8 Dec 2021
Starting a new product management job can be exciting and intimidating at the same time.
You’re excited because you get the opportunity to work on a new product and solve new problems.
You’re intimidated because everything is new, and you have a lot of learning to do.
Your first couple of months on the job can be a little boring. If your new company does not have a good onboarding approach, you may initially find yourself without much to do.
Put together a plan for your first three months to harness that excitement and address the intimidation. You create a plan to get up to speed at a pace that is not overwhelming but doesn’t leave you bored.
Here’s an overview of a 30-60-90 day plan for a product manager.
The 30-60-90 day plan provides a personal definition of success for your first three months on the job.
It describes the most important thing you can do each month and identifies what you’re doing and why. The plan should also include any metrics that may help you gauge if you’ve been successful.
There are several reasons why you should put together a 30-60-90 day plan.
Putting a plan together helps you organize your thoughts and identify your goals for the first three months.
With a set list of things to focus on, you don’t spend much time figuring out what to do next.
That helps you make better use of your time and make those first three months more effective.
The plan provides you with a clear path to becoming a contributor and leader in your new company. When people in the organization see you taking a self-directed approach to getting up to speed, you’ll build trust and gain your team's confidence.
Finally, when you create your plan and share it with your manager, you immediately convey that you are forward-thinking and organized.
The plan doesn’t need to be anything fancy. It needs to be something that makes sense to you. It also needs to be recorded someplace you know you’ll be likely to refer to regularly.
You can create it in a Google Doc or if you’re a paper and pen person in your favorite notebook.
As the name implies, organize the plan into three sections, each with a specific focus.
Days 1 - 30 - Learn
Days 31 - 60 - Contribute
Days 61 - 90 - Advance
Each section includes the focus of those 30 days, the tasks you’re going to complete, and some potential metrics to use to gauge success.
Let’s take a closer look at each section.
The focus of your first 30 days on the job is to learn as much as possible. When you start a new job, regardless of your experience level, you have a lot to learn.
You’re probably not learning product management in general. You’re learning product management at your new company. Specifically, you’re learning about:
Your customers and users
Let's take a closer look at each of these areas.
Product managers ultimately focus on solving their customers' and users' problems. So the best place to start your learning is by understanding your users and customers.
Users are the people who use your product. User personas often describe them.
Customers are the people who buy your product. Buyer personas or market segments often describe them.
In some cases, primarily B2C, the people who buy your product also use it. In other cases, primarily in B2B, the people who buy your product are different than those who use it.
You need to know which situation is true for your product. You also need to know who your users and customers are and the problems your product is trying to solve.
If your organization has created personas, start with those and supplement that information by talking directly with users and customers. Of course, if your organization does not already have personas created, jump straight into interacting with users and customers. The quickest way to do this is to shadow your customer success team and your sales teams.
You know you’ve made progress in this learning area when referring to the actual user personas and buyer personas that your product serves. So if you’re working on a product management tool, you’ll talk about:
Paula, the Product Manager
Olivia, the Product Owner
Courtney, the Chief Product Officer.
As you expand your knowledge about your customers and users, you’ll also want to dig into your product.
If you’re working on an existing product, sign up for the product as a primary persona. Run through the onboarding process and use the product as that primary persona would. Go through whatever training exists for the product. Get familiar with your product and experience what onboarding and training are like for new users so you can note opportunities for improvement.
If there’s a product vision, read through it to see if it provides a good description of your product's future state. Look through the product strategy, if it exists, to see what guidelines for decisions it offers. Make sure you understand what metrics your organization uses to measure the success of its products.
Dig deeper into your product by looking through the product roadmap, product backlog, and any handy product specs. These documents should give you an idea of the possible changes that you could make to the product. However, these artefacts help you get a better understanding of your product. As you get more comfortable with your product, you’ll be in a position to change those plans, avoid some changes, and introduce others initially.
If you’re starting work on a brand new product, you may only have some of those documents. Either way, read through everything available to understand what thought has already gone into your product so that you’re not starting from scratch.
