Some dos and don’ts for product managers

Do you ever wonder what to do when you start a new job!? How do you get a good sense of what’s going on and when can you start making some sort of an impact? Ken Norton, Product Partner at Google Ventures, has written a great article which offers practical tips to product managers on things they do should do during the first 30 days into their new job. In the article, Ken’s overarching focus is on “people, product and personal”.

This is my summary of Ken’s suggestions, combined with some of my own experiences and learnings:

 

People:

  • Review your objectives with your CEO or manager – Like Ken suggests, I believe it’s very important to set expectations with your line manager of CEO on your objectives as a product manager. Identify and agree upfront what success will look like in your role. Especially as product management can be a fairly new discipline in lots of organizations, it’s important to manage expectation from day one.
  • Schedule one-to-ones – Whenever I start a new job, I tend to spend the first week just having one-to-one conversations with a variety of people across the business. My main goals for having these conversations are twofold. Firstly, I use these chats to get an initial sense of people’s responsibilities, their biggest challenges and how I can be of help to them. Secondly, it gives me an opportunity to introduce myself in an informal setting rather than in a meeting with lots of other people. Especially in cases where I work closely with a dedicated team, I’ll spend a lot of time talking to individual team members and exploring what makes them tick (and what doesn’t) and again see how I can help.

 

Product:

  • Spend time with your lead engineer and ask ‘dumb’ questions – I believe that product management ultimately is a team sport. Your lead engineer can play a vital role in this and I find it very helpful to spend quite a bit of time with him/her in the first couple of weeks of a new role. Especially since my background isn’t in engineering, I’ll tend to listen A LOT and ask many ‘why’ and ‘how’ type questions. I can imagine that some of my questions might well be perceived as ‘dumb’ (although dumb questions don’t exist in my world), but I’d rather ask and find out than not.
  • Don’t jump in too quickly – I know from experience how tempting it can be to get stuck in straight away. However, I fully agree with Ken’s point about taking your time before you start making changes. Allow yourself some time to speak to people, key problems and their nuances and to build up a good picture of the business and its customers.
  • Talk to users – A good way to learn about a product that you’re not fully familiar with is to talk to (target) users. Ken talks about spending a good amount of your early days with users. Meet with users or clients, see and hear how they interact with your product. Spend some time with the Customer Services team to take some calls and look into support issues. Whether you work in a B2B or B2C environment, it’s really important to quickly get a first sense of your target audience, their needs and how your product or service addresses those needs. As a product manager you’ll interact with (target) customers on an ongoing basis, and I believe one should use the first weeks of a new role to start these interactions, and learn about the customer and their needs/behaviors.

 

Personal:

  • Read up and write about it – It helps to read things related to your product – old specs, design documents, wiki pages, etc. As you find documentation that is missing or out of date, add to it. Especially if the domain of your product is new to you, I’d encourage you to read, talk and listen to find out as much as you can about your product, its proposition and its users. Spend some time to write up what you’ve learned.
  • Understand the business, its competitors and the market – Don’t limit yourself to just understanding your product or your external customers. As a product person, I believe it’s just as important to understand the business as a whole. What’s the business model? What levers drive the performance of your business and why? Creating an understanding of such things will help you in having a wider context around the products that you’ll be working on. Similarly, you want to figure out who your internal ‘customers’ or stakeholders are. Who are the internal people with a clear interest in the product, its development and performance? How would they like to be communicated with? Starting to build a rapport with these internal stakeholders is critical for you as a product manager.
  • Set personal goals – Apart from the specific OKRs that will have been set by the organization for you and your product, Ken suggests setting your own personal development goals. For example, one of my personal development goals when I started a new role a few months ago was to use more data to inform my product decisions.

Main learning point: Even though product management can be a hard job to get ‘right’, there are a number of things that you can do as a product manager in the first days in your new job to learn and to determine how you can best contribute. If I had to sum up Ken Norton’s great article in one word, I’d go for “listening”. Lots of product people talk about humility, and whilst that’s absolutely right, in practice this to me means an awful lot of listening, asking the right questions and being able to make (snap) decisions based on your understanding of things.

Some dos and don’ts for product managers was first published here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s