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The First 90 Days as a Product Manager

Creating a First 90 Days Plan for Product Managers

As the Product Manager’s Survival Guide (2nd edition) is readied for launch, I thought I’d share a few tidbits that went into the research for the book.  One of the areas I was curious about had to do with what product managers experienced during their first 90 days on the job.  After collecting responses from hundreds of product managers, the results seemed to have revealed a few insights. While there were many areas studied, the graph shows the top five that I thought were important to consider:

Product Manager First 90 Days Survey
  1. Product managers, by and large, are expected to hit the ground running. There seems to be little patience for long on-boarding periods.  A product’s business isn’t going to wait for a new person to get up to speed.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to have an attack plan for learning the product’s business. Exploring your internal cross-functional network will help you gain the inside-out perspective.  Talking with customers, visiting, observing, and understanding how they use the product will gain you more traction.
  2. While the job may sound exciting to many, product managers indicate that they were often doing the jobs of other people.  Not surprising given issues with role clarity in many organizations. However, as newer product managers wrap their minds around their jobs, they need to understand who is responsible for what, what cadences are followed, the complexity of projects currently underway, etc.   Just because the RACI chart was done doesn’t mean that people follow it.  Sometimes there are people in other functions who have other responsibilities, or often, they aren’t skilled to do that work.  Your job is to uncover why and find a way to make sure you don’t get stuck doing clean-up for everyone else.
  3.  As most business people know, data is the fuel that helps to run a business. Whether it’s financial or other performance measures.  There are two findings that we uncovered. One is that too many product managers don’t have granular-enough financial data on their products. The other is that many product managers don’t have a full P&L – often because financial systems aren’t tuned, or that their product is part of another system or solution. The main idea is to figure out the appropriate data and performance measures that can be used to make plans, assess progress, evaluate variations, and to take corrective action.
  4. Interestingly, 37% of product managers indicated that their bosses weren’t available enough to help them.  They were provided with goals or things to do, without an ability to fully check-in. Interestingly, in another research study we did, we had actually asked managers of product managers how much time they spent each week with their direct reports.  About 30% of those bosses spent less than 15 minutes per week, and about another third spent less than 30 minutes.  In the Product Managers Survival Guide (2e), it’s suggested that product managers proactively check in with their bosses, and make time on their schedule to ask for guidance and provide updates.
  5. Many product managers feel that they don’t have access to, or a complete understanding of the processes, tools, templates, or guidelines to help them. Sometimes new product managers are provided with a template and asked to fill it out without the proper data or research.  Such actions will often give way to suboptimal decisions.  Your job is to interpret what has to be done, and figure out what tools are needed, much the way a trades-person does.

Whether you’re a new product manager or new to a company or a new role in a company, or even if you want to take a breather and see what’s up, it’s important to have a proactive strategy to do your job. It’s easy to get pulled into the vortex of goings-on across the organization, so the more you can do to keep focused on your role, goals, and responsibilities, and that you’re connected to your manager, the better your chance of achieving success, and in working toward your next promotion.

You can learn more about how to succeed as a product manager by ordering the book The Product Manager’s Survival Guide (2e).

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