What’s The Plan Of Action?
What would you do in your first week as a new product manager? Familiarize yourself with the product? Talk to the development team? Peruse analytics charts? Start interviewing customers? Almost every product manager has a go-to sequence that helps them acclimatize to the new environment.
I don’t think there is a perfect answer to be honest. It’s a matter of comfort and preference. Personally, I prefer to play around with the alpha/beta version of product, experiencing it as a new user. I document my thoughts, frustrations and praise as I navigate my way.
I follow that up with a few conversations with key stakeholders to understand what they think and feel about the product and how it has come to be. Remember, they have far more experience and information than you do at this point.
Then it’s off to competitive research to assess the playing field and diving into past user interviews, feedback, analytics and all the good stuff that makes your head spin. By now I would have developed a few opinions, questions or thought-processes.
When I feel I’ve got a firm understanding of where things stand, it’s time to talk to users. It’s awesome when you get to have productive conversations with your most passionate users, but, it’s equally important to listen to those who don’t share the same enthusiasm. Now, connect the dots.
1-1 user conversations are kept for the end, because, for one, time is limited, you need to use it wisely. Two, you need to know the limitations and strengths of your product as it relates to your users’ biggest problems. Three, you need to understand the process for how needs get translated into features. Four, you need to know ‘which’ users to talk to and ‘what’ to talk to them about. You can’t know everything in the first week itself, even if you’ve spent years in same industry.
As I completed my first week in a new assignment, I decided to venture into the modern-era’s temple of wisdom, aka Google, for some clarification on my thought-process.
For the most part, I seemed to have drawn a parallel with the product management fraternity. However, one blog post stood out with a somewhat polarized perspective – Atlassian.
They believe that the team of problem-solving engineers and designers are looking to product managers for prioritization. They would lack confidence in you as a product manager if you were comfortable talking to them instead of users in your first week itself. Equally disturbing, it’s an indicator during their interview vetting process.
I couldn’t disagree more with that line of thinking. PMs don’t just prioritize problems. Amongst many things, they prioritize the RIGHT set of problems. To do that, they need to identify the RIGHT pain points by asking, you guessed it, the RIGHT questions. For that to occur, they need to have a good grip on the product, the process, the people and the history behind all of them.
PMs prioritize the RIGHT set of problems. To do that, they need to identify the RIGHT pain points by asking, you guessed it, the RIGHT questions.
Would you let your new sales recruit lead a discussion with an enterprise customer in his/her first week? Would you allow the new copywriter to churn out copy without a firm understanding of the personality of your brand? Why do commercial airlines even bother with co-pilots? I mean, if you have the license, I say “fly the plane”.
There are many reasons why you don’t simply dive in. It’s foolish to walk in, all guns blazing. You need to be patient, listen and observe more than act or talk. What are the odds of you chatting up your users only to uncover what the team already knows? You have to respect the work that’s gone into the product up until now. Learn from it and with time establish your perspective.
Product management, besides the hype and shine, is a tough job. It takes some time to make a big dent in the product. So, if it is your first week, try to acquaint yourself with 4 key areas:
- The Product
- The People
- The Process
- The User
Above all else, just listen and have conversations with as many peers. They’re all trying to serve the same customer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, You’re just trying to make sense of it all.