Your first 100 days as a Product Manager

The job of a Product Manager (or Product Owner, or Project Manager, or Business Analyst in some organizations, the list goes on…) is like a rollercoaster ride. Incredibly fun, but has it’s ups and downs. Like the beginning of a rollercoaster ride, when starting out as a new PM in an organization you need to drag yourself to the top of the rollercoaster so the ride can begin. I’ve recently been asked, okay, but how do I do this? Well, while I never done this in such an organized manner, here are my two cents.

Where you want to get

Generally what you’d like to grasp is what is the vision, how did it change over time, what drove decision making were in the past and how do they influence the present and future of the product. Where is the product today, what absolutely needs to happen next and what could happen next that drives the product.

Disclaimer: this article is written from a smallish B2B (SaaS-ish) scaleup perspective, with no Head of Product (or the CEO is the head of product) The organization follows agile methodology, if that makes any difference. In smaller companies these roles will probably be just hats that the same person wears. In larger organizations, the applicable roles are more on a department level.

How you’ll get there:

Talk to people, either formally or informally. Do it one by one at first but it is worthwhile to get them in the same room as well. Lack of alignment or differences in opinion on who the customer is or what job the product fulfills come out sometimes spectacularly in a group setting. What you also want to grasp is the relative positions of everyone in the food chain. Personal alliances, differences of opinion, strengths, weaknesses.

Leadership/Senior Management team

Listen for overall alignment or lack there of here. See who can be your allies in developing the product. Who is set in their ways? who holds sway within the group?

  • CEO — what is the vision, how did it change. Assess attitude towards tech debt. How’s the market and competitive landscape. How do they see success? How willing are they to delegate big product decisions.
  • CTO (or tech lead) who is responsible for architectural and stack decisions. Assess their attitude towards tech debt. Senior or more junior dev organization? DevOps processes?
  • Head of Sales — What is the sales and pricing strategy, who they think the buyer is and how they respond to the product. What is the sales team assessed on, awarded bonuses for. How are sales targets set? How do they see success for the company?
  • Head of Marketing — Who they think the buyer is and how they respond to the product. What messages and channels are they using. Check user acquisition costs.
  • Head of HR — what personnel choices have been made in the past and why, who is best at what? Can you get HR’s help for training or dispute resolution? What are the biggest challenges with hiring? How fast can the company scale if they need to? Is the org set up to scale?
  • CFO — how’s the profitability of the product, how did it change over time, what influenced it? (For startups, how’s the financial health of the company?)

Sales/Customer Success/Support team

  • Sales reps — recurring objections, what wows the buyers, frequency and nature of custom requests, how do the team deal with them. Competitors brought up, what features are like catnip for the buyer there.
  • Customer Success reps/Account managers— recurring pain points, unclear parts of the product,
  • Customer Service reps — bug communication process, recurring pain points. Check out their canned responses.

Customers

Talk to a couple of key customers if you can get your hands on them.

  • What problems (Job To Be Done) is the product solving for them?
  • Did they switch from something, why? Do they think the product is good value?
  • Check out in what environment are they using your product, in combination with what other products, etc.
  • How does the product make your customers successful?
  • Biggest pain points

Product team

Here you want to grasp what drives the team and how attuned they are to the customer.

  • Previous PM (if you can) — what choices have been made, why? Their biggest successes, pain points in the organization.
  • Scrum master of the team (if they have one 🤞) — what are recurring themes in retrospectives, how healthy are sprints. What drives the team? There is never time for what?
  • Dev team members — try to get what they understand from the product and the customer. How do they find the user stories and other feature documentation, what can be improved?
  • UX/UI — same question, what personas do they have (and/or JTBD), how aligned and up to date are these, how is it shared with the team?
  • Data science (if they have one 🤞) — same question
  • QA (you really hope they have one) — how’s the process, what is the quality of deliverables from the dev team?

What else to look at

Data, feedback and tools:

  • Data, data, data, all the data you can get your hands on
  • Qualitative customer feedback
  • CRM software (Sales pipeline)— type of leads/deals, why did they fizzle out, deal sizes, interest from different verticals?
  • Customer service tickets
  • Jira tickets, quality of stories, bug reports, velocity, etc.
  • Big picture roadmap, what items are prioritized, why? How is it reviewed?

Processes:

Some (most?) organizations don’t have these set in stone, you have to unearth them yourself.

  • Product development process — how does the team go from identifying and assessing a problem/opportunity to validating it, building, iterating, assessing success
  • How’s the design to development “handover” process
  • Periodical performance review and feedback process
  • Any crisis scenarios? How are customers handled when something goes horribly wrong?
  • Resource allocation process (if applicable, hopefully not and you have your own team)
  • Internal and external company communications (newsletters, blog posts, meetups organized by the company, etc.)

By doing all this in your first 100 days, you’ll get a good understanding of the past and present of the product, it’s customers and the team who makes it. The biggest pain points with the product, the organization and its processes. By assessing these you can prioritize your work and start making low effort positive changes. Don’t forget, your job as a Product Manager is to be the driving force behind the success of the product. And these are all just as important, if not more so than writing proper user stories and managing stakeholders.

Would you do things differently? Or do you have something to add? Leave a comment, let’s discuss.