When starting at a new company, I’ve found that taking a few initial steps can set up a product manager for success. This advice is especially relevant for medium-to-large companies, where there are multiple products and it can be a challenge to get up to speed on all the products and processes.
Meet product managers
The first 30 days are an ideal time to meet with product managers across the company. In order to do this, I recommend reaching out with a quick email. In this email, you should:
Mention the product/team you’ll be working on
Ask if they mind if you grab some time on their calendar
This makes it as easy as possible for the other product manager, as they only have to agree. Once they respond, set up a 30-minute meeting. 1-hour may be necessary if you’ll be working closely with this product, but if you’re just ramping up, meeting for 30-minutes is perfect for a brief intro.
During these meetings, you can ask about their product, vision, goals, metrics they care about, challenges, and how you could possibly work together. Being familiar with what they care about from the beginning can only help: if you end up working together or need something for your product, you’ll already be familiar with their goals and what they’re working towards. This can help you phrase your asks in terms of their goals/needs.
At the end of the meeting, ask: “Who do you recommend I speak to next?” You can use that detail in your next email (“Monica recommended I reach out to you to learn about your work on the admin console.”) Within 30 days, you’ll already be familiar with a number of product managers and their respective products.
Shadow other teams
When you’re getting ramped up, reach out about shadowing other roles at the company. The most relevant roles are often customer support, client services and sales. By shadowing for a morning or a full day, you’ll be prepared to lead your product with a fuller picture of your customer.
Here are some questions you might want to focus on as you shadow and learn from these departments:
Customer Support - What are common challenges users and customers face? What does the experience look like for users with issues?
Sales - What are the benefits for your product(s) that sales highlights to potential clients? What are problems they are being sold on? How do negotiations work? How long is the sales cycle? What are common objections? What are leads confused by? Who do they consider to be your competitor?
Client Services - What are common issues for clients? What does working with client services look like? What’s the upsell process? What does churn look like?
Get to know your team
After joining a product team, there’s no time to waste to start building relationships. Schedule one-on-ones with everyone on the team, from designers to QA to developers. Here are some questions I like to ask:
How do you like to work with product managers?
What do you like working on?
How do you think this product/team could be improved?
What are you excited about?
What challenges are you currently dealing with?
How can I help you?
This is a time to listen and learn. Each developer will have their own expectations for product managers; some want to avoid meetings; others want to be included in the design process from the beginning. Understanding their preferences can start the working relationship off right.
Continue to meet
I recommend having these one-on-ones as recurring meetings, such as once a month. These meetings with team members can ensure ideas are never lost, as some may not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in team meetings. It can also help you understand what everyone is excited about, in order to prevent burnout and to ensure your team is working on projects and tickets they’re interested in.
How do product managers make decisions at this company? What data do they look at? Do you need access to any databases in particular? The answers to these questions will likely begin to appear as you meet with product managers. Get access to data sources and start digging in.
If training is available on the data, take it. Understanding the data and how product managers back up their decisions will empower you to move quickly to drive impact on your product.
Read past tickets/issues. How do product managers justify their decisions? What data do they point to?
Dive into your product
You will only have fresh eyes for a limited time, so use them. Use your product and write down everything you notice. What’s challenging? What’s confusing? What do you like/dislike?
After meeting with numerous product managers and familiarizing yourself with their products, figure out how your product fits in. How does your product relate to these other products? Where does your product fit in the ecosystem? What are the dependencies and challenges you should be aware of? This will help you develop an understanding of your product and where your team fits in that will serve you well as you ramp up.
Find mentors and friends
Generally, in your first month, it can be too soon to find a mentor. However, starting to scope out resources to find mentors can be useful. For example, there may be mentoring programs within ERGs (employee resource groups) or within orgs, like Product or your product group. Finding these resources can help you plan out how to grow your career within the company.
You may also find groups you want to get involved in, such as ERGs and extracurriculars, like sports. Learning about these groups early on can help you decide where you want to spend your time, as well as find ways to meet others within the company, and beyond your group.
By taking these steps at the beginning of your product career at a company, you’ll set yourself and your product up for growth.