Navigate Your First 90 Days in Product Management: A Step-by-Step Guide

Navigate Your First 90 Days in Product Management: A Step-by-Step Guide
Table of contents

Introduction

"Ever felt like the first 90 days in a Product Management role is the corporate equivalent of Survivor? You're not alone. But don't worry, this isn't the part where we vote you off the island—this is where you get the cheat codes to not only survive but thrive."

"In this article, you're going to navigate through the jungles of stakeholder relationships, swim across the stakeholder and customer feedback ocean, and conquer the mountains of planning and executing—all with your sanity intact. Intrigued? You should be. We're diving deep into the art and science of setting yourself up for success in a new Product Management role. 

This isn't your ordinary advice piece; it’s packed with practical examples and even a bit of controversial banter just to keep things spicy. 

But that's not all—get ready to download our 'Ultimate 30-60-90 Day Plan Template' designed to catapult your career into the stratosphere. Strap in; it's going to be a wild ride!"

The Roadmap Before the Roadmap - Setting Your Own Success Metrics

Congratulations, you've just scored a gig as a Product Manager. Take a selfie; it might be the last happy photo of you for a while. I'm kidding. Sort of.

Why Most Product Managers Fail in the First 90 Days - Common Pitfalls

Oh, you thought snagging the role was the hard part? Cute. Let's be brutally honest here: Many Product Managers are virtually predestined to flop in their first quarter. Like a terrible superhero origin story, it usually comes down to a few common mistakes:

  • The Lone Ranger Complex: Some Product Managers think they’re in a Western film, riding solo into the sunset. Spoiler alert: you need your team. Forget this, and you’re riding into a sandstorm, my friend.
  • Feature Frenzy: They get excited and want to build ALL the features, ASAP. So, they end up building a Swiss Army knife when all that was needed was a simple corkscrew.
  • KPI Overkill: I get it; metrics are sexy. But if you chase after every KPI like a dog after squirrels, you’ll run around in circles and accomplish zilch.
  • FOMO: Fear of Missing Out on the latest agile methodologies, toolkits, or whatever fancy acronym is trending on LinkedIn. Keep your eye on the prize, not on your feed.
  • Inability to Say No: You're not a genie. You can't grant every wish from Sales, Marketing, and Engineering. Learn to say no, or else you'll end up with a product that's a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none.

So, how do you avoid becoming a cringeworthy anecdote in the annals of Product Management? Simple: Set your own success metrics and KPIs before your boss does it for you. And understand what kind of Product Manager you are.

The Importance of Balancing Internal and External Activities

Ah, the life of a Product Manager—a juggling act between schmoozing with stakeholders and doing "real work." It’s like being the prom queen and the chess club president simultaneously. 

Here’s why balancing these activities matters:

  • Internal Priorities: You can't ignore your team. Period. They’re the ones who’ll turn your grand visions into a functional product. If you're always in meetings or stuck in your inbox, you're doing it wrong.
  • Customer Feedback: A Product Manager who doesn't talk to customers is like a fish that doesn't swim—useless. You need to know what your market wants and how badly they want it. And you also need to make them talk to you! On their own agenda. Exactly, think about it if your company does not cover it already. 
  • Stakeholder Relations: Yes, it’s important to wine and dine your stakeholders (figuratively, of course). But don’t be their doormat. They'll offer a plethora of suggestions; your job is to filter the gold from the garbage.
  • Playbooks: You need to write it down. And share. Especially if there might be bad news. You will soon be held accountable. So make sure responsibilities are clearer than mud. Set things in stone. Well, maybe a drafted stone (really not sure about this one). Use methods and tools like the RACI Matrix, align on how decisions will be taken regarding budget, resources, and disagreements. Yes, you want to lay that part out before anything hits the fences. 
  • Self-Care: Okay, laugh it off. But burnout is real. If you’re burnt out, you’re as useful to your team as a screen door on a submarine. Don’t do that in the first 90 days because you want to go fast. Or after for what it matters. 

By keeping a balance between internal, and external activities or “playbooking”, you set the stage for not just surviving but thriving in your new role. 

Your future self will thank you, trust me.

FREE TEMPLATE  Your 30-60-90 Days Plan  A fill-in framework to nail your first 90 days as a Product Leader  

"Me, Myself, and the Customer" - Making Customer-centric Decisions

You've landed this fancy title of Product Manager, but let's get one thing straight: You're not the protagonist in this story. Your customers and stakeholders are. Plot twist, eh? So, how do you put these folks front and center? Read on, my narcissistic friend.

When to Start Talking to Customers? Day 1 or Day 10?

Here's a multiple-choice question that's easier than choosing a Netflix show to binge: When should you start talking to customers and stakeholders? If you said Day 10, you're adorable. The answer is Day 1. Heck, you should've started yesterday if you could.

Why? Because by Day 10, you've already formed preconceived notions, wasted precious time, and likely committed to internal roadmaps written in the fantasy land of corporate jargon. Plus, your customers are not vampires; they won't bite if you approach them during daylight. So, get out there and make contact, ASAP!

Types of External Customer-Oriented Activities: Beyond Interviews and Feedback

Sure, customer interviews and collecting feedback are the bread and butter, but let’s not be so basic. Your interactions should be as diverse as the coffee selection at a hipster cafe. Here's a smorgasbord of other activities to consider:

  • User Onboarding Walkthroughs: Because reading a manual is so 1990.
  • Attend or review sales and customer success calls
  • Attend or review support client calls
  • Set up a feedback Management System
  • Community Building: Nothing says 'I care' like a Reddit AMA or hosting webinars.
  • Beta Testing Parties: It’s not really a party, but you can make it feel like one.
  • Sentiment Analysis on Social Media: Yes, those Twitter rants are gold mines.
  • Unsolicited "Surprise" Calls: Handle with care; this can be a delight or a disaster.
  • Customer Advisory Boards: Create a council of wise customers. Think of it like your personal Jedi Council but for your product.

You have the choice. 

The “We Fixed Nothing” Strategy: Company A was hell-bent on adding a laundry list of new features. They avoided customer calls like it was the plague. 

End result? Customer churn rates that would make a washing machine look stable.

The “I Hear Ya!” Approach: Company B was a stark contrast. From Day 1, their PM was on the phone, basically glued to customer feedback platforms. 

The first update was based entirely on actual customer grievances and boom! