How to Not Be Full of Shit as a Product Manager

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

So you’ve joined a new team, company, etc and you are experiencing the cold terror that is your new responsibility area as a product manager.

I think you have about 90 days to demonstrate that you are going to be a net positive addition to the team and to build up trust. What do you do?

This assumes:

  • The product already exists
  • There are existing users

My opinion on this is you need to:

  • Get ahold of as many customers as possible within the next 30 days and have them walk you through their product usage and your product feature in particular. Have them share their screen while they do this. Write out your questions loosely beforehand, and adjust rapidly with the first few customers until you get a feel for which questions elicit the best answers. Record everything, and then tag key statements around pain points, etc, with a tool like Dovetail.
  • Insist on involving the engineering manager and designer associated with your product area in the customer discussions. This has multiple benefits, including demonstrating your ability to understand customer pain points and developing shared context between your key stakeholders.
  • Learn where all the bodies are buried in the data. Do not rely on the data team, you need to get familiar with querying raw data. Know the key tables and how to produce good output.
  • Manage your stress. Exercise, take supplements, and sleep enough that you don’t freak out. If you are doing this right, the first 90-days should feel like watching ‘Uncut Gems’ nonstop. Act accordingly.
  • Ignore everything that is not the above. No one will really care that you followed whatever process/ritual properly if your product area doesn’t deliver. Let people chase you down and yell at you for things that aren’t really consequential. You need to hold your responsibility to your product area above all else. That doesn’t mean you need to be unnecessarily rude or obnoxious, but it’s ok to drop balls that don’t matter.

That’s it. I think the last point is worth really worth emphasizing. It’s really easy to get caught up in exercises that feel useful but don’t solve real problems. Do not be the person who has nice narratives but isn’t driving value. Understand your product area through customers, include your key stakeholders, build an aligned plan, and articulate it to leadership. That is all that matters.

Best of luck!