first-day-of-schoolYou’re in your first days as a product manager. In no time, your calendar is full and you have a zillion emails. There’s so much to do. Where to begin?

Before the demands of others overwhelm you, you need to prepare yourself to be the business and market liaison to the product team. Your role as a product manager or product owner is to make the best business decisions for the product, working from the best available information.

Refresh your domain expertise

If you’ve been in your industry for years, you probably have strong domain expertise but you may not be up-to-date on the latest information.

Review the corporate pitch. Perhaps the fastest way to get up to speed on your company and its role in the industry is to review the product and corporate slide decks. Whether your company is a bellwether in the industry or on the periphery, what’s been said in the past will help you understand how your company and its products are perceived, at least from the perspective of your new organization.

Catch up on the latest blogs and articles. Take time to review the latest thinking in your industry. And even if you’ve been in the domain for years, it’s always helpful to take a new look from your new perspective as a product leader. Reports from industry analysts may reveal new industry trends, and perhaps show how your company and products are influencing them.

Fill out your technical expertise

You may have some familiarity with the product from your past research. Now it’s time to get into the raw details.

Know your new product. What documentation exists for your product? You can probably find some customer documentation and help screens, release notes, product plans, sales and conference presentations, white papers and ebooks, and sales enablement tools. Review them all. Learn the key capabilities, particularly those that are competitive differentiators.

Review the product roadmap. And where is the product headed? Has anyone developed a roadmap for the next few releases? How does what you’re seeing align with what you know about the domain and industry?

Understand the architectural themes and challenges. Talk to the developers about the technical challenges for the product. What percentage of development effort is spent on architecture and defects versus new functionality? And while you’re at it, interview the developers about their perspective on your role in moving the product forward.

Update your market expertise

You likely have some market expertise but it never hurts to give yourself a refresh.

Sit in on some customer support calls. Want to know what’s going on with your product in the field? Ask customer support. They know about technical problems with the product as well as customer implementation problems. Sit in on some support calls and listen to customers directly.

Go on some sales calls. It’s fascinating to examine the contrast between the product as perceived by the product team and by the people in the field. When you’re on a customer visit with your sales team, you’ll hear how the product is being sold—right or wrong. You’ll also hear unfiltered customers’ problems in their own voices. Listen to the language they use; listen to the problems they’re trying to solve. You’ll get plenty of ideas for how to improve the selling and promotion of your products. And you’ll get to know some sales people in a more social setting; they’ll be your contacts in the future when you need advice on sales enablement and product improvements.

Do some installation/implementation visits. For enterprise products, implementation is where all your sales and marketing promises meet the real world. Watch (or help) the implementation teams install the product; sit in on any customer training; examine closely the areas where the product must be configured or customized to work in the customer environment. You’ll definitely get some great ideas on improving the product.

Eventually, you’ll want to start visiting customers without a selling or support objective but get these initial customer touchpoints under your belt first.

Leverage your process expertise

Now that you have a strong understanding of the technology, industry, and domain, take a look at your internal product processes. What methods are used in your organization? Where are the company templates stored? And which of your favorite processes apply to your new situation?

Evaluate existing processes and systems. If you’re stepping into an existing job, you’ll likely find a set of methods that are already in place, formally or not. If you’re part of a new product management team, you’ll want to be a driver in defining your product processes.

What artifacts are necessary? What minimal set ensures success? Is your organization clear on what constitutes a requirement and what’s actually a specification? Which positioning technique is used, if any?

Start your own product playbook. Take all your methods and the company’s methods and put together a set of living documents. You’ll want your product plan and financials, buyer and user profiles, positioning, requirements, maybe a price list or pricing model, and any other documents that you reference often. Print them or store them in your dropbox so you’ll have them handy. Get more on the product playbook idea.

What should product managers do in their first days?

Look for high-impact deliverables that don’t require much up-front effort. Train the sales engineers and product implementation team. Develop informal product champions. Refresh or refine your product positioning, taglines, and blurbs so you can do “copy-and-paste marketing.”

Then focus on the methods to make sure you have a minimal set of effective processes that ensure product success.

What tips do you recommend? Add your thoughts in the comments area.

career, roles & organization

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. Great set of activities for a new product manager to start performing from day one. The “product playbook” is important, in that it calls for collecting and generating artifacts as the product manager develops expertise on the business model and the market.

    One thing I’d add is to use the product(!) if it exists in some form and to document the key use cases at a high level.

  2. Also, compose a conceptual model of the domain. You can do so collaboratively with other market-facing colleagues. Or you can have them review initial drafts you’ve authored based on your market immersion.

  3. I think this is a great post. I am on my 6th day as a new product manager at an company in southern California where there used to be a product marketing team that has recently been re-shaped into a product management team. What has helped me ramp up quickly is looking at how sales sells the product (key features/use cases) for different types of customers as well as how the enterprise platform works across functional teams.

    Reviewing the sales process and seeing how the sales/service team is setup to sell, install and support the product gave me the most fundamental context on what key elements customers really get value out of the product

    Having different cross functional team members compiled in a list by function (e.g. scrum team members, marketing resources, device hardware folks, sales/service reps, customer support reps, industry relations/platform members, exec/other key stakeholders….) has been really helpful to put names to faces as meetings go on… as well as understanding where dependencies will lie in the future with the team(s)

    I really like the idea to identify small wins that can be implemented quickly that doesn’t require a lot of time/effort/etc. – it can be internal or external. Things like identifying what teams are doing well (what works) and what teams are not doing well (where there has been pain/challenges) can help identify hot spots / relative importance of these quick wins after validating with others – be it putting more shape to a scrum teams processes or getting a near/long term roadmap up and running for the bi-weekly sales call.

    As agile works its way into more and more teams and cross functional groups, helping people like marketing/device/hr/sales understand what a PSI is and how software is created or updated in a planned approach with sprints is helpful too to forecast dependencies for new customers/features in the pipeline etc…

    I really like the concept of the product playbook as well I’m going to look at how to implement something like this…

  4. Great advice on identifing key Product and Process steps, these are good guidelines to getting up to speed fast. I also like the recommendation of getting those early wins to prove your value and the value of product management (especially in a small shop)I believe the next key “P” is people: identify the decision makers and critical influencers as well as the SME’s. Use the SME’s to validate your ideas and then the influencers to help you sell the idea to the decision maker (s).

  5. Great article, and interesting to me as I’ve recently introduced product management into a fast-growing small business.

    The one thing I’d add? Focus on building relationships with everyone you can. Everyone in the business has the potential to contribute to and/or be a consumer of the product management process. It’s lots easier to get good new processes embedded if people are on your side! Having good working relationships and understanding the company dynamics are both essential for success in your new role.


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