Your First 90 Days as a Product Manager

First 90 days as a Product Manager

So you’ve landed your dream job and now you’re looking ahead at the first 90 days in your new role.

What’s your game plan for making your mark and proving the company made the right hire? Will you rewrite the product messaging? Launch your product into new markets? Add a bunch of cool features? If you come in assuming that you know the answers and launch into action, you may just hit a pitfall in your new role.

Michael D. Watkins’ states in his book, The First 90 Days, that joining a new company is akin to an organ transplant – and you’re the new organ. If you’re not thoughtful in adapting to the new situation, you could end up being attacked by the organizational immune system and rejected.

We know that it takes about 6 months for a typical mid-level leader from the outside to get up to speed and add value. But it’s important to have some wins your first 90 days. Here are some suggestions from Watkins and the 280 Group management team.

Sage yourself

Don’t show up with the assumption that what worked at your last job will work at the new one. Let go of the past and embrace the new situation with curiosity. If you’re moving from a functional role to a cross-functional leadership role, you need a whole new game plan.

Every new beginning comes with the opportunity to decide to fully show up and be the best that you can be. Choose it!

Create your stance by identifying your core values and commit to boundary conditions that honor them. It’s important to establish your brand as a hard worker early by working longer hours than anyone else. You may need to find creative ways to balance this with family and social commitments.

Become the de facto customer and market expert

Find any and all data and information about your customers, your competition, and the financials of your business. Get a high-level view of the strategy of the company, not just your product. Understand the operations, planning and performance, and employee evaluation systems used by the company. They may influence how you can have an impact. Most importantly, be a quick learner on the internal politics and how decisions get made.

Make sure that you schedule customer visits in the first 60 days. When you return, summarize what you heard and send it to your team. You should have at least 8 to 10 relevant and useful pieces of data about the business and customers that you can mention in conversations with your team and management.

Manage up

It’s important to build a productive relationship with your boss and get buy-in on your 90-day plan. Take 100% of the responsibility for building this relationship. If he or she doesn’t schedule one-on-ones, you take the initiative to get on their schedule. When you have your meeting, focus on the top three things you have on your plate and how they can help. You’re responsible for making sure that your manager is never surprised about a problem that’s been looming in the background.

Build your stakeholder connections

Don’t just focus on your vertical relationships, but know who your stakeholders are across the organization. Create alliances with colleagues who are essential for your success. Your leadership success will ultimately come down to your influence and leverage. You can increase your credibility and influence by showing a genuine desire to learn and understand your new environment.

Establish technical credibility with your engineers. Make a list of the most important technologies related to your product and do intensive research to make sure you understand them. If there are engineers on your team who are experts in particular technologies, spend some time with them and have them educate you on the technology. Play on their desire to be the expert and you’ll find that they are more than willing to share their knowledge so that you can quickly come up to speed.

Determine who the most critical five people are to build strong relationships with.

Your relationships are going to be key to your success, and building them early will give you the leverage you will need later on. This will likely include key engineers, managers, executives, sales people, and other stakeholders that you interact with.

In summary

Your first 90 days can be a honeymoon or a trek up Mount Everest. No matter how good you are at interviewing, don’t be surprised if there are bigger challenges than you realized. For instance, the product might not actually work. Or, the executives may have been given very inaccurate information about what the product actually does and may have false expectations. If you map out your 30-, 60-, and 90-day goals with your boss, the onboarding transition will hopefully be more manageable.

About the Author

Mira Wooten is the Director of Recruiting at the 280 Group, a Product Management and Product Marketing company that provides consulting, contractors, training, certification, books and templates, and contingent recruiting services. Mira has over 10 years working with clients to identify the perfect team fit for their needs. She is also the owner of Clarity Coaching Works, a professional coaching company. Follow Mira at @mirawooten.

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