First 30–60–90 Days in a New Product Manager Job

It has been a rather long break since my previous post. A few things have happened in the last few months. I moved from Bombay to Bangalore in Feb 2020 to join ThoughtSpot. Amidst moving houses, setting into a new job and dealing with the Covid normal, unfortunately the blog got ignored.

That said, let’s come back to this blog post.

This post is about what one should do in the first 30–60–90 days of joining a new product management job. It’s mostly based on my learnings of settling into my role in ThoughtSpot. Prior to joining the company, I had made a checklist of things I should do to help me settle into the new role. The checklist I had created spanned a few areas such as:

  • Team
  • Manager
  • Customers
  • Product
  • Market & Competitors
  • Product Management Process

I’ll cover each of these areas in more detail below.

Team

This aspect covers the immediate team members you will be working with as well as folks you might not interact with on a regular basis. Here’s what has worked for me:

  • Get to know the different members of the teams you’ll be working with on a daily basis and what they do. This would primarily include the product, design and engineering teams. You could, as an example, have meals with the folks you’ll be working with. This is a great way to build that initial rapport.
  • Have 1-on-1s with key members across different teams to help build a better understanding of the market, the product, the company culture etc.
  • As a product manager tends to interact with people across various functions, you should also aim to get to know folks across other functions such as support, success, sales and marketing.

These interactions will also help you understand the team dynamics and cultural norms of the company. This includes things such as how decisions are made, how conflicts and disagreements are handled, the challenges that the company faces etc.

Manager

Building a healthy professional relationship with the manager is perhaps the most critical thing that one should focus on in a new job. This entails many different things:

  • Get to know the manager on a personal level — their background, why they joined the company etc.
  • Get an understanding of your role & responsibilities, goals, objectives and KPIs that will drive your success.
  • Work with your manager to create a 30–60–90 day plan for your first 30, 60 and 90 days into your new job. This will ensure that the expectations are set and that you have a clear path ahead of you. You would then review this plan at the end of 30 days, then 60 days and then 90 days to ensure you’re on track.
  • Understand the manager’s goals and priorities for their job. While it is important to understand one’s own goals, it is also important to get a perspective on the manager’s goals and what will make them successful.
  • Know the org chart and ask the manager for a list of key people you should get to know in the company. Perhaps even get the manager to facilitate the introductions.
  • Understand the team dynamics and culture norms of the company from the manager’s perspective. I had previously covered this point under Team but it applies here as well.
  • Understand the challenges that the company faces from the manager’s perspective. These challenges could be related to various aspects — the product, sales, marketing, support etc.
  • Familiarize yourself with the manager’s working style — do they prefer daily or weekly check-ins, are they more hands-on or do they prefer autonomy etc.
  • Ensure that your manager has set up a good onboarding process for you: you’ve been added to the relevant Slack groups, JIRA etc., you have a list of documents you can go through to understand the product better, you’ve been enrolled into a formal training workshop (if the company has one), you’ve been assigned an onboarding buddy to help you out etc.

Customers

Before you even get into the details of the product, it is important to understand who the customers are and why they use the product. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to meet with your customers. You could ask your colleagues or your manager the following:

  • The segments and detailed user personas that the company sells the product to — where they are based, the size of the company, the industry they are in, the business functions and the title and roles of the people who use the product etc.
  • The business problems that the product is trying to solve and how that translates into the various features in the product. You could also shadow sales people on their calls with customers to get a better understanding of the business problems that the product aims to solve.
  • What was the customer’s setup prior to using your product and what are the challenges they faced with that setup?
  • What is the impact of the product on your customer’s business?
  • What other business problems do they face that are not addressed by the product? What are the shortcomings of the product?

I tend to start interacting with customers directly only when I have the requisite knowledge of who the customers are, what the product does etc. This means that my interactions with customers would start probably the second month onwards.

Product

As a product manager, you need to have an in-depth understanding of the product. I suggest doing the following:

  • Go through the product documentation, roadmap, product demo videos etc. to understand the product in detail.
  • If the company has a formal product training program, ensure that you enroll in it. Or at least go through the product training videos to know the product better.
  • Sign up for an account and see what the product onboarding process is like and think about how it can be improved.
  • Ask engineers about the high-level technical architecture of the product.
  • Understand the product vision, the product strategy and how that translates into the short-term and long-term product roadmap.
  • Understand the key product metrics.
  • Know the key differentiators of the product. Or in other words, the main value propositions of the product vis a vis the competitors.
  • Build an understanding of the various challenges with the product — the weaknesses in the product, what do customers complain most about, why are sales deals lost from a product perspective etc. Sitting with the support team for a week to answer tickets is a great way to get perspective.

Market & Competitors

While you have a good understanding of the customers and the product, it is also good to know the market in general.

  • Go through Gartner reports and articles that cover the space that your company is in.
  • Who are the competitors? How does their product differ from yours? What are their core value propositions?
  • Who are their customers?Is the competitors’ customer base the same as yours?
  • Where does the competitors’ product lack? You could get this information by going through product reviews on G2, Capterra etc.

Product Management Process

Different companies have different processes and frameworks they follow for building products. Some are more structured and some ad hoc. Therefore, in addition to understanding the product, it is equally important to understand the process the company follows to build the products. Learn about the following:

  • How are product roadmaps built and prioritized? What product roadmap frameworks does the organization use? How is backlog managed? How do they work on bugs and enhancements along with new features?
  • What is the process of building products — how do you drive product ideation, how do product and design work together, at what point is QA involved in the product building stage, what are the sprint cycles like, what is the sprint planning process etc.
  • What does the product spec cover?
  • Where are product ideas captured? Can you see a list of customers that have requested a particular feature?
  • What is the process of dealing with NPS and other product feedback?
  • What issues does the team generally face in building products? This also covers inter-personal issues such as those between product, design and engineering teams.

At ThoughtSpot, I ended up doing most of the things above in my first 30–60–90 days in the company.

In the first 30 days, it was important for me to know my goals and objectives, as well as to build trust with my peers and manager. I also ended up writing a few PRDs in my first 60 days in the company. Having to write the PRDs necessitated a thorough understanding of the customers, the product, the competitive landscape etc. Working on the PRDs also helped build a good rapport with my counterparts in the design and engineering team. After the first 30 days, I also started meeting with customers. This was critical in understanding and building empathy for them and their business problems. These discussions with customers also gave me insights into other business problems we could solve in the future.

One thing that I was not able to do in the first 90 days at ThoughtSpot was build a roadmap for the product I lead. In hindsight, I think one should aim to build a product roadmap by the end of those 90 days. A well-thought through roadmap would lay a solid foundation and enable you to succeed in your role.

That’s all, folks. I hope this helps you effortlessly transition into your new PM job!

Principal Product Manager @ ThoughtSpot