Another way to fully understand your product is to explore competing products that solve the same problem. Use sources such as G2 or Capterra to learn more about competing products and find out how those products are similar and different from yours.
Where things you read don’t make sense, ask your team members to get more context about the product.
You know you’ve made progress in this learning area when you can describe your product's functionality and how it contributes to solving your customers’ and users’ problems.
The last area where you want to focus your learning activities during your first 30 days on a new product management job is your organization. This means meeting and finding more out about the people you’re going to work with. You also want to learn about your team’s processes and the tools your organization uses.
When it comes to meeting and becoming familiar with the people, you’re working with, start with your product team. Plan 1:1 discussions with each person on your team. If you’re in the office, consider doing these as casual chats over coffee or the beverage of your choice. If you’re remote, you’ll have to revert to a video call.
These discussions should be casual. Sure, you want to find out about how the team works together currently, but you also want to get to know your team members as people. Look for common points of interest that you can refer back to build a strong relationship with your teammates.
During these discussions, feel free to ask basic seeming questions. It’s better to admit that you don’t know everything, and your humble approach will generally win you respect with your team. You’ll want to make sure you come out of these discussions with a clearer picture of the processes your team follows and the tools they use.
Have the same type of conversations with your manager. The purpose of these discussions is to understand their expectations and figure out how best to work with them. Find out what objectives your manager has in mind and make sure what you know about the product will support those objectives.
You’ll also want to connect with the other people in the organization you’ll be working with, such as customer success, sales, and marketing. Seek to understand how they tend to work with product teams, and include in every conversation the question “what can I do to make your life easier?” This question will give you insight into what problems those areas face when working with product teams.
Discussions with your manager and stakeholders will give you insight into the company's culture and understand how your organization makes decisions and what politics come into play.
At the end of this first 30 day period, your goal is to get familiar with your customers and users, gain an initial understanding of your product, and meet the key people in your company. Note that you will continue to learn throughout your first three months, but your focus in the second and third months is to apply what you’ve learned.
By focusing on learning during the first 30 days, you give yourself a good foundation about your customers, your product, and your organization, so you can start contributing in the next 30 days.
In the second month, you should have enough context that you can be more involved in your team’s day-to-day work, such as:
Taking an active role in your team’s discovery efforts.
Making decisions about what features the team will work on next.
Describe a backlog item that your team will work on soon.
You’re going to continue your learning activities by learning about your customers and users, getting familiar with your product, and meeting with stakeholders. The main difference from the first three months is your primary activity switches from watching to learn to doing to learn.
The goal is not to change anything at this point - you want to run through processes as they stand to get some perspective on how the organization does things and identify opportunities for improvement once you’ve established some credibility.
You’ve spent some time observing and learning. You’ve had the opportunity to work through the existing processes. In your third month on the job, it’s time to advance the product practices of your organization.
You may suggest changes to the processes your team uses based on your observations and experience.
If there aren’t personas or some of the documents suggested earlier to learn about your product, you may lead efforts to pull that information together.
Take the opportunity to revise your product roadmap to reflect what features you think are necessary to achieve your desired outcome.
If your team did not perform product discovery before your arrival, you might introduce product discovery efforts.
You’ll want to take proactive steps to establish constructive relationships with the other teams you need to work with regularly.
Finally, you should have delivered a piece of working functionality or be well on your way to doing so by this point.
By the end of your first 90 days, you should be considered an experienced, contributing product team member. You have a feature or product that you’re leading, and you should have a good handle on the product lifecycle at your organization.
The progression from learning to contributing to advancing puts you in a position to build a foundational understanding of your customers, product, and organization through observing. Then you build on that understanding through contributions to product efforts. Finally, you apply that understanding to advancing the product practice at your company.
This plan uses different types of learning to position you at a reasonable pace to be a successful product manager at your new company.
21 Sep 2023Your Guide to Backlog: Product vs. Sprint Backlog