Tips on your First 28 days as a Product Manager in a New Role

product management Feb 16, 2021

You just joined a new team as a product manager and you’re super excited about the role. Now you are wondering - what in the world should I do in my first 28 days - that's just 4 weeks!?

Here is a list from my perspective, and what I guide my folks on my team at Google to try and think about it. This is obviously a big list, and if you’re company has an extensive onboarding process that doesn’t really allow you to interact with your team that much when you first join - you should take the thoughts below from the point of view that you’ve finished that.

Get to know your team

  1. Understand and set the expectations with your manager

  • Ensure that you have the right expectations setup from the outset about what your role is, and what is expected of you from your manager.

  • Ask them what they want you to achieve in the next 28 days and note that down.

  • Make sure to share a document with your manager that has a running sheet of your weekly 1:1s, this will enable you to refer back to it and keep these objectives in mind.

  1. Ask for relevant onboarding documents

  • If there is a “Welcome to the Team Guide” and/or if there isn’t one - start creating one yourself, it will help scale anyone else who is new and joining the team.

  • More developed companies typically have a more formal onboarding structure for PMs, but newer startups might not have created this yet.

  • You are the person who should start doing this. Start the process of leveraging yourself wherever possible and writing all the knowledge you are gathering down is one of the best ways to do that.

  1. Schedule time with members of the team

  • Generally, try to meet people in a “top down” setting, meeting managers and then individual team members in that order.

  • If calendars don’t allow it - communicate to managers that you are meeting their team. No one likes being left out of the loop and these interactions just enable you to gain more credibility across your team.

  • Focus on getting to know people in your first meetings, ask about them and their histories. If time permits, you can talk a bit about your background and ask some general questions.

    • Start the conversation with just getting to know them - as people, not as the box you might have fit them into based on their specific role or function in the team.

    • Ask any, but preferably, all of these questions:

      • “What do you think the team's mission is?”

      • “What is the best thing about being on this team?”

      • “What would you want to see improved the most?”

      • “What's the one thing about the product you want to see improved?”

      • “Who do you think I should speak too on the team next?”

      • “What can I do to help now?”

    • Get any docs / links or references that will help you understand the product more from each meeting you have. Add these to the onboarding doc to help others.

  1. Take extensive notes, listen more - talk less

  • Your job is to become a sponge and listen as much as possible to others in the team. Don’t offer too many opinions, just to understand how each person fits into the team, how they are generally feeling and what their major concerns are right now.

  • Your job will be to make sure that they are shipping the right features, to the right users for maximum impact for the product, your team and organization.

  • Reassure them that you are here to help and always finish by asking them how you can do that.

Get to know the product

  1. How does your product grow?

  • Ideally you have already used, or considered the product in depth prior to joining a particular team. One of the most important aspects to start with is to get a deeper understanding of how the product grows.

  • Get a walk through with the growth lead - ask for access to all the metrics information you can get a hold of. Familiarize yourself with acquisition, engagement and retention metrics as a core component of your initial onboarding.

  • Note down all the important dashboards in your onboarding doc, wait for all the access requests to be completed as this can take some time depending on how big the company is you’re joining.

  • Ask what the largest growth levers are in the history of the product - i.e. best feature launches / largest overall impact to metric cohorts (acquisition, engagement, retention).

  1. What is your products technical architecture?

  • Setup time with your engineering leads - ideally both your Engineering Manager and/or Technical Lead - to understand how your product is currently architected.

  • Front load these meetings by asking for any relevant docs that you can pre-read prior to sitting down and going through.

  • Ask a lot of questions - admit what you don’t understand or don’t know. If you can’t be candid with your engineering leads, you will never have a successful product/engineering relationship.

  1. What is your products ship cycle?

  • Get an understanding from your technical program managers (or product/engineering/design colleagues) how the general ship cycles operate at the company and what influences them.

  • B2B companies will typically have a ship cycles that will be vastly different from consumer products (i.e. can be months in the former, and multiple times per day in the later). Understanding the broad state ship cycle in your first 28 days will also help you get up to speed on the broad state workflow that you are operating in.

  1. What is the current user state of mind?

  • If your team is large enough to have UXRs (user experience researchers) - schedule time with them. If it doesn't - get access to all relevant User Surveys, Friction Logs, Customer Service, Net Promoter Score feedback and so on.

  • Ask questions for how the team defines users and thinks about their classification. Ask for definitional information on users, and what the basic metrics of these users groups are.

  • Start to appreciate your products “user state of mind” and develop empathy for how they see your product from their perspective. Sit with the customer engineering team, ask to attend a sales call or customer service call, interact with users wherever they are on social media - bring a fresh perspective and engage thoughtfully.

