When it comes to understanding what it takes for a Product Manager to be successful, Ken Norton knows what he’s talking about. At Yahoo, he was a senior Product Management Director overseeing all sorts of vital products. Later, Ken made the trip to Google by way of an acquisition, and ultimately ended up serving as product lead for many of the most critical apps that you’ve probably come to rely on. Ever pull up Google Maps on your iPhone? Schedule a calendar invite? Save something to Google Docs? Ken was responsible for all of those products, and much more.
Aside from leading Product at world class firms, Ken has also written some of the best product-focused pieces out there. In this post, Ken outlines 12 essential activities that any new Product Manager should take part in within the first 30 days on the job. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth heading over to that post right now to take it all in.
While Ken’s essay most certainly covers a lot of ground, I’d like to take the liberty of adding four more important actions a new Product Manager should take in month #1. My resume doesn’t necessarily stack up next to Ken’s. However, I have joined two product teams in the past two years as Product Manager. I actually wish I had read Ken’s post ahead of both roles, as following his 12 actions would have no-doubt helped. Yet, the following four actions did help me as I navigated my new product roles, and I believe they’re worth adding to the list:
1. Get a clear understanding of the company’s overall strategy.
If you’re responsible for product strategy, then it’s critical to understand where the company is headed. In some places, this might seem obvious — but don’t be quick to make assumptions. For instance, if the company is targeting to be acquired, is preparing for an IPO, or is simply doing everything it can to grow — its product initiatives could vary dramatically.
Of course, it’s important to hear the overall company strategy directly from the CEO, however it’s important to not stop there. Talk to the Head of Sales. The Head of Marketing. Individual Engineers. In fact, ask every person you meet with 1:1 during that first month to elaborate on their understanding of the company’s strategy. This will allow you to see how strong and consistent the strategic vision has permeated throughout the company, as well as where some gaps may exist.
2. Infiltrate your company’s customer advisory group.
This, of course, assumes that your company has one. But even if it doesn’t, every company typically has a handful of “power customers” that were either early adopters or have otherwise become instrumental voices representing the entire customer base. Ken’s post does discuss getting in front of users, but this is more than that. This is getting 1:1 time with a key customer in order to ask some candid questions.
What does the customer wish would change in regards to their role within the product development process? What simply hasn’t worked well in the past? Why? It’s not to say that you should make every wish this customer makes true, but it will give you important perspective within your company’s previous take on product development that you may not have otherwise had.
3. Understand your key personas completely.
You will ultimately be leading product development and delivery — but for whom? You could come guns blazing with ideas on what to do to make changes to the current product set, but are you even your product’s ideal user?
Sit down with your product and marketing teams and ask questions about key users. You may be surprised to find out that there has already been significant work done to identify key users. You may already have full personas developed, complete with very specific demographic data about your user base. Surround your workspace with pictures and briefs about these users. If you learn that there isn’t anything like this developed, you’ve at least identified an important gap to fill.
4. Play the role of QA every day.
Even though you may not be your product’s ideal user (or heck, maybe you are!), it’s still important that you can empathize with the customer. The best way to do that is to tear the product to shreds. Whether or not it’s a new product or feature launch, practicing the activities that your QA associate goes through will help you learn the current product inside and out. It will also help you understand how your company is currently solving problems for your customers and users. In some cases, you might end up quickly understanding where your product is falling short. In other cases, you might realize that a preconceived notion you had about a change to make might not make as much sense as you thought.
The truth is, there are probably dozens of things you can do as a new Product Manager that will set you up well moving forward. Ken Norton sure gave us a great start — and I’m hopeful that you’ll find these few additions to be useful. If you have ideas for more actions a new Product Manager should make in their first 30 days, comment below.