How to Kickstart Your New Product Management Job

The foundations you must build to start adding value

man balancing on a rock on one leg
man balancing on a rock on one leg
Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

When I landed my first Product Management job, I was happy, ecstatic, and proud. But I was also nervous — because I had never really done the job before.

In my previous company, I was a software developer and we never had a Product Manager on the team. (This was before Product Management became cool) .

After my Software developer gig and now fresh off the MBA press, I wanted to get into Product Management. The hiring manager took a chance on me & my experience building products — and gave me my first break into Product Management. Thats how I landed my first PM job.

For the next few months, I read up a lot of material online about “How to become a great Product Manager”. And while there is a lot of content about what a PM generally does, I didn’t find any material on how to start your very first PM job.

What to learn, what questions to ask? How to hit the ground running? How to add value immediately?

Today, I run Product Management for a large industrial business. And over the years building products, I have realized that in your first few weeks of a new Product Management job, you must stop thinking about adding value immediately.

Instead for the first few weeks, you must immerse yourself in learning and asking questions. Uncover truths that no body tells you about. Create a strong foundation for yourself where you can stand and deliver.

When starting a new Product Management job, You need to start with the most basic questions — the first principles of the business that has hired you.

Start with the product you’ll manage, learn about its customers, how it makes/will make money, the team that builds, markets, and sells it.

Answers to these questions are the only thing that will help you understand what you’ve signed up to, but most importantly help you figure out where and how to create long term value.

In this post, I want to share with you how to kickstart your new Product Management job the right way. Actually, this is not just for Product Managers, this serves as a good guide for almost anybody that is starting a new job. But for Product Managers, these learnings will be absolutely pivotal for success.

Alright here goes.

Learn about your Product

  • Vision/Mission: What’s the vision of the product? The company? what is the Mission? What do you want to be known as? What’s the legacy you want to build and ultimately leave behind?
  • Core value proposition: What is the number 1 reason customers buy our product?
  • Competitors: Who are the Competitors? Which ones are the ones that are really good? What’s their competitive advantage? What is their business model? How does your product stack up against theirs? Market Shares?
  • How does it work: How does the product work? (Get a demo asap). If possible, become an objective user of your own product.
  • What are the defined OKRs/Success Metrics / KPIs: What does success look like? If there are many KPIs across the org, which ones are the most important/ relevant to your job?
  • How /Where is it built? (esp. for hardware): How is the product built? Who builds it? What are the key quality controls? What’s the software stack? There are many non-technical PMs that shy away from these details. Don’t do it — instead, embrace the new knowledge.
  • How it is delivered to customers: Once built/ manufactured, How is the product delivered to customers? what does the total value chain look like?

Learn about your Customers

  • Who buys your product?: Learn about your customers and understand user personas and Customer Segments.
  • Know the numbers: How many customers/users do you have? How many MAUs, DAUs? What is the Revenue per customer, Profit per customer?
  • Customer Feedback: What are customers saying about the product? What’s are some of the positive & negative feedback that you receive consistently?

Learn about the team and Org Structure

Every organization while structured in a certain way at a given point in time, is always ins a state of flux. With new and evolving products and business models, org structures also change. Understanding where your team fits in the larger org puzzle will be critical to getting things done. This, in my opinion, is one of the most important things that new hires must do.

  • Learn about your team: How many people directly support the product? Who are the people you’d be directly working with? Where does it fit into the overall Org structure?
  • Who are the “Shared resources?: These are the teams & people that will help you move work forward in the messy middle. I am talking Finance, Operations, Customer Support, and sometimes Sales teams as well.
  • How is performance evaluated? Many new hires are too focused on impressing their supervisor and want to jump right in. And while that’s okay — it’ll help you tremendously to understand and align performance expectations with your supervisor. don’t keep this conversation for the performance evaluation cycle.
  • How is performance tied to OKRs? And while you are at it, learn about how your performance metrics are aligned to the overall team OKRs or objectives.
  • How we work/ Team Charter: Get to know the team, the tools that the team prefers to work, collaborate, and communicate with. Read the team charter and get up to speed on the policies and procedures. Break bread together if you can.

Learn about Sales & Marketing

  • What’s the product distribution strategy? Learn about the distribution strategy of the product. How is the channel structured & why? Who are the key channel partners?
  • Top channels that bring the most customers? What are the different channels that we have? For multi Channel businesses — who are the top channels that bring us the most profitable customers?
  • Lead acquisition Strategy: How do we drive awareness of our product? What is our lead acquisition & nurturing strategy?
  • Conversion rates & Sales cycle? How many leads ultimately convert into customers? how long does it take?
  • CAC: What is the cost of customer acquisition? How far off are you from where you need to be?
  • Is it a dedicated Sales team ? or shared?: This is extremely important for you as a PM since you’ll spend a lot of time talking to Sales. Ideally, a dedicated sales team for “a new to the world” product is what you want. For Salespeople selling multiple products, there is always a tendency to keep selling products that are established and proven in the marketplace rather than new products. Be ready to navigate that dynamic.

Learn about the Financials

A lot of your time as a product manager will be spent in creating business cases, evaluating the financial viability of an idea, and getting your ideas funded. Here are a few things you must know and be able to present for products that you will manage. If you are new to a team or have just been hired to manage products — knowing the financials on your products is imperative

  • Revenue & COGS: What’s the total revenue that the products you manage bring in? What is the COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) as a percentage of Sales?
  • Dive Deeper into your COGS & SGA: As you take the reins as Product Manager, take some time to dive deeper into the total cost structure of your product. Understand the fixed, variable, and Selling costs. Understand What are the largest cost heads? Are the unit economics profitable? If not, what’s the roadmap to be profitable?
  • What’s the most financial KPIs of the business? I really recommend you zoom out of your product role, and get to know about the overall business. most importantly, what financial indicators does the CFO care about? How can you contribute to moving those indicators favorably?

For every question, ask — “Why?”

When you start getting answers to these questions, try to not take answers at face value. Instead, get to the bottom of the answers — and ask a lot of Whys.

For instance, Why was a 2 step distribution model was chosen instead of direct to customer? Why a certain financial KPI was chosen over another seemingly more relevant one?

This will give you a solid understanding of the underlying assumptions behind the business choices made and will give you food for thought to question some of those assumptions as you ramp up into your role! I cannot emphasize how powerful this strategy of kickstarting your new job can be.

Ultimately, Companies are complex entities, each one unique in its own way. Each company has its own structures, functions, cultures, power centers, and idiosyncrasies. So generic advice on Product Management greatness won’t help you when you start a new role.

Instead, start with the first principles of business, and learn from the ground up — and you’ll have a much solid footing. Good luck!

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