Develop clarity for yourself, ship something

  1. Understand Circles of Influence

  • Begin to understand the circles of influence on your team. The reason to ask everyone who you think you should speak to next - is to begin to understand who each person on your team thinks are the most influential people.

  • You should be mentally taking note of who you think are the people who carry the most weight in each respective area. This will help you influence, and push forward change, as you develop a clearer understanding of your role.

  • At least mentally, begin to identify those folks on your team who are the most influential people:

    • Engineering - Who were the key technical leaders that you will need to influence?

    • Design & UX - Who were the key design leaders that you will need to influence?

    • Growth - Who were the key growth leaders that you will need to influence?

    • Product - Who were the key product leaders that you will need to influence?

    • TPgM - Who were the key technical program managers that you will need to influence?

  1. Setup recurring 1:1s

  • Once you have figured out who you think are the most important folks on your team, try to approach regular 1:1s with many of them.

  • Start with a bi-weekly cadence for key IC - individual contributors - and ideally a weekly cadence for key peer leaders (i.e. engineering managers, tech leads, design managers etc)

  • Make sure you understand the swim lanes and how you fit into the overall product roadmap of other PMs. Setup meetings with all your product colleagues on your team with a bi-weekly or tri-weekly cadence, and those that are a dependency on your ship cycle - try to focus on even weekly cadence.

  1. Ship something

  • Whether it's a bug fix, adding some logging, a tiny new experiment, a social media post, newsletter or anything. You want to at least show the team that you can ship something in your first 28 days.

  • If you can set up a development environment and clone your code repository, do that and try to improve the process for future folks.

  • The key is to show *something* in your first 28 days on the team - both to feel good in yourself, but also to illustrate to the team your passion and engagement.

  1. Share learnings, communicate upwards

  • Share your findings and learnings with your manager, and if appropriate, with the rest of your team. There is nothing like bringing the “I’m new and a fresh set of eyes” perspective to the team.

  • Be thoughtful and considerate about how you share feedback that might be critical. Your goal is to build credibility, not annoy people initially.

  • Be open and approachable, and don't try to force change too quickly when you are almost certainly operating without access to all the information you need.

  1. Bring something fun or new to a team meeting

  • You have likely come from another company where things are done differently.

  • Bring something to a team meeting that you feel people will appreciate - typically food works the best, but in a remote work, even starting with a joke or focusing on non-work related events (i.e. a personal story from the weekend, something great or funny that happened to you or your family)

  • Just showcasing that you’re human is a great way to build comradery with folks on your team.

Check in with yourself

  1. Read a lot, be a sponge

  • You should ideally already have a document with notes on what you think needs to be improved - but keep this to yourself for now.

  • Get access to everything you can - OKRs (objectives and key results), metric dashboards, design documents, vision/strategy/roadmap documents.

  • Understand your organization's management ladder - i.e. what is the expectations of a PM at your level, of an engineer, designer etc.

  • Ultimately, the goal is to listen, read and learn from others first before imposing your views, or communicating your initial thoughts.

  1. Figure out the right workflow

  • New company inevitably means different tools, new workflows and ways of operating.

  • Get all your infrastructure sorted - setup email correctly, throw together your filters, color code your calendar, get a walkthrough of all the internal tooling, find out how people work generally.

  1. Schedule a meeting free day in week 4

  • You will have a lot thrown at you in the first 4 weeks, schedule at least one day as a meeting free day. Fridays typically are the best - although it might completely depend on your company.

  • Try to take some time to reflect on everything you have been told so far - and try to write some initial thoughts down.

  1. Create some goals for yourself, communicate these in week 4

  • You’ve had a lot of information thrown at you in the last 4 weeks, take some time to reflect on what you think you can realistically know, don’t know and what you feel you can achieve.

  • Share and communicate these with your manager and get a picture of what you think you can do in the next 28, 56 or 84 days.

  • Understand the circle of competence you have developed - list out the areas you feel you know well, in addition all the areas that you don’t have a good perspective on yet. Make a clear goal to learn about weaknesses in your knowledge - reach out and ask relevant team members for help.

  1. Laugh a lot, bring a growth mindset

  • Make sure you give yourself a 4 week health check. Is this the role you envisaged, are you happy ?

  • Bring a growth mindset to your role - everyone always has something they can learn from others. You don’t know everything, don’t act like you do.

  • Make sure you're laughing a lot, enjoying the role and the people. Remember, work will always fill the available time you give it. Work on something that matters to you, and impacts the world positively.

These are my general thoughts - if you disagree or think I’m missing something. Hit me up on Twitter and let me know. Feel free to forward this content or link to it on our blog.

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