In part fifteen of this series, I want to provide an effective framework to help you navigate your first 30 days as a Product Manager — these are strategies that will help you throughout your career, at any company. Here is the previous post from this series.
“If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done” — James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits (Source).
Product Management can be chaotic and exciting. Your ability to navigate the chaos by building concrete habits will help you thrive in this environment and create a form of normalcy.
I will go over the top 10 habits that can slowly compound over time to help you become the best PM you can be in your first 60 days, 90 days, and beyond.
It can be stressful being a new PM. You may be overwhelmed going into your first full-time PM role. You also might be starting your second, third, or fourth PM role. Every role is different, and you will become better after each role.
1. Use The Product:
Use the product as much as you can in your first 30 days. Try to become an expert on the product. Go through the whole end-to-end flow and understand the user journey. You can start to pick up on what works well, what does not work well, and start gaining empathy for your customers. If you can put yourself in the shoes of your customers, that’s the first way you can start solving problems — and start building as a Product Manager.
Find bugs in the product and report them. Identifying bugs in the product is one way to gain a deeper understanding of how the product works. This will also help you get early exposure with engineering.
2. Read PRDs, User Stories, Documentation, and Roadmap:
Study the precedents that have been set. Learn how PRDs have been written. Study how problem statements are crafted and the level of detail you should expect to have in product requirement documents. Understand the process of your company and learn what your product teams found valuable previously in PRDs.
Read user stories. If your role involves writing user stories, you should understand how they are written at your company. You can also learn about how to write great user stories that empower your teams.
Reading documentation. Documentation will help provide context and understand how the product was meant to be used. They should be supplemental resources to your learning of the product.
Study the roadmap. Align on the product vision. If a roadmap exists, you can learn more about the roadmap. I would recommend setting up a meeting with your founder, your head of product, or anyone who had a role in creating the roadmap. They can explain and talk about it in a way that will provide unique context and clarity into the vision of the product. If you can understand and start to address the top priorities of the company, you will often get tasked to solve challenging problems and be trusted with more responsibility.
3. Meet With Your Stakeholders:
Learn about their goals. Ask them about their their top goals, how you can help improve about the team, and how you can drive better alignment.
Learn about who they are and find common ground. Each person has a unique story. What do they enjoy the most about what they do? Why do they enjoy it? What is their background? Do they have hobbies and interests? Try to find common ground.
Don’t focus on process changes on day one. It’s important to listen first. Listen to your stakeholders first because it takes time to get the context to make the decision. Once you have alignment on values and goals, it is much easier to drive change — change is often driven by collaboration and alignment.
Understand the specific goals of your designers, engineers, and business teams.
- When talking to designers, you should talk to them about an ideal partnership between product and design. How do they prefer to have design critiques?
- When talking to engineers, you should talk to them about an ideal partnership between product and engineering. What would they like to see more of in PRDs? If you are writing tickets, what would they like to see?
- When talking to sales and marketing, you should ask them about what they are seeing with potential prospects. In your first 30–60 days, you should understand the patterns these teams are seeing with customers and find the common threads. Does marketing track funnel analytics — what are interesting findings they have had?
- When talking to customer success, you should ask them about their recent interactions with customers, insights about current and past customers, and how customers use the product. How do they define success? Are there any blockers for them? How can product and customer success work effectively to solve important customer problems and have a clear communication channel?
4. Ship Something:
Learn what it takes to solve a problem and find a solution at your company. Product Management is about solving the right problem and facilitating the right solution. You may or may not be given a problem to solve in your first 30 days. Find a problem to solve — by looking at your data, talking to customers, and helping your team in any way. The solution can be one small feature, one large feature, or multiple features. Try shipping something. Learn about what it takes to ship a feature and how it works at your company.
5. Become Familiar With The Industry:
You will need to know how your company will uniquely position itself to disrupt the industry it operates in. You need to know how your product can provide value to your customers and get an idea of how the product will scale. What’s your company’s strategy and plan for execution within the context of the broader industry? Understand the industry your company operates in. This helps you contextualize your product team’s strategy in the broader scope of the industry. It will help you be more informed when making key decisions in your next month, year, and beyond as a PM.
There are some ways you can do this:
- Ask questions: you have to do the initial, upfront research — use the product, understand why it adds value, and then form deep questions to ask your team. Ask your manager and your founder(s) about how they currently envision the product as well as the future state. Align with their understanding of the product vision, strategy, business model, and go-to-market strategy. Learn from them why the product is being built this way, how your company is prioritizing changes, and how you will sell & scale the product.
- Learn why your investors invested in your company: read the press releases online, the investor memos, your investors’ social media posts on the company, their public appearances talking about the industry or your company, and more. Reach out to VCs or read content from VCs to gain context into the space.
- Conduct your own market research: read internal resources and contextualize them with what you read online. Learn how your company’s strategy makes sense — compare your company to your core competitors, discover the trends in the industry, and beyond. Are you vertically integrating a solution? Is it a highly fragmented industry that you are operating in? Is it very competitive? Is there consolidation happening? Especially at early stage startups, you will need to teach yourself a lot and also ask questions to the experts. You may have an onboarding program that covers this, but you can always do this on your own too. Find the facts and do your own research. Learn a bit about the ins and outs of your product, watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts, and more. You can also go to industry events as well, either online or in-person.
6. Become Familiar With Your Product Analytics:
Before talking to customers, you can look at your product analytics. If you are at a larger tech company, you likely have analytics in place — they are absolutely crucial to your role as a product manager. Also, if you are at an early stage startup: this can be a critical asset to your long-term growth as a company. You can use them to validate or invalidate hypotheses and run experiments to promote the growth of your produdct.
You do not need to become analytics-obsessed, but learn how to use it to supplement how you are solving problems for your customers. Remember to look at the long-term value for customers. Understand what will bring value a year or a decade from now. Quick wins are important. You won’t win by solely optimizing short-term value for customers.
You need to be able to quantify the qualitative behavior of your customers. Can you watch recordings of how customers use the product? Can you analyze the end to end flow of the customer? Can you see where they are converting, where they are not converting? This will paint pictures and tell you stories, as well as help you see pain points your customers are experiencing.
7. Start understanding WHO your customers are:
Understand who is using your product and who you are providing value to. Are there personas that the team has created? Can you think of the ideal persona? Ask your manager, designers, or other team members of who the typical customers are. You can also start talking to customers to gain a perspective into the different personas, the problems they each experience, their likes and dislikes, and how your team is designing solutions for them.
8. Follow product managers and join communities:
I recommend following product managers, finding mentors, and interacting with peers: The top Product Managers you can learn from— right now.
You could comment on Twitter posts, go to meetups and events, join Slack communities, and meet others. It is important to get yourself out there and meet people who are in your shoes (or were once in your shoes). You can begin to find those who are building products at startups and larger tech companies. It can be fun to find your community and meet others, either in-person or virtually.
9. Focus on the fundamentals:
Remember to keep it simple and focus on the fundamentals. A great way to effectively solve your problems on the job will come from your customers, your teammates, your abilities to bring people together, your experiences using the product, and your time at the company. This is the most important advice I would give: focus on the basics. Learn to change up your strategy and experiment as well.
Learn to prioritize. Prioritization is a skill you can grow over time and keep getting better at. How to prioritize effectively — as a new or aspiring product manager.
Feel free to reach out if you want to talk about anything on early career product advice, software, design, product teams, or early stage investing!