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?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 the 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 the 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 would lack confidence in you as a product manager if you were comfortable talking to them instead of users in your first week. Equally disturbing, it’s part of 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 a new sales recruit lead a discussion with an enterprise customer in his/her first week? Would you allow a new copywriter to churn out copy without a firm understanding of your brand? Can you soak in years of input into 5 days or less? No!
There are several reasons why you don’t walk in with 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 don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, you’re still trying to build an accurate perspective.