Starting off as a new product manager might seem daunting. There are so many things to learn in such a short period of time, and you’re expected to provide the vision and roadmap for your team almost right away.
This post will cover some tips to help new product managers start off on the right foot. From understanding the market to meeting your team to getting the big picture, these action items provide a nice framework to approach the product manager role, whether you’re new to the company, the industry, or the profession itself.
1. Understand the market, the customers, and the product
One of the most important first steps for a new product manager is to understand the market. The best way to do so is to get as close to the customer as you can. Figure out how your company interacts with customers (listening labs, customer visits, formal/informal focus groups) and set a schedule right away to get involved. You want to understand the market and customer needs as quickly as you can because it will allow you to craft a great end product. Starting with the group that will be directly affected by that product is a good bet.
2. Get to know your team & understand their pain points
Schedule one-on-ones with everyone on your team during the first few weeks.
Do not skip out on these! You’ll find that these session will provide really good insight into team members’ personalities, communication styles, and how they can best do their work. As product manager, your job is to keep your team unblocked and functioning to the best of their capabilities, so getting to know your team and understanding team members’ pain points will allow you to identify potential blockers. You’ll also find that it’s so much easier working well with people you trust. Build that trust!
3. Ask a lot of questions
Even if your questions might seem “dumb,” don’t be afraid to ask questions, and ask a lot of them! New product managers have some leeway with naive questions, so get as many out there as you can before you’re expected to know these things. I’ve found that many effective product managers are unafraid to speak up when they don’t understand a detail or concept (some will even preface with “Can I ask a dumb question?”).
Their team sees them as legitimately curious, willing to learn, and humble – and are more than willing to help answer questions.
4. Review documentation & gather data
Read all the existing documentation available, whatever you can find from your team or past iterations of projects. At most companies, there are typically several types of data – internal data, external data, market data, and product data. Keep your eye out for any of these, and once you have them in your hands, spend as much time as possible developing a comprehensive understanding of all that information. Apart from your customers and your team, this is the best way to get up to speed on project requirements, goals, and areas of improvement.
5. Recognize the bigger picture
At the end of the day, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s understandable that as a new product manager you’ll be running around trying to figure everything out at once. But always keep in mind the bigger picture – what is the goal? It helps to discuss this with your manager and set clear expectations from the very beginning. The two of you can meet periodically to see whether you’ve been hitting those goals or whether there needs to be any changes. Having a clear direction makes your day-to-day a lot easier and allows you to focus on the details, so start setting those goals!
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