Congratulations on your new job! This might be your first product manager role or (as in my case) the most recent position in an established product-oriented career. Regardless of whether you’re new to the product team or a seasoned product manager, your first few weeks at a new company are exciting—and often super hectic!
Check out these 12 tips for some concrete advice on how to make the most of these early weeks and set yourself (and your new product) up for success.
Get to Know Your Team and Process
1. Meet everyone.
Product management is about relationships. It’s a great idea to schedule meetings with everyone to figure out who does what and ensure you get a bird’s eye view of the current dynamic. Chatting with your team and your peers gives you an opportunity to ask questions, listen to gripes and suggestions, and assess what’s working and what’s not.
“Product management is about relationships. When you start at a new company, meet with as many people as you can.”
Your list of meetings should also include your boss, stakeholders, and anyone else who has time to chat. Remember, this is the fun part! It can make for a lot of meetings, but it’s great to take advantage of coffee breaks, lunches, or walks around the block, to get to know everyone.
2. Learn the process.
When workflows don’t make sense, ask more questions! Product development can be an extremely complex process, especially for teams with special considerations—think globally distributed development teams, multiple feature teams, etc.—and every organization has its own distinct process. Sure, you’ve been brought in to hone that process, but it’s unlikely you’ll be successful if you fail to understand how things have been operating prior to your start date. Think of this as your first product. What are “customers” saying about it? Why do they need it? Where you can you prioritize some big wins?
3. Reserve judgement.
Some things may seem odd at first. You might have immediate suggestions. You might want to point out how you solved X issue at your last company, or recommend a new tool for the product stack. But. Hold off for now. There’s probably a history here. There are probably some interesting reasons why things haven’t progressed on a certain feature. Or, why no one has implemented the obvious solution on the tip of your tongue. Give yourself a chance to get the lay of the land (and for your new co-workers to provide some context) before you rush to solve every issue right away.
4. Take notes!
This will help you review later and may also be of use to others in the future. For my role at ProductPlan, I spent a significant amount of time walking through all the configurations for user permissions for roadmap viewers and editors with one of our engineers. That in-depth Q&A session—where I really took a deep dive into how permissions are supposed to work—will be extremely helpful for me as I work to define how they’ll work in the next feature set.
Get to Know your Customer and Product
5. Take advantage of your fresh eyes.
You’ll never be in a better position to take the perspective of a new customer than you are in your first 30 days on the job. You haven’t yet built up a list of assumptions about or biases toward your product and you should use that to your advantage in these early days. Keep this in mind as you dive into your product and interact with your customers.
6. Audit customer calls.
Sit in on sales calls, support calls, customer success calls, or any scheduled call with your end users. Get to know how your fellow teammates speak to customers, speak about the product, its features, benefits, and value proposition. Prospects are likely to quickly highlight what’s currently missing in your product. Current customers give you a perspective on how the product is being used, what new features they’d like to see, and what other problems they want to solve. Empathy for your customer base is essential and should start early.
7. Talk to the customer yourself!
Once you’ve got a fairly high-level sense of the product, talk to some customers on your own. Do a few customer interviews. Ask them when they bought your product and why? How are things different now in terms of their needs than when they first bought? Your coworkers likely have some assumptions about these topics by now, and the fresh perspective I mentioned in tip #5 might help you uncover some novel insights.
8. Survey the landscape.
Both in terms of your role and your new product. First, you need to identify how you’re going to fit into your new organizational landscape. At some companies, the product team wields a huge amount of influence. Product Managers essentially own their product and dictate resource allocation, marketing efforts, and more. For other companies, they have a much more constrained role. You need to figure out how your organization views your job, and how much room you have to expand or contract your duties as needed.
Second, you need to check out your competition and the rest of the market space. You might get excited out of the gate and want to completely rebuild your product, or add tons of new functionality. But that might not be aligned with the company’s goals, your customers’ needs, or the rest of your team. Often, who you are not is as important as who you are, and clarifying that early on will be helpful.
9. Measure twice. Build once (but keep iterating).
Find out what’s being measured and why. This starts with the business. What are the strategic goals this year? How are they measured? How are product KPIs tied to those goals? The company might be tracking experts covering all the critical success metrics you’ll need. Or, they might not be tracking anything. Or, they might be tracking EVERYTHING and have no idea how to filter, exclude irrelevant info, or build this data back into future development cycles, design sessions, and prioritization efforts.
You need to assess the instrumentation and take note of what’s working and what’s missing. I’ve yet to meet an engineer who wouldn’t like to know how a new feature was being utilized, or a CEO that didn’t like to use data to validate assumptions. Understanding the current lay of the (data) land will also help you meaningfully demonstrate product and feature performance in the future.
Set Some Goals and Share What You’ve Learned
10. Set some personal goals.
The first month will be a fire hose of information. To be successful in your new role, you need to know a lot about your product, the processes surrounding its development and launch, the company, and the customers. If you’re following tip #1 you’re going to be talking to a lot of people and receiving a lot of information. Setting and completing some personal goals is an important way to make sure you feel like you’re accomplishing something out of the gate.
“The first month in a new PM role will be a fire hose of info. Setting personal goals can help you stay focused.”
Example goals might include: Scheduling three one-on-one meetings with your teammates every week, building your own user persona, delivering a demo to a peer, or creating an overview of why you think customers use your product. These are great ways to track your progress while you build up some momentum.
11. Join all the things!
Find out where your customers hang out, how they hear about new products, what podcasts they listen to, newsletters they read, which dry cleaners they use (just kidding). But seriously, join the communities and networking groups they hang out in and spend some time there. It’s a great way to learn about the problems your product solves, what your customers are like in general, and it also helps you keep your finger on the pulse of your market space.
12. Finally, share what you’ve learned.
If you follow the steps above, you’re going to end up with a lot of useful insights for the rest of your team. You’ve spent the month chatting with everyone, interacting with the product with fresh eyes, and surveying the landscape your product lives in. Now is a great time to aggregate all your observations and present them to the rest of your team.
Once you go through the above steps, you should have a better sense of what kinds of people you’re going to be working with, where the product fits into the landscape, who your customers are, and how work gets done.
Have more suggestions for product managers starting at a new company? Leave them in the comments below!