Tips for new product managers

Doing something entirely new takes determination. If you are a new product manager, you are probably excited to start making meaningful contributions in your role. After all, being a product manager is a huge responsibility and privilege. Your work has the potential to drive business growth and make a positive impact on people's lives.

But there are a lot of unknowns too. Even if you already know the fundamentals of product management, it takes time to understand the complexities of a new organization and product. Combining your existing knowledge with on-the-job learning will help you determine what success looks like in your new role.

Your first month is crucial. This is the time to get to know the business, market, customers, and cross-functional team you will work with. As a new product manager, your goal is to demonstrate to your team (and yourself) that you can deliver real value fast as you help guide the entire product development process. This guide will highlight five key areas you will want to focus on right away — along with additional tips for succeeding as a product manager and building a product that customers love.

Product managers really, really love our software — find out why.


Learn the product strategy

To move the product forward, you need to deeply understand the strategy behind it. Review any strategic plans and roadmaps you may have inherited from the previous product manager — paying close attention to the vision, product goals, and former and upcoming initiatives. Get to know the market you operate in, your ideal customer, and your existing competitors. Analyze how product objectives support the company's larger objectives.

There is a lot to learn, so it helps to have some areas of focus as you dig in. Aim to uncover the answers to these questions:

  • Is the current product strategy part of the team's everyday work?

  • Who are the target customers and what value do they get from the product?

  • What alternative solutions exist and how is your product different?

  • How has the product changed and improved in the last year?

  • What success metrics does the product team track?


Understand the business

In addition to learning the product strategy, familiarize yourself with the company's broader business objectives. Increase your understanding by reviewing quarterly reports, long-term plans, and all-company meeting notes. Schedule time to meet with leaders from marketing, sales, support, and engineering to understand their goals. By gaining insights across the organization, you can align product goals with what the rest of the organization needs to achieve.

Key questions to answer:


Use the product

You need to understand how the product works and how it solves real customer problems. There is no better way to become an expert than through hands-on experience. Aim to use the product as often as you can. This can be tough if you are not the target audience — a common issue that enterprise software product managers face. Of course, you can still learn the product by supporting customer demos, attending tutorials, and reading support content.

Key questions to answer:

  • What problems does the product solve for customers?

  • Are its key features and benefits well articulated?

  • How could the user experience be improved?

  • Where does the product fail to meet a need or perform an important outcome?


Get to know customers

Developing empathy for your customers is essential to building the best solutions for them. Start by reading through any customer personas that the team has already created. Review both common and complex support tickets. Look for ways to engage directly with current and prospective customers — through empathy sessions, in-app community feedback, or sales and support calls. And if your organization has a formal idea management process, make sure to review and respond to product ideas submitted by customers.

Key questions to answer:

  • What are the demographics (e.g., job title, age, skills, location) of your users?

  • For B2B organizations, what are the firmographics (e.g., company size, revenue, industry) of the organizations that purchase the product?

  • What additional pain points are your customers facing that the product does not address?

  • What would make your customers happier?


Talk to the broader team

Make it a point to build relationships outside the product team. Talk to folks across engineering, marketing, sales, customer success, and more to learn how each team contributes to the overall product development process. Communicate often with your cross-functional colleagues and be transparent when sharing product plans and roadmaps. By building rapport and mutual respect, you will be better able to work with and positively influence other teams.

Here is what to consider when meeting with each team:

Engineering Engineers know how the product is built and deeply understand what the technology stack can do. Learn more about the engineering team's processes, tools, and work styles.

Key questions to answer:

Marketing Marketers are experts in communicating the value of your product. They know how to best reach and engage prospective customers. During your first few weeks on the job, familiarize yourself with their strategies and listen to their opinions. Eventually, you will collaborate with them on buyer personas, go-to-market timelines, and communicating new product features.

Key questions to answer:

  • What is the go-to-market strategy?

  • How long is the typical marketing launch timeline?

  • What channels and tactics do they use to communicate with both prospects and current customers?

  • Which of these channels and tactics are performing best?

  • What metrics do they track?

  • What frustrates them when working with the product team?

Sales The sales team knows how to convert prospects into buyers. They have valuable insights into what your target audience needs in order to reach a buying decision. When meeting with the sales team, aim to understand their methods for engaging and motivating prospective buyers.

Key questions to answer:

  • Where do the bulk of their leads come from?

  • How long is the sales cycle on average?

  • What documentation or other information do they provide prospects during the sales process?

  • What is their process for submitting ideas or requesting new features on behalf of prospects?

  • What metrics do they track?

  • Where do they feel processes and documentation can be improved?

Customer success The customer success team ensures that customers get the most out of the product. They know what it takes to reduce customer churn and generate long-term loyalty. Get to know their processes for learning new functionality and keeping customers happy in their use of your product.

Key questions to answer:

  • What is the process for training customer success folks on new features and functionality?

  • What is their process for escalating customer issues?

  • What support documentation do they use when working with customers?

  • What metrics do they track?

  • Where do they feel processes and documentation can be improved?

You will need to do all of this research and discovery alongside your regular duties, as well as any formal company onboarding tasks. Make it manageable by blocking off a small window of time each day to make steady progress. Plan it out over the course of your first month so it does not become too overwhelming and you can actually absorb all of the information you gather.

Download this document to track your findings in one place. It is divided into sections with all of the key questions listed above.

Excel download

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Succeeding as a new product manager

Besides learning all you can about the business, product, customers, and broader team, there are a few more general things to remember to set yourself up for success in your new role. Above all, great product managers tend to be curious and bold. You listen closely to other perspectives, absorb and analyze the information you receive, and then build a plan for success. This takes determination and a willingness to continue growing and learning — no matter what stage of your career you are in.

With that said, here are some suggestions for new product managers to achieve their best:

1. Prepare deeply

Approach everything you do with care and thought. This means taking the time to conduct research, review relevant data, gather insights from teammates and customers, and anticipate any potential problems or obstacles the team may face. Whether you are defining the product vision, collaborating with engineering on a user story, or presenting the product roadmap to executives, approach your work with a spirit of curiosity and reflection.

2. Feel strongly

Pair that preparation with deep empathy. To better understand who your customers are and what they are struggling with, attend customer calls regularly and seek opportunities to interact directly with users. By internalizing what your customers are feeling, you can better determine how to solve their problems. The same goes for your cross-functional teammates — ask questions and build strong relationships with your colleagues so you can find productive ways to work together to build a lovable product.

3. Prioritize now

Making tough decisions is a big part of your role as a product manager. Evaluating ideas, defining features, and prioritizing the product backlog are vital activities for building a product that resonates with your customers. Apply a value-based approach to your decisions so you can objectively decide what will bring the greatest value to customers and the business. This means saying "no" (or "not right now") to exciting ideas that do not align with the greater business and product strategy.

4. Work smarter

Succeeding as a new product manager requires the right tools and workflows. You will likely need to use the product management software that is already in place at the organization, but you can also offer to audit the team's existing tools and suggest better alternatives. No matter what type of company you work at, you need an integrated set of tools that allows you to set product strategy, build and share roadmaps, prioritize features, collaborate with teammates, customize your workflows, and measure your success. This is why many product teams use Aha! Roadmaps along with the entire suite of Aha! products.

Product management is one of the world's most competitive and coveted career paths. So remember that you were hired for a reason — you are hard-working, skilled, and willing to learn. Once you gain a deeper understanding of your product, customers, and team, you can start to form your own plan for the direction of your product. Go boldly and take on your new role with confidence.

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