The first three months in a new product management role are crucial to set the tone for the entire business as Andrew Dickenson, Founding Director of Product Focus, explains.
Congratulations, you’ve just secured a new role as a product manager. Now, chances are you’re wondering about the best way to make an impact, what your first priorities should be and feeling that new-job mix of nerves and excitement. The first 90 days of a new product management role are crucial, they’re the honeymoon period where everyone is welcoming and willing to help. You won’t be expected to come up with a new product strategy or lead a roadmap presentation just yet, but you do need to get up to speed, demonstrate your abilities and gain the trust of your colleagues. Once those first three months are up, you’ll need to be on top of things, managing your product and delivering real value to the business.
To get the most out of your first 90 days as a product manager, you should follow a strategic plan of action. This will help you learn as much as possible, build credibility within both your team and the wider organisation and ensure you’ve got all the information you need to become the voice of the product. Following this plan will help you lay the foundations, setting the tone for a successful tenure with the company.
Before your first day as a product manager
Our plan starts as soon as you’ve received the job offer. This is precious time to gather as much information about the company and their products as possible before you’ve even set foot in the office. LinkedIn will become your best friend as you find out about your new boss and co-workers, and don’t forget to update your own profile too, making sure your network knows about your new role. Take a look at your new employer’s website and see what they’re saying about your product. It’s often very enlightening to see how the business presents itself. It will also allow you to form some first impressions of your own before becoming immersed in the company when you join.
This is prime time to carry out some competitor analysis so you can be aware of what you’re up against. It’s also worth scoping out any networking groups or industry conferences coming up. The aim is to be as prepared as possible while you have the luxury of time to undertake this research, ahead of entering a new environment and getting swept up in the day-to-day tasks of product management. You never know, it could spark some useful ideas for your own roadmap, not to mention the great first impression you’ll set when meeting new people in the company who will appreciate that you’ve done your homework.
In your first week as a product manager
Your first week will pass in a whirl of meeting new people, setting up IT equipment and getting a feel for the company. The vital thing to remember is that this stage is more about listening than talking. Take in as much information as you can, learn from the people around you - or on the end of Zoom or Teams calls - introduce yourself to your key stakeholders and find out what their expectations are - you might not agree with them, but this is not the time to argue. Absorb as much as you can now and you can start making changes, if they’re needed, later when you’re established in the team.
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You absolutely must make sure you’re on the right internal distribution lists. These could be for development and sales reports, press releases and customer support statistics, or any additional reports that will help you in your day-to-day role. You should also speak to your new colleagues to find out which external information sources they use to inform the product development, or even if they have any friendly customers who are happy to speak to you and provide insights into the product.
Within the first few days you want to identify the power brokers in your company, and have reached out to these key stakeholders who you’ll need to work alongside to drive your product forward. Finally, by the end of the first week you’ll want to have seen a product demo and heard the sales pitch so you can understand the company strategy for the product and how this will, or perhaps won’t, align with your own product strategy. This is also the time to sniff out any bombs that are about to explode – urgent issues should be highlighted and dealt with now to avoid any major headaches or embarrassment in the future.
In the first month as a product manager
In the first month, you’ll find the learning curve is the steepest. This month is all about building relationships, gaining knowledge, understanding the most important strategic areas of your job and getting to know your customers. Strong relationships with your team are vital for product success so look at organising a lunch or video call to get to know them better and learn about their skills and limitations. People might start pushing you to commit to timescales or plans, but fight the urge to confirm anything and keep repeating the mantra of ‘I’m here to listen and understand’ before making any promises.
These weeks are about building up your understanding of both the business and the scope of the role you’ve been tasked with. You’re new to the business, so go ahead and ask as many questions as you need to understand the lay of the land. A key thing that you can only pick up from working in the business is how things actually work. For example, what’s the culture, how does the approval process work and where are the potential stumbling blocks?
By the end of the month you should be able to define exactly what your role entails, which product activities are the ones you own and which are done by other areas. Finally, make sure to spend time using the product(s) you’ll be overseeing. This sounds obvious but you’d be surprised at how many product managers don’t take the time to learn their product inside out. You need to know how your product works from a user-experience perspective, or how can you expect to improve it?
After the first month as a product manager
Once you’re through the first month, you’ll find that things, thankfully, start becoming a little easier. During those first 30 days you would have spent more time listening than talking. Now you’re well known by your key stakeholders, it's time to start taking action, demonstrate what you’ve learned and show leadership, taking your place as the product advocate for the business. All product managers should have a plan, so use this time to develop the business plan for your product, including any KPIs that you’ve been given, or creating two to three critical, relevant KPIs if not.
During the first quarter, you should continue building on many of the activities you started in your first month on the job. This includes researching your market, familiarising yourself with your products and their success metrics, speaking to both the sales team and your customers to ensure you’re on track for success and having regular productive meetings with stakeholders.
Your first strategic decisions about your product should be small. Work with your team to find a new feature or enhancement you can work on together that won’t up-end the existing product. This will enable you to experience your new team in action and allow you to develop the processes you’ll be using on bigger projects later. The best thing about taking this approach is that you can deliver a new piece of functionality for your product within the first three months of joining the team. It’s a major hurdle that any product manager faces in a new role; how to work with a cross-functional team to launch a new release into the market.
It’s undeniable that the first 90 days as a new product manager are the hardest. However, things will get easier as you build relationships with your colleagues, learn about your product and its market. Remember that you need to understand what's going on before you can deliver anything, and don’t be afraid to shout about your successes. Finally, never forget the fundamentals of excellent product management, which are to provide a balanced view, become the voice of the market and drive your product to success. Now, you’re ready for your next task - welcome to the team.
About the author
Andrew Dickenson is a recognised global expert in product management and Founding Director of Product Focus, a leading global provider of product management courses in the UK, US and Europe. He has over 25 years’ experience in product management and product marketing, working in companies ranging from growing software-based businesses to global multinationals.