Product Leader’s First Day: Block Your Calendar With These Important Meetings

Congrats! You landed a new job as a Product Leader (which is almost a completely different job than a Product Manager… but more on that in an upcoming post) and it’s your very first day. You already know it’s important to spend time with your new boss, team, peers and business partners. However, before even a week passes, you’ll most likely find yourself in back to back meetings, focused on the task at hand (Build a roadmap! Innovate! Execute!) But to set yourself apart as a visionary and highly regarded Product Leader make sure you block time for these very important, but often forgotten, meetings — they will be the key to your success.

Office Hours — It’s Not Just for TAs

When you send out your welcome and introduction email, make sure to include when and where you’ll hold regular office hours. Good Product Leaders know that great ideas don’t just come from the product managers on your team — they come from many different places in the company. Encourage people from any and every department to use this time to come see you and tell you what’s on their mind. I like to hold office hours in a casual, open and inviting setting (drinks & treats never hurt!) but I also keep a conference room reserved in case somebody wants to talk in private. If you work in a distributed workplace, don’t forget to hold virtual office hours too — use an open Video Conference line or Slack — whatever will encourage people to just hang out and talk to you. You’ll be amazed at the tremendous insights you can get from casual conversation; from product ideas to process improvements to assessing the general temperature of the office environment, this will always be time well spent.

Make a Best Friend in Customer Service

The folks in Customer Service are on the front lines when it comes to hearing what’s working (or more likely not working), and what’s on customers’ minds. If you have access to a stellar User Research team, that’s great! But don’t forget that you have teams of people talking to customers day in and day out and they can easily synthesize the top customer problems for you. My best first day at a job EVER was at eBay when I literally spent the day at our Customer Service center listening in on customer calls, as well as hearing directly from our Customer Service teammates.

Make a few direct connections and meet with them often. Don’t just listen to problems — keep the conversation flowing two ways! They will certainly give you a few easy wins for customer satisfaction, but they can also be a great sounding board for your roadmap features and design, so keep them updated on what you’re working on. They are also great participants in user testing; they can represent the POV of thousands of customers, maybe more. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have somebody in CS who can help special customers out of a jam.

And of course… make sure everyone in CS knows about your office hours.

Lunch: Refresh, Relax & Connect

As with any Leader, it’s so easy to give in to “lunch meetings”, especially since it’s often the last free hour that people have in common to meet. My advice is: Don’t Do This.

Instead, block out lunch time every day with some variation of 30, 45 and 60 minutes.

On your 30 minute days, keep lunch for yourself. Use the downtime to refresh and relax between your many, MANY meetings — catch up on the news, your industry, or even just Facebook and Twitter. Read a book! Zone out! But it’s important to have this “you” time to be a better leader (Google it — there are multiple studies out there that says breaks will actually increase your productivity in the long run.) If you want some company, invite a work friend but don’t talk shop.

On 45/60 minute lunch days (assuming these will realistically only happen once a week at best), use the lunch to meet with somebody you don’t get to see often, or somebody you don’t know at all. This could be somebody within the company, an external partner, or maybe even a vendor. Don’t make this about a particular project, but more as a networking opportunity to get to know somebody new or learn about a part of the company you don’t know very well. A former boss once told me that if you have lunch with one new person a week, by the end of the year you’ll have made 50 new connections — something that has always stuck with me, and helped me grow my network quickly within new companies and positions.

Thinking Time (Remember your brain? She misses you)

Finally, block a few hours each week to actively think about your customers, and how your product can actually solve problems for them. Too many times we get involved in the day to day and leave no time to take a step back and think if we are truly serving our customers in the best way possible. This is time you can use to read up on research, try out some new competitors, experiment with cutting edge technology…. or whatever will get you away from your current projects and thinking about the future. If you don’t block this time for yourself now, you’ll find that you never get around to it.

How about you? What are the unexpected meetings and blocked time that make you a better Product Leader? Let me know in the comments!