The First 90 Days as a New Product Manager
How to Succeed in Your 1st PM Job
Congratulations, you’ve finally landed your first role as a Product Manager! Once the news sinks in, did your elation turn into anxiety? How do you become a successful Product Manager?
Here are the keys to success for starting a product manager job at each stage of your career.
I remember how nervous I was about starting my first job out of school. After spending so much mental energy on recruiting and landing a role, I was incredibly anxious that I’d be exposed for the imposter that I felt that I was.
Now that I’ve been a hiring manager, I can let you in on a secret: your employer isn’t expecting much from you if this is your first job. New grads are hired for your potential, not the expectation that you already know how to do the job. In fact, some companies love this fact about you. They don’t have to waste time on re-training, which can be much harder than learning it fresh. You don’t have any baggage from other companies, so they can train you to be a product manager exactly the way that they do it in their company.
What is expected from you is that you will be coachable, eager, and willing to learn. Don’t come in expecting to be making multi-million dollar decisions out of the gate. Don’t take shortcuts and try to skip out on grunt work. It might feel like you’re doing something that isn’t important, but every assignment is an opportunity to learn.
Somewhere in between
I’d been in Strategy roles for a number of years when I made the transition into Product Management. I certainly wasn’t a new grad, but I also wasn’t a senior leader either. Most likely if you are transitioning into Product Management in mid-career, you’ll be doing hands-on product work with a squad of engineers and designers.
During your onboarding period, you should spend time with your team getting to know the ins and outs of your product. You should also talk to customers and key stakeholders to understand their feedback and pain points. If you’re wondering what questions to ask in these meetings, I highly recommend Michael Watkins’ book, The First 90 Days, to help you think strategically about the types of questions that you’ll want to ask. You are expected to be the expert on the product that you own, so you must know the current state of the product and start thinking about how to improve it.
If you’re not technical, take full advantage of the newbie card to ask questions. For example, if you hear something discussed in standup and don’t quite understand, pull the engineer aside afterwards and ask about it. You will get more respect by admitting that you don’t know something. If you pretend that you do, you run the risk of showing your hand later on. If you avoid it, you may seem like you don’t care. You can show that you’re interested by being proactive about getting up to speed on the space, participating in product management bootcamps, and reading product management books.
These conversations are also an opportunity for you to build relationships with your team and stakeholders. Product managers don’t write code or create designs, so your ability to direct the work of others will determine your success. Be genuine in finding things that you both like, getting a sense for their personality, and learning what drives them. Relationship building is a critical key to success for product managers.
Recently, a friend of mine reached out to me for advice. She has years of experience as a product marketer, but felt a bit thrown off when her boss offered her a role as Head of Product Management. It’s a great opportunity that she ultimately decided to take, but I can empathize with how intimidating it must feel to step into a leadership role when you don’t have previous experience in the function and are managing people who do. When you’re in a product leadership role, you’ll be doing less hands-on product work. Instead, your most important contributions will be participating in strategic company level discussions, setting a product vision and strategy, and developing your team.
Similar to the mid-level product manager, your onboarding plan should allocate lots of time with your team, stakeholders, and customers to get to know your products and build relationships. But at the senior level, your goal isn’t just to have a full understanding of your product, but to answer these questions:
- How can I drive results? Whether you have revenue or engagement goals, you are ultimately accountable for driving results. Are you on track, ahead or behind of goals? What needs to be true to hit goals?
- Do I have the right team to get there? You need your team to help you deliver results. What gaps are there in the team that you have vs. the team that you need? Can they grow into the team that I need?
Keeping these two questions in the back of your mind will enable you to collect the information that you need to identify any key problems that exist and quick wins that you can deploy in your first 90 days.
No matter what stage of your career you’re at, the first 90 days are a critical time period to set yourself up for success in the role. When you’re fresh out of school, show how eager you are to learn. In mid career, focus on developing a thorough understanding of your product and building relationships. And as a product leader, keep a wider lens on driving results and building a high performing team.
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. That means that I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through one of these links (at absolutely no extra cost for you). These funds help me buy my next cup of Philz which, in turn, fuels me to write more blog posts.
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