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Starting a new product manager role

The Product Manager' job duties cover identifying customer needs and growth opportunities, having awareness of market direction and competition, growing the market share, providing management updates, working closely with sales and front line teams to bring new products to market, service customer requests, formulate the product pricing, have an oversight on the operations and fulfillment process and have a strong technical understanding of the product.

Starting a new role is exciting and while everyone has their own way to get themselves soaked into their new job we outline here an approach for consideration. These tasks will get you up to speed fairly quickly and will help you zero in on some areas which you should focus on to meet the expectations of the role.

Get to know the product

  1. When coming into a new role its crucial to understand the previously established vision for the product and then to outline your own. Sometime you may not be able to change the vision very early into the role. It makes sense to validate if the existing product vision is still valid. The product manager can initiate a discovery exercise with the stake holders to establish what is working well and what needs to be fine tuned. The discovery exercise is a great time to reconnect on the product vision and ask the brave question if the product is delivering on its goals and its vision.

  2. Look through the product backlog and start curating it with inputs from other team members to gauge whats important for the immediate sprint, while you may take a bit more time to formulate your own view. You should also get a view of how many sprints are likely to be planned and funded for the financial year. This will be a factor in identifying what must be done during the course of the year.

  3. Get familiar with the products user journeys, If something does not look right to you and if your don't like what you see then you should call it out. You should start to know your business and how customers will logically navigate through the journey based on their jobs to be done. In the end implement the user journey which makes the most practical sense and will drive adoption. Test out the UX with a control group and work with the UX design team to try different user journeys.

Get acquainted with the use cases of the product

  1. Know what problems are being solved , its very easy to get swayed by building bells and whistles which no one is going to use. Every requirement, user story or enhancement request should ideally be part of a larger epic which is aimed at bringing a certain value to the user. The latest and greatest of technologies are not always required to solve customer problems. Investigate further as to why some new technologies are being used if there is no use case for it. If there are backlog items which have no details then consider dropping them.

  2. Know what your product can and cannot do. Products are not meant to be everything to everyone, There will always be things that the product cant do, and you should find out about this as you will at some point be asked why the product doesn't have a specific feature. The product manager should be clear on what the product cannot do and address the conversation with an approach of finding out why the feature is required, and indicate if this will be available (if at all), or propose an alternative approach to achieve what the missing feature would have delivered.

Communications about the product

  1. Start owning the narrative of your product as you get deeper into the role. A product manager owns the narrative of the product and should believe in the narrative. Its important to closely understand how the product is being used, what the value is. If your happy with the existing narrative and if the rest of the organization has embraced it you may want to take a pause on changing the narrative until you have good reason to.

  2. Drive the visibility of the product through the organization with regular communication, this will introduce you to stakeholders and will keep the products achievements top of mind. There are various metrics which could be communicated apart from revenue and profitability. Some of the popular metrics are platform use, platform user adoption, user / customer satisfaction metrics, platform - ecosystem metrics, investment and return metrics versus the business plan.

  3. Make your self accessible through regular training sessions. Train the front line! its a common assumption that the customer facing teams know a lot about your products and are able to engage clients effectively. There is no harm in arranging regular masterclasses on your products, its a effective way to also get feedback from the front line on the issues that they are facing.

Protect the product

  1. Be compliant to laws, regulations as they change all the time and if you are in highly regulated industry its worthwhile to review the product in light of the latest regulations and industry best practices. If there are gaps the next thing to do is to put an immediate plan in place to ensure compliance.

  2. Protect your company through a review of the various terms and conditions and legal documents. In the last few years Data Privacy has been at the forefront. Companies have refreshed their legal documents accordingly and so make a check on what customer and personal data you are storing and what are the implication from a Data Privacy perspective.

  3. Review the existing vendor contracts that are in place and get access to the service level records of your vendors and the pricing schedules. Introduce your self to the vendors and start engaging with them. Find out whats on their product roadmap and get a sense from them on how the relationship is with your company. Keep a note of when vendor contracts are expiring and start planning.

The dollars and cents of the product

  1. Know how much your spending every year to keep the platform up and running and investments for new features. Drive down costs of delivery by challenging vendors and engineering regularly. Look for alternative solution providers to compare and contrast capabilities and pricing. This would require issuing out RFIs and putting in place a RFP process as well.

  2. Know how much revenue your product is bring in and whats driving that revenue base. Perhaps its a specific segment or industry. Along with this do a historical analysis on how the product line revenue has performed. Compare this to customer acquisition / attrition and user activity.

  3. Address the bottlenecks early as every product has an achilles heel, it could be in the selling & distribution process, operations, payment processing/ finance, delivery, customer service, implementation, marketing or something else. Its quite common that during a product launch somethings are not completely thought through and may never have been closed out, these loose ends could be causing revenue leakage with customers exiting.

Building relationships with those who support the product

  1. Meet or call everyone in the organisation who works on your product across all the divisions. Introduce yourself and set time aside for deeper dives. Find out how you can help them and what can be done better. You will spend more time with Engineering, sales and marketing teams so expect to set aside more time for these groups.

  2. Show everyone that you are a team player and that you are appreciative of everyones contributions on the product. Your ability to slowly build on your circles of influence within this new organization will go a long way in building the trust.

There is a lot to do when starting a new role and the first few months are going to be hard with a lot of long days and lots of reading to get yourself up to speed. All of the above items require you to engage with people so bring your best self forward in your conversations. Express empathy and be open and receptive to the feedback which is given to you. There will be things which you wont like, its not a personal attack. This is the time to listen and absorb, you dont need to promise anything. Congratulations on your new role!

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