So you just landed your first product management gig. Nice.
Ah, congratulations young Jedi. Taking on the reigns of product is an intense place to be: intensely rewarding, intensely busy, at the center of the intensity. And as you’ll find as your career evolves, a PM is at the center of everything…360 degree optics to every touch-point within, and external to, your org. It’s the ‘only’ place to be and you’ll see its amazing training for eventually leading from the front. Good luck.
There are a number of prototypical pieces of advice or guidance that are ‘standard issue’ for a new PM. Listening is key, studying the competition is wise and living with customers in the first 90 days (even nascent users who could be your first paying customers) is absolutely critical. But below are my guiding pillars for any new PM I’ve hired to take on, and to take seriously.
1) Data — Usage data, marketing data, defect data, platform performance data, etc. Get data, review data, track data over time, ask for help in accessing data. Just get it and turn these data points into useful information to ensure you are measuring twice and cutting once on how you’re expending your resources (engineering and marketing) to push deeper into the ‘right’ market.
2) Keep engineering honest — Very often a young PM will enter the ‘machinery’ of a pre-existing engineering/product team. Could be a start up with 2 engineers…or a Fortune 500 with 1000's. And very often they are bullied and or manipulated into thinking ‘what’ the product should be by passionate engineers who really do not want to see their hard work hosed by a PM who’ll drive it in the wrong direction. Remember, PMs are defining the ‘what’ (and the ‘why’!) and your engineering team will work with you on the ‘how’…how to get it done on time with excellence. You need to come with data and reasoning to the engineering team so recurse back to No. 1 above and review.
3) Communicate well…and often — The product is ‘yours’. You are the driver. So talk about it often. Develop a predictable and understood cadence of communication. Road maps (so your customers and internal team know what’s forthcoming), blog posts so you can describe in detail what’s been delivered and why, sales team debriefs on competition and the product…to get them absolutely amped on how they will win in the trenches and love selling your product.
4) Solve pains — this is so often over looked. Your goal as a PM is to create product that can ‘pull’ the market to you due to demonstrable pains you’re solving or creating obvious efficiencies that the customer simply can’t live with out. This is the opposite of the ‘push’ mentality…you’ve created the ‘hammer’ and are pushing into the market with your marketing resources, etc to find nails to hammer. Pull versus push. Remember that.
5) Be responsible — If the product is suffering — it’s on you. You may have sales folks asleep at the wheel or marketing teams not doing their job messaging. Doesn’t matter. It’s on you. Go rattle cages and learn why performance is down. Fix it. Use the velvet hammer (not the steel one) to re-enforce with other parts of the org why your product needs them and offer to help dig in and fix issues…messaging, customer communications, bugs,…whatever. It’s on you.
Best of luck. Go crush it.