Happy New Year! I wish you all a prosperous 2010.
So you found a new software product management job or you are moving into a software product manager’s role in your current company. Congratulations! Now what do you do in the first 30 days to make sure you start off on the right foot? Here is a list I have successfully used in the past when I have switched jobs. I hope you find it useful.
Company’s vision and Business Strategy: Your focus should be to first gain a solid understanding of the company’s vision and business strategy and take stock of what exists within the company. Specifically, find answers to the following questions by interviewing internal resources:
- Company’s vision and business strategy
- What are the current hypotheses?
- What are the data points (customers, research sources, analysts, partners etc.) that have been used to arrive at the vision and business strategy?
Target market: Who are we selling to?
- What segmentation and sizing has been done?
- Which segments are we targeting?
- What do we know about the target market?
- What do we not know about the target market?
- Who are our top customers today?
- Who are the customers with the largest potential?
- How is market research done? Customer visits? Surveys? Focus groups? Advisory boards? User conferences?
- Which customers have we talked to? Key learnings?
- Which customers should we talk to next?
- What are the pain points that exist in this market that customers are willing to pay for?
- What is a typical sales process and how long does it take?
- Is there a win-loss document that will give you an idea on why you win and why you lose?
- Common objections that are raised in a sales situation
- Why do customers buy from us?
- What is our unique value proposition?
- What solutions are prospects using today? Or in other words, how are they solving the problem today?
- What are the pain points of their current solution?
- What is the business impact ($, outdated information, process inefficiencies etc.) caused by these pain points?
- Have they tried to solve these pain points? And?
- What are they planning to do to solve these pain points and what is the urgency?
Your company may not have the answers to all of the above questions, but asking all of the above will help you identify the gaps that you should look to fill.
Competitive Analysis: Who are our competitors?
- Who are the main competitors? If you are breaking new ground, is anybody else trying to do anything similar? If yes, what are they trying to do? Traction?
- Has anyone talked to competitor’s customers to understand how their solution is working for these customers? Why did they buy?
Get to know your product
Simulate the experience of a new customer. Install your software (if on-premise) or create a new account (if a SaaS product) and learn everything about your product that you can. Understand the development process from identifying needs to writing requirements documents to getting it build, tested and shipped. Attend every meeting you are invited to.
The four ways I have done this are:
- Take all the product training that exists
- Read through the documentation (Yes, do the RTFM – this may be the only time you would do this)
- API documentation (if API exists) – this will allow you to quickly understand different aspects of the system
- Specs – read through as many functional specs as you can. It will give you a history of the product and also quickly understand what exists, why it exists and what it is supposed to do.
Your goal should be to be able to demo your product to your peers after the first 45 days. I would recommend that you do not use any demo material that exists today such as product presentation slides etc. Make your own. Can you explain in very simple terms of how your product will help your customers? By making your own slides, you will be forced to think and learn stuff as you are putting your slides together. Just using the current demo material is not going to help as much.
Learn every tool that is being used in the company. Ask your manager to get you a personal account in these systems if this has not been done already. This would include
- CRM system such as salesforce
- Enhancement request database (if one exists) where customers submit requests
- Bug database
- File servers where important information is stored or can be stored for backup purposes
- Specs database
- Reports server – where are product usage reports stored? Where are key financials regarding your product stored?
Who do you need to talk to internally?
Given that software product manager’s job is the most cross-functional job you will ever find in a company, you need to plan on sitting down with key stakeholders in every department that touches your product from start to finish. Ask your manager to help you create a list of these key stakeholders.
This includes the obvious ones such as engineering, sales, marketing and also departments such as QA (how do they test your product), order admin (if appropriate – how does a new customer’s order get fulfilled?), shipping (if appropriate – how does your product get to the customer?) etc. Again, you have to understand the entire process from start to finish and get perspectives from everyone involved in the process. Believe me, you will learn something new from every one you see.
Understand people dynamics
This is the most important part, more important than even your product in the first 30 days. You have to start building relationships from day one. Every company has some form of internal people dynamics that you need to observe and learn as you get used to your new position especially in a new company. People may approach you and tell you stuff (good and bad), but never get involved in any gossip (not that this is just when you are new in your job, gossip is never a good thing) and never take any sides no matter who says what to you. Stay neutral, keep your thoughts to yourselves, just observe and make mental notes.
The last thing you want to do in a new job is to step on the wrong shoes accidentally. Be the most professional as you can be, never let your guard down. But don’t be wooden, start building relationships.
I strongly recommend the book The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins. Great book with great strategies that will help you ease into your new job.
Thoughts? What have your experiences been? What has worked for you and what has not? What are the pitfalls you would advise other software product managers to avoid?
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