Own your product management on-boarding
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
How to enter a new product management position in a new company.
Congratulations, you just landed a new product management position. Whether it's a VP product or a product manager or it's a small or big company, you are expected to adjust quickly to the role. In many cases you are expected to do it by yourself.
If you are lucky, there is someone in the company that has thought about your on-boarding, but many times, especially if this is a small startup, there isn't.
I have just landed into such a situation, starting as a VP product in a small startup. I am very happy to share what I have done and am still doing to get the best out of the first weeks in order to enter the position in the best efficient way.
Some of the following things may apply to you, while some may not. In general, I believe these are good steps to consider.
Get to Know the People
As a product manager, your most important asset is the team and stakeholders you are working with. Make sure you get a list of relevant people and their roles before you even start.
Prepare an on-boarding list of meetings: what you want to learn from each person and how they can help you transition smoothly into your role.
As a product manager, you need to become fast in all aspects: vision, strategy, business, marketing, sales, product, user experience, technical, development process, etc.
Your first meetings should be a 'get to know'. Spend a half-hour with each person you may interact or may not interact in the future. You should make it personal. Tell them about yourself, not just your 'work' self, but also your 'home' self. Explain what you like and what you don't.
Learn about them. Learn what excites them and what they care for. It's all about the personal touch.
Of course, also use the meeting to hear how they perceive your role and what they expect from you. Tell them a little about how you see your role and some of your plans.
Finally, that is the time to ask what they think they can teach you, and to validate your on-boarding meetings. Make an effort to make all personal meetings in the first week.
Try to plan your on-boarding from top to bottom. Start from the big picture and slowly crawl into the details.
Listen a lot, write a lot, and be very humble. When you decide to share your thoughts, put a disclaimer. You may be wrong because you don't know the market or product well enough yet.
Try to not squeeze all your on-boarding meetings into the first week, but rather spread them out over 2 to 4 weeks to make sure you have enough time for things to settle down.
Make sure you get a lot of material to read, so you can also learn by yourself between meetings. Try to get different perspectives from different people on the same topics.
And if possible and it does not harm the business (as you are still not fluent in the business and technical details), join as silent observer to as many sales, marketing and customers calls and meetings as you can.
Don’t jump too fast into the details
As product managers, we are all used to the daily struggle to move between strategies and tactics. When you are new it's one of those rare opportunities to have all the time you need to look into the big picture.
Your intuition may tell you that you need to be able to get a hold on the development sprints and backlog as fast as possible. I would advise you differently. Trust your team. Tell them it may take you time to get into the details, and until then, you are asking them to make the decisions of what gets in and what doesn't, while still involving you in the discussions as a listener.
That's your time to re-verify you have the tools to make decisions.
Focus on Impact
The most important thing to enable you and your team to make the right prioritization in the long run is to have the right North Star to follow.
In many companies, the strategy is clear, but it is not broken into details. That's your chance.
I would recommend starting with two initiatives that are actually tied to each other and make sure the team becomes impact driven.
The first initiative is defining objectives that are measurable. You need to start from the company or product line objectives. Make sure you have 3-5 product objectives, and then make sure that each team is deriving its own objectives from that.
Follow this process with your team. Make sure they get involved and that you all agree on the objectives. They will help you define the right objectives. It is also a chance to start gaining their trust.
Once you have objectives, the second initiative you will need do is to define metrics. Some of your metrics will be tied to the objectives and some will not. Make sure you have one key metric by which you measure your success.
Only now, because you have the tools to judge and measure your and the team's decisions, you are ready to jump into the daily details.
Process is also Important
Another important aspect you need to review with your team is the process by which they are working. Do they prefer Scrum or Kanban, what they like and what they don't, what works and what seems not to work for them?
The process needs to match both you and your team. Don't run to change it. Start slowly observing where it fails and work with the team to make adjustments.
When you look into the process, you should care about efficiency, speed, and quality. You want to be able to deliver value to your customers as fast and efficiently as possible.
Get into the Action
The above might imply that you don't need to get involved from first day. On the contrary, you definitely should.
Make sure that from the first day there is a task that you are leading and is allowing you to already make an impact (something similar to the development practice of deploy code to production on your first day).
Just make sure this is not something that takes all of your time, and it let you do all of the above simultaneously.
The strategic work should not take more than a month. After your first month, you should already be fully on board with your tools in your hands, already knowing the processes, and taking the right lead on them.
It may take you up to 3 months to really know all the details. Doing the first month right will make sure you can run fast in the right direction.