Setting Yourself Up For Greatness: 5 Tips for Navigating Your New PM Position

So you landed the product manager position of your dreams: you love the product, you’re getting paid what you’re worth, the work environment is great, and the work is challenging. Now you actually have to be a productive member of the team; that is after all, what they’re paying you for right? With this responsibility come a number of feelings: excitement, impatience, pride, and even anxiety. In many ways, the product manager position parallels a point guard in basketball. While you may not be the most talented player on the team, you are probably the most crucial. In one of the most important roles in many companies, you would rather be a Chris Paul than a Sebastian Telfair, so the pressure you feel is largely valid.

How does one address these pressures? Well, to put it bluntly, it helps to be a great PM for your product. Here are five tips to get grounded in your new PM job and kickstart your career.

Focus on understanding your organization on a deeper level.

Print out your organizational chart with names and positions and take notes. During meetings and other interactions, observe how team members interact with each other. Does your manager always agree with Brian’s insight? Does Kristy prefer to have her inputs given to her in a certain way? Where did Lee grow up? Beneath your team’s official org chart lies its informal organization. If you work with these people, it’s in your best interest to know these things.

You may ask why this is so important to a PM, especially so early in the job since there’s so many other things to learn. Look no further than Rajon Rondo’s situation in Boston for an example of a failure in informal relationships. Keep in mind the nature of the product manager role: you are the ultimate facilitator. Soft skills matter. You interact with your engineering team, marketing, sales, customer support, and management on a daily basis. You need them to be successful. You’re not their manager, but you need them to do work for you. How much easier would the job be if you knew exactly how to get the results you want from your team members?

Talk to customers to discover what they actually find valuable.

Put simply, there’s no faster way to learn what solution customers really need than to get in their grills and interview them. You can read all the documentation and reviews you want, but needs and desires don’t really stick unless you start putting a face behind a statement. This is your version of in-game experience — there’s only so much you can learn from practice. The product manager position requires an intense curiosity in everything concerning your customers. There is an art to doing customer interviews, but we will talk about that in later posts.

Keep communication with sales and marketing to check the customer pulse.

This is critical if your product is B2B, still important if it is B2C. Sales is on the front lines every day with your customer. They let you know what’s compelling to your potential customers. What they love. What they hate. Marketing knows how you reach and appeal to your intended users. There’s much to absorb in this area. You will quickly find out, much like NBA newcomers, that there is a heavy marketing component to your job in addition to the technical piece. You’re naturally going to be hanging out with your engineers as a result of your job function. Go stroll to the other side of the office and give other teams some attention.

The right questions point you in the right directions.

Ask questions to increase your productivity.

You’re in a new environment with new processes and people. How do you get up to speed as fast as possible? Ask your coworkers! Now is not the time to be shy; you’ll get a pass for being clueless for your first 6 months. You should be asking how things work and more importantly, why they work. Asking why uncovers inconsistencies and inefficiencies in existing behaviors.

This point is crucial for any of you who have ever been stuck on something at the job. Do you think you’re better off powering through it or asking for help? There’s probably a Sam Cassell on your team who will be glad to guide you through the first few weeks. At the end of the day, your manager and more importantly, your customers do not care whether you came up with your groundbreaking product on your own or with the support of the team. They just care whether it’s great. Be great together (and don’t forget to give credit where credit is due).

Set incremental goals and check them weekly.

I know what you’re thinking…duh! But this is so critical in your first few weeks on the job. Have you ever felt like you were ridiculously busy but lacked the results to show for it? This is where goal setting comes in. I like to think of goal setting in the same light as a shooting drill: make a set number of shots at a spot and then take a step out further. Over time the effort in practice will be rewarded when the game comes around. Likewise, you will notice your weekly goals add up to something you can be pleased with. Keep in mind that your goals do not have to be earth shattering; at this point, you are still learning about your customer, team, and workplace culture.

But what about the technical stuff?

As said before, you are probably going to spend a good bit of time with your engineers already. While I’m a big proponent of technically proficient PMs, I do believe that the relationship management aspect of the job is the more important piece of the puzzle.

The first few days of any job can prove to be daunting. Being a product manager only magnifies this kind of pressure. Just remember that you got this job for a reason. Your organization believes that you have the ability to bring home a trophy. Use those communication skills to make your life easier. Your customers and team are depending on you.

Have any other tips? Feel free to comment below.