Beat it with Data


Imagine you’ve just been hired as a Product Manager and you are on top of the world. You’ve always wanted this job and you are happy to be alive!

However, in the first few weeks, you have this lurking feeling that something is not right. Feeling some discomfort is natural but if you don’t feel settled you need to read on.

Here is what could be going on. Chances are that one of the three situations, listed below, is true:

  1. The team has never had a Product Manager
  2. Your boss (or hiring manager) has been leading the PM function
  3. The engineering manager is doing the PM job

The key here is that someone else was doing your job before you!

There is seldom a clean-slate situation where you have the opportunity to start something from scratch. You get hired because the hiring manager has either a fuzzy or concrete idea of what needs to be done. Recognizing which one it is, will help you get settled.

If you don’t get clear answers from your boss, super boss and his/her peers about value proposition, target market etc. then its likely that no one has a clear idea. As a PM this is a great situation to be in, becuase you get to define the problem and that becomes your first act — a crisp definition of the business problem.

If you get a lot of direction and you are told to jump straight into JIRA, then you know you were hired to execute. In this situation your task is to get the team humming. Brush up your skills and be prepared to become a JIRA jockey.

There are grey areas in between but being aware and aligned with what your manager and team expects from you, is the key to success.

In today’s hyper-connected world, both positive and negative perceptions have a snowballing affect. Therefore, in the early days of a new assignment, every 1:1, meeting and hallway interaction is critical and fuels the perception if you are on your way to becoming the “CEO” of the product.

The most difficult scenario for an incoming PM is when the engineering leader has been making the decisions so far. For some time, till you establish yourself, both of you will be doing the same job.

A strong, multi-faceted engineering leader has the obvious benefits that s/he will allow you to create long-term value but in the short term s/he will test your resolve.

The thing to remember is that there is a reason the Product Management function is different from engineering leadership. When you are responsible for building the solution (as engineering is) it is natural for you to remain in solution space and its extremely hard for you to move into the problem space.

Engineering is incentivized to execute, a PM has more leeway and you need to take advantage of that and carve out mindshare for yourself.

The power ingredient to ease into your new PM role is data. Spend at least 40% of your time to look at data, both qualitative and quantitative.

Here are a few ideas on how:

  • Get access to the existing data reporting tools
  • Understand the existing data
  • Look at historical reports to understand patterns
  • Dig into potential issues with data integrity or data pipeline (latency of updates, reliability etc.)
  • Read and follow customer support tickets
  • Read reviews and forums to understand what customers are complaining about
  • Sign up for trials for competitor products and
  • If possible, do primary research with at least 5–8 acutal users of the product.

All this will set you up nicely to establish your credibility and on your path to get rid of that nasty queasy feeling!

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