Ken Norton is a product partner at Google Ventures where he advises startups on product management and also helps organize workshops.
Congratulations, a product has found its product manager. Perhaps you’re joining a small startup, or maybe you have a new project in a big company. How you approach your first 30 days will make a tremendous difference, setting you up for success or struggle.
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Here are some tips for how to approach that first month. Emphasize these three areas: People, Product, and Personal:
1. Set clear expectations with the CEO or your manager
You’ve been hired to fill a hole, and there will be organizational pressure for you to contribute immediately. Review your objectives with the CEO to make sure they have the right expectations for what you’ll be doing. Your primary goal for the first month is to effectively join a team.
2. Schedule a one-on-one with everyone on the team
Depending on the size of the company, this may take a few hours or the entire first month. Find time to meet with everyone individually.
I prefer walking one-on-ones – there’s something focusing and invigorating about walking together and looking ahead as opposed to staring at each other across from a conference room table.
3. Ask everyone this question
“What can I do to make your life easier?”
You’re showing that you’ve here to help, not to command. How they answer is almost as important as what they say. You’ll get a true indication for how they perceive the PM role, and what they need from you.
4. Take a load off their back
Hopefully you’ll walk away from the meeting with something you can take from them that’s cutting into their productivity. Maybe an engineer would love for you to take over bug triage. Or weekly Costco runs.
5. Schedule time with your lead engineer to walk through the product’s technical architecture, in deep detail
Don’t shy away from asking questions or drilling down on things that didn’t quite make sense.
Too often PMs try to impress their engineers with their technical acumen, but in my experience engineers are much more impressed with PMs who are willing to ask questions and say “I don’t understand that.”
6. Resist the urge to jump in and start changing things
You’re going to want to start making changes to the product and the development process. I recommend holding back a bit in the beginning.
Your ideas and thoughts will be better formed after you’ve had a chance to settle in, gain credibility, and absorb all of the nuances. You’ll also be demonstrating that you’re a listener.
7. Get in front of your users
Spend a solid chunk of your early days with your users. Go on sales calls and customer visits. Take some support tickets. Get on the forums, engage with users on Twitter.
8. Fix something
I’m a firm believer in PMs being technical, and an excellent starter project is to fix a bug or launch a minuscule feature on your own.
Set up a dev environment and ask for something bite-sized that you can do. Ask for help and be considerate of your time and the team’s – you’re a PM after all, not a full-time engineer.
9. Read everything, and write it if it isn’t already written
Read anything you can get your hands on – old OKRs, specs, design documents, wiki pages. As you find documentation that is missing or out of date, add it. Take time to write up what you’ve learned and how things can be improved for the next hire.
10. Set some personal goals
Changing jobs can make you feel heroic about some things and woefully clueless about others. This is a chance to set some personal development goals. I like to keep it simple:
- What is one thing you do really well that you want to continue to do? How are you going to stay in the habit of doing that?
- What is one thing you need to improve at? What steps are you going to take to get better, and how are you going to measure your progress?
11. Configure your life support systems
Get all your tools and devices in order. Install the software you need. Create email filters. Set up Google News Alerts for your product and your competitors’ products.
12. Have fun!
Do you have other tips to share on how to be a better product manager? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
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