Your cheat-sheet to starting a new pm role on the right foot.
Congratulations, you are about to start a new journey in your product management career.
But passing the pm interview is just the beginning of the challenge. How to do that? How do you start a new job, the right way?
Starting a new job is a highly emotional and stressed phase in every position. But when we are talking about a very stressful position, to begin with, like product management, the challenge gets more significant.
Whether you are entering a new company or maybe even a new industry, you have a lot to learn in a short time.
This is a known challenge even when it comes to exceptionally well-organized companies with a very structured onboarding process.
The Challenge: How to Digest Everything
During the first period, we are required to figure out what the company does, what are the products, the revenue, KPIs, who are the people, vendors, what’s currently in progress, going to start, important, what’s the strategy and the politics of the organization. Yeah, a lot.
Meet the stakeholders, the R&D, the Clients/Customers (yes, it is different), your new product leaders. Yeah, many people.
And we have about a month to 3 months to own it all.
No one likes to be the “dumbest guy in the room,” but diving into a new company feels a lot like that. And so, for that matter, I bring you – The Cheat Sheet; how to slide on to a new position and even enjoy it.
This is an actionable step by step guide straight from my toolbox.
Our journey is composed of 2 parts:
Brainstorming – Uncovering, framing, and understanding.
Bodystorming – Basically “tasting your own champaign”.
Spending time with real users form the entire prism of the organization.
Mapping the Business
The first thing to do is to wrap your mind around the company “as a concept “ and to frame it.
The best tool to use here is a mindmap.
I’m a big fan of Miro as it has a very comprehensive Freemium version that will definitely do, but feel free to use whatever tool you like for that matter.
Start with the central node and name it [your company].
To get the best understanding of what the company does, set a meeting with the Marketing/Sales team.
It may sound intuitive to start our journey with our peers, the product managers and product designers or the R&D team you are assigned with. However, no one can describe the value proposition and the products better than those selling it or encapsulating it to a catchphrase on a newsletter.
This is the best way to get the definitions stripped from any technicalities, internal terminologies, or any other noise.
Are you done with the meeting? Great!
Now go back to your mindmap and fill in the products, product’s customers types/ segments, etc. This is where product innovators get an opportunity to get a sense of the opportunities that are waiting for them.
Now we have an excellent visual of what we sell, who we sell it to, and the breakdown of the target audiences for each product… How’s that for a starting point? (just got the shivers from how simple that was).
Now you can go ahead to start your rounds with the Product department and stakeholders.
Remember that the key here is to keep adding nodes to the map under the relevant branch.
As updated, you keep it, as faster and smoother your onboarding experience will be.
This way, you can add the organization’s internal terminology in the right context or even capture the acronym you heard during meetings.
Note that much like a B/PRD where a critical section is what’s NOT in scope, the same goes here.
The mindmap is a great tool to capture the information you stumble on, even outside your domain.
How to do it? (great question, glad you asked 😉 ).
Note that the samples above show all of the nodes on one side of the main one.
So let’s say you are the PM at ACME Inc, and you are in charge of the fun explosives and pyrotechnics.
During your first meeting with the product marketing team, you also discover that ACME has an agriculture line of business.
Here is an excellent way to represent that:
If you keep adding relevant information to your map, you will get a very detailed, creative, funboard, compile your ideas, factual information, and initiatives you can always go back to, which may look like:
During your rounds with the business and peers, strive to get your hands on the data.
Map what’s being measured, and add it to your map next to the relevant nodes.
If you identify a flow, a system, or anything that doesn’t have measurements, that’s your very first requirement to the respective team, as quality decisions cannot be taken without it. Get an answer to the question: How do we measure this?
Get intimately familiarized with the product’s core flows and understand what happens before and after they happen (and yes, add those to your map as well).
So you now know what you sell, to whom you sell it, and how it is performing. It’s time to understand what’s important.
Strategy as a concept is a significant pitfall in a lot of organizations. You often might find too many “owners” to the product strategy plan (Product, BizDev, Sales, CEO, etc.).
But Strategy is a relative term. Let’s use the COVID-19 as an analogy:
The Prime Minister of Every country decided on its strategy to handle COVID-19.
Then, the Health, Police, Treasury, and Foreign affairs Ministers decided on their strategy within their realms, and according to the instructions they have received.
Then, in turn, the hospitals, banks, local police forces, etc., decided on their strategy, again, according to the instructions they received from their ministry.
No one can say that the Minister is not in charge of strategy, nor about the hospital manager or even the doctor treating the patients (they do have protocols, but they decide on treatment strategy on a per case basis).
So, ask them all, go through the chain, and find the 3 to 4 main objectives you should look for.
Ensure that at the end of the day, you have only 3 or 4 main objectives and work according to them. Over that, and it will be too hard for you to focus.
Up until now, we talked about wrapping our minds around the business side.
Now it’s time to pull up the sleeves and do some proper “dogfooding”.
Market Research (Market Awareness)
It’s now time to meet the different stakeholders.
Start with internal sessions with your support teams and progress until you reach the actual clients.
I dare you to use your product a few times.
If possible, avoid QA credentials, super admin, god mode, or whatever workaround your organization offers.
Do actual registrations, actual payments, actual submissions, and get the real communications your users are getting (notifications, emails, cadence experience, the whole thing).
Empathize with your users and do whatever user-flows they make.
Meet the users
Don’t fear the client/user.
In every company’s client pool, a couple of clients would love to have you over and show you how they use your products.
How to do a proper shadowing is a post of its own but here are the basics:
- Dedicate a good few hours for each session.
- The real insights will come from the people actually working with the software.
- Spend a good hour sitting still, don’t say anything, don’t comment, listen intently.
Just write what you hear and think (it will take your host around 20-30 minutes to be able to ignore your presence and go back to act normal again)
- Write down quotes you hear, as those are pure gold.
- Keep your questions to the end of the session.
Now that you have an excellent hands-on understanding of your product, it’s time to see what’s going on outside.
In some organizations, this information exists and is maintained regularly. But if not, go ahead and map then. There is nothing like good web scouting.
Try to understand their flows, processes, offerings, and prices. Get a feel of the product development process.
If possible, don’t be shy and buy from your competitors.
A good understanding of your surroundings is an essential factor and driver of your ability to make the right decisions.
👉 The Bottom Line
Clearly, there is no one size fits all, but I encourage you to take this method and modify it to your needs and case.
Running this flow will drive you to manage the process and not be managed by it.
Instead of you stumbling upon information, you follow your storyline and fill in the gaps.
And the most important thing of all: Good luck!