Joining a new product team is like starting at a football club. You're eager to play, but you don't know their tactics or strategy. You have to train with the team to learn how they play before you can help them score goals.
The same is true for starting a new job. But often with a new job, we aren't given the same 'training' time. We are thrown in at the deep end. It's essential to understand how the team works, what they're working on and why - so you can focus your energy where it matters. Like in a football team, it takes time for new players to gel together.
With product jobs, whether you're starting as a product manager, designer or developer - there's a tremendous amount of knowledge you need to get up to speed with before you can be useful.
We all have our own ways of gaining this knowledge. Sometimes the organisation you join will put you through an induction process. Other times, you'll be left to sink or swim.
So what is the most effective way to start a new product management job? What does a product manager do on their first day?
Ross Ferguson, Digital Services at Gov UK created an excellent induction task-list for new product managers joining the GDS team, later iterated and improved by Product Manager and colleague Steve Messer.
It's excellent because the tasks it sets you on are crucial for understanding the product, the team and their mission.
The task list is broken down into three categories:
Learn the product
- What the product is
- Who its for
How the product works
Meet the team
- What the team's make up is
- Who the team work for / with
How the team work
Learn the mission
- What's the business case?
- What's the principles and objectives of the team?
- What do the users need?
The Product Manager task list for the first 30 days:
- Review the user journey for your product or service
- Walk through the deployment process
- Find out which prioritisation methods the team have been using for the backlog and roadmap
- Discuss the team's charter or principles with the team
- Read the business case for your product or service
- Look through the user support process and recent tickets
- Arrange to observe the next user research session booked for your product or service
- Meet users of your product and service
- Meet with your stakeholders
- Deliver something with the team
The Product Manager task list for the first 7 days:
- Discuss the vision with your team
- Discuss the user needs with the team
- Do a product tour with your team
- Walk through the roadmap and objectives
- Walk through the backlog
- Review product performance data
- Review the product's technical architecture
- Arrange a 1:1 with everyone in the delivery team
Arrange a 1:1 with other team leads
What's great about this to-do list is that you don't need to start a new role to do them. It can be useful to take a step back from the day-to-day and run through the list as if you were brand new.
I'd argue that a product lead should be doing these tasks on a semi-regular basis. For instance, meeting the users of your product or service isn't a one-time event, it is ongoing. Similarly, reviewing the business case, or reminding yourself of the team principles is a valuable exercise to ensure you're still on the right path.
Your first 30 days joining a new team or organisation as a product manager are really exciting, and there’s an easy way to set yourself up for success. @rossferg created a Trello board of things to do and I iterated it recently. https://t.co/T0LjNegXCZ— Steve (@stevenjmesser) September 7, 2020