The First 90 Days
In your new Product Manager Job
After months of applications, interviews, and leveraging your network, you were finally able to snag the Product Management job of your dreams - but now what?
Imposter syndrome sets in and low-grade anxiety piles on, hoping that you won’t embarrass yourself. You start questioning your fit for Product altogether and the negative self-talk ensues.
Whether it’s your first product manager role ever or just your next PM job, the nervousness, despite feeling very real, is surmountable. After nearly a decade in Product in five different companies, and four years as a Product Management Coach, I’ve helped several clients face the fear and start the next role like a boss. Here are a few tips and a myriad of questions to ask within your organization to start your next 90 days as a product manager with clarity and confidence.
So often, we believe that we need to walk into the new role with all of the answers when we really need questions. Think about how you can be a fact-finder. So much of your job as a PM is rooted in your ability to make decisions (eventually) and how can you make the big decisions without the data and context? That’s a huge aspect of your first 90 days: gain context and find the facts.
What is your product? Why does it need to exist? Why do your users love it? What problem does it solve and what problem hasn’t it solved yet? What are its limitations? What’s the vision for your product - and by that, I mean, what’s the future world that you and the organization hope to create?
Understand Your Roadmap
You’ll want to understand the dynamics of your product roadmap within your first week or two. Your roadmap should be a visual representation of the future direction of your product and intimately connected to the product vision.
Where is your product roadmap located? Who directly and indirectly influences it? How often is it updated? Who updates it? What specific details are included on the roadmap?
Define Success Early
What’s worse than playing a new game and not understanding the rules of play upfront? While Product is far from a game, the sentiment is similar. It’s like playing UNO, ready to scream, “Draw 16!” but house rules don’t allow for stacking. Learn how the company and your specific team define success?
Are there OKRs (i.e. objectives and key results) that your team uses? If so, how often are they evaluated? Are they achievable? What factors and triggers impact the OKRs? Is success defined by achieving 100% of the key results or are your OKRs intentionally ambitious such that 70% or 80% of completion is considered good? What other metrics are relevant for the team? Aim to understand the financials of your product and what influences them ASAP.
Meet Your Stakeholders
You’ll speak with more people in this role than you ever have before so make sure you take the time to figure out who your internal and external stakeholders are, what they need from you, and ultimately, what you need from them. Gaining clarity here, and even writing it down, will be something you’ll thank yourself for doing. Determine your communication cadence with key stakeholders. Starting with your direct manager, for instance; how often will you connect with them and what’s the expectation and content of those conversations?
Get to Know Your Backlog
Job descriptions make backlog grooming seem like such a difficult task. Much like your roadmap, you will want to make sense of your backlog by asking stakeholders about it. What items on the backlog impact their teams? What’s the level of effort required to deliver on individual backlog items?
Hopefully, you have a solid starting point to enter your new PM job based on asking the right questions so that you can learn how to be effective in your new role. Don’t bank on being a five-star decision-maker and contributor on day one. There’s a ramp-up and onboarding process for a reason. Your key role is to be a learner first.
Blair is a full time Product Management Career Coach specializing in helping professionals land new and first-time Product roles. She has spent her career in a range of industries from medical device, industrial architecture, and startups - with nearly ten years of direct Product Management experience.
Aside from her experience as a practitioner, she is also a Product Management Educator and a Distinguished Faculty Member with General Assembly where she has taught 1K+ students. Blair has coached at the Enterprise level partnering with organizations such as Walmart, McKinsey & Co., and Johnson Controls to help them achieve Product Management excellence.
Blair holds an MBA from New York Institute of Technology, and a BS in Marketing from Hampton University. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in Organizational Innovation and Design. She is also a Certified Product Manager.
When Blair isn’t coaching new and aspiring Product Managers, she’s hosting the productmanagHER podcast, sharing the stories of women in Product Management.