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Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe.

What a Product Manager should focus on in the first 90 days

Arriving at a company as a new (or sometimes, the first) Product Manager can be daunting. Product Management is usually introduced in an organization once there is a such a high level of internal enthusiasm and chaos that the leaders aren’t sure how to handle it any more. And then everyone looks to the Product Manager — you — to “manage stuff”.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by how much there is to do when you step into a stressful role like Product Management. So here are some recommendations on how to spend your first 3 months at a new company.

First 30 days: Understand the product, the market, and the company culture

The goal of the Product Manager is “to deliver measurable business results through product solutions that meet both market needs and company goals”. With that in mind, spend the first 30 days learning and understanding:

  • The product. What does the company sell? What does the product do? How does it work? What is the value proposition? What problems does it solve for customers? What features does it have? What kind of bugs does it have? What are the main usability issues?
  • The market. Who currently uses the product? What are they like? What are their characteristics? What do they like and not like about the product? Who is the target market? Are there personas for each different type of person in the target market? What are macro and micro market needs addressed by the product? Who are the competitors?
  • The current product/market fit. Are you in a good market with a product that can satisfy the market? What are the gaps that you need to close between what the product does, and what the market needs, to ensure a better fit?
  • The company culture. Talk to as many people as possible in the organization — from marketing to finance to design to engineering — to understand how things work. What do people like about the product development process? What do they hate? Do designers feel like they have enough time to do their work? Do developers have what they need to program effectively?
  • Ensure the PM role is properly understood. For a Product Manager to be effective, the organization needs to understand that PMs should have autonomy over the products they manage. Executive buy-in is a prerequisite for success, so make sure that it’s well understood that even though everyone gets a voice, not everyone gets to decide. As Seth Godin once said, “Nothing is what happens when everyone has to agree.”

Next 30 days: Develop a strategic product plan

Based on what you learn in the first 30 days, start the product planning phase:

  • Run a Product Discovery workshop to start identifying user needs, business needs, and technical needs, and to create a problem frame diagram.
  • Develop personas and user journeys, and start brainstorming ideas for product development with the team.
  • Work with the team to prioritise ideas and start building a roadmap for development. Consider methods like the KJ-technique or the Kano model as a way to formalize prioritization efforts.
  • Identify success measures — define how you’ll know if what you’re doing is having the desired impact. The 3 A’s (Acquisition, Activation, Activity) are always a good start.
  • Put the appropriate processes in place to ensure effective product development lifecycles. This means knowing what kind of requirements and specifications developers need to start working, how research and design fits into the process, where marketing becomes involved, how QA should work, etc. You can only do this once you understand the current culture, and what the strategic plan will be going forward.

All of the above goes into a document called the strategic product plan. Among other things, this plan includes statements about the product’s value proposition, who the market is (customer profiles), how you plan to achieve product/market fit (the business opportunity, pricing, distribution), what the priorities are, a first stab at the roadmap, and proposed success measures.

Next 30 days: Start executing on the strategic product plan

Now that the plan and the initial roadmap are in place, start the product execution phase:

  • Start with a reasonably small requirement with clear and easily measurable success metrics. Work with the team to get it done right.
  • Measure, and show the success of the process. Use this to build trust and continue to ship improvements (and even better products).
  • Assess the situation, and use customer and business feedback to adjust priorities (and the roadmap) as needed. Flexibility is key.
  • Keep going. Repeat any of the initial steps as needed.
  • Have fun while you’re doing all of this.

The life of a Product Manager has an exhausting, exhilarating rhythm that is beyond the scope of this article. But spending your first 3 months systematically moving from product planning to product execution will not only give you a solid foundation from which to improve the product, but also ensure that you hit the ground running by shipping the right improvements as early as possible.

I posted an earlier version of this article as an answer on Quora.