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Product Management

The first 2 weeks in a product role

Starting a new job is often thrilling and overwhelming. Like a rollercoaster ride, I get pumped up and excited to get on but also my heart starts pounding and palms get sweaty. Do you get the same feeling?I like all the new opportunities that come with a new job such as learning extra skills, applying my expertise, meeting new people and making friends. On the other hand, the first few weeks can be particularly stressful, trying to figure out how to be useful and add value to the business.

Over the years I created a checklist to help me focus on the right things as soon as possible in a new job. So if you are about to start a new job as a Product Manager for an existing product, I hope this post helps you to succeed.

Product ecosystem

One of the most important skills for a product leader is to understand the product ecosystem. Not only that, the product leader’s success depends on ability to digest it and funnel through to the people in the business in human language.

You might get lucky and fully understand the product market and the industry environment of your product, but what if you don’t? That’s exactly what happened to me when I accepted a job in one of the companies in Sydney. The company assisted other businesses in completing pre-employment background checks. My expectation was to get comfortable in the industry within a couple of weeks of starting the job. Boy, was I wrong. It took me 3 months to get across it all, including all the different terminology, acronyms, suppliers, contracts, legal responsibilities and so on and so forth. It was damn hard!

I decided to create a mind map to keep track of my progress and help me find grey areas. The mind map visualised services and offerings, new terms to learn, suppliers to become acquainted with, competitors, other services we integrated with and all the bells and whistles that come with it.

From day one I kept my mind map up to date by adding new things to memorise and study. Three months later I stopped keeping track, realising I don’t need to keep the mind map open on my taskbar anymore. At that point it looked like a mutant spider with over 300 legs.

Once you have a solid understanding of your product ecosystem, you’ll want to start exploring other areas much deeper.

Product vision

In the first week I’m also eager to find out what the current product vision is. Surprisingly, in most cases you’ll discover that the product vision is outdated or not defined at all. If it’s not there, don’t worry about it too much at the start. If it does exist, use it as the product’s true north and momentum for you and the team.

User and Customers

Your customers will play a significant role in product evolution, therefore it is good practice to kick off regular catch ups as soon as you can have a meaningful conversation and fully understand customers’ pain points.

The approach to find and meet your customers might vary. If your customers are B2B, you can choose between sending an email, making a call, organising a video chat or meeting them face to face. A face to face meeting works best for me. It guarantees attention, drives participation and you can make a better connection with the person sitting in front of you.
I usually start my chat with a few standard questions and then drill down into each area depending on the answers:

  • Why do you do business with us, use our product?
  • What’s holding you back from referring other people to use our product?
  • What’s working really well?
  • What’s missing?
  • What’s the one thing you would improve in our product and why?
  • What other feedback do you have?

Consumers are usually a bit harder to catch for a face to face chat. One of the most effective ways to do it though is to run a survey using your current channels like social, newsletter and website to reach them. The survey should contain some of the questions I listed above, plus an option to opt-in to take part in further customer research.

In the first 2 weeks set a goal to catch up with every member of the technology team. Foremost, the tech guys have a great deal of platform knowledge, data, analytics and awareness of strong and weak areas in the product. Secondly, these folks will be the key to forging a successful product.

No matter which company you join, there’ll never be a perfect platform waiting for you. There will always be “demons” like performance issues, bugs, technical debt and lack of automated tests. However, the one thing you need to know about the platform right off the bat is whether you can launch and measure a product experiment in a week. If the answer is “no”, this should become the focus for you and the team to first find an interim and then a scalable way to enable this. Not having the ability to experiment will result in building the wrong features and missing opportunities to optimise the product.

Customer Support team would be my next destination. I’d be asking the team what the most common issues customers experiencing are. It’s also a good idea to listen to some calls or read customer emails/chat to get exposed to real customer problems.

Clearly, there are a few things to do in the first couple of weeks as a Product Manager. It’s tempting to jump into a specific area, go deep and get lost in detail. So set a motto “A mile wide, an inch deep” to carry you through those exciting and stressful times.

Let us know in the comments what the first two weeks are like for you.

Feel free to get in touch on Twitter if you have any questions or find yourself simply stuck!


Product Manager’s checklist

Business and Product

  • What are the business goals?
  • How is the business currently performing?
  • Are you tracking to plan or falling behind?
  • Review the product vision (if exists) and goals
  • Create a mind map to find grey areas and track progress
  • Start learning the product ecosystem
  • Get to know your product
  • Ask what your product’s goals are and familiarise yourself with what is being tracked and how

Customers and Consumers

  • What are the most common problems customers experiencing?
  • What causes customers to churn or provide a low NPS or become detractors?
  • Speak face to face with at least 5 customers
  • Listen to 5 Customer Support calls/emails/chat sessions
  • Survey your Consumers

Technology

  • Speak to members of the tech team
  • Find out if the current platform allows you to run experiments
  • What are the platform strength and weaknesses?
  • What is the product development process?

Processes

  • Attend all daily stand-ups relevant to the product
  • Resist the temptation to jump in and start changing things