented process that you can use repeatedly with new hires. Start with the steps we suggested above, and customize the process for your company. But don’t try to wing it or leave your new product managers to figure everything out themselves.
Onboarding is not an exact science. You should make it as systematic as possible, but then you should re-examine your process every now and then to see what works and what you could improve. If you’re taking product management onboarding seriously—and you should—bringing on your fifth product manager should be a lot more efficient than bringing on your first was.
Your new product managers will need to work closely with many people across the company. Plus, the product management role strategically affects the entire organization. For these reasons, you don’t want to limit your product management onboarding to a single person. Instead, when you bring on new product manager, create a shared set of responsibilities among the appropriate teams and departments, where everyone has a role in getting this new product manager up to speed.
Bringing a new product manager on board is a big step. It will affect the dynamic of your product team and, if you do it right, it will help you make your existing and future products more successful. But your new product managers’ eventual success will depend a lot on how well you introduce them to the company and to their new roles.
So, before you hire your next product manager, take the time to develop a smart, systematic plan for product management onboarding.