PM, Don’t Waste Your First Week

Go chat with your users

Note: This is a slightly edited re-post of an article I wrote for Atlassian.

Here is my new favorite interview question for product managers: “How would you spend your first week on the job here?

Before we go on…Think for a moment. How would you answer that in an interview?

Here are some of the answers I’ve gotten:

“Hunker down and study the platform and architecture.”
“Probably call a few meetings with the team and figure out who my stakeholders are.”
“Build relationships with the developers and designers. Take them to lunch. Buy them a few beers.”
“Dig through the data. Start looking at what analytics are in place.”
“Talk to your best customers and ask them about what they like about the product.”

Some great answers! But at the risk of giving every future interviewee the answer we’re really looking for, any product manager’s first week should include directly engaging and talking with users. In fact, it’s part of our on-boarding process for new product managers.

Why? You’ve got a team of problem-solving engineers and designers and they’re looking to you to prioritize the right problems. How can your team be confident in your decision making if you’re more comfortable talking about the tech stack than engaging with your users?

Your job as a PM is to find the right problems — then work with your team to solve them.

If you don’t have time to talk to your users (especially in your first week!), you may not be the right person to be prioritizing problems for your team. In fact, if you’re a product manager and you haven’t talked to a user in a while, you may want to rethink your job title.

Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely carve out time to go over data and analytics. You’ll want to know the numbers by heart. But, in case it’s been a while since you’ve talked to an actual user, here’s a gentle reminder: users aren’t just numbers.

Data help by reporting on the number of users who clicked on a button. Usability testing may reveal that users actually had trouble finding that button. And a quick, informal chat with a user can show you that they’d rather have a 1–800 number instead of a button! You never know what you’ll find out during an open-ended chat with a user.

Yes, definitely get familiar with the technology during your first week. Start to develop relationships with the team. But your job is to find the right problems to solve based on insight you’ve gathered from quantitative and qualitative data — and that includes chatting with users.

And for the PM who is joining a company with plenty of resources to do formal user research: watching interviews behind a one-way mirror is super cool. You can learn a ton from those studies (and from the interviewer’s techniques). But watching an interview from behind a one-way mirror is not a replacement for a face-to-face chat with someone using your product.

So if you’re joining a new company, don’t waste your first week! Go ahead and reach out to a few of your users.

Even the ones who were unhappy and left. Actually, especially them. Not only will you end up learning a few things about the product and user base, but you may just be the touch point that user needs to stick with your product. Think of it as an investment in user retention!

Remember: you only get one chance to have a fresh perspective on your product. Use it wisely and get into your users’ heads. Find patterns. Form relationships.

Good luck with your first week on the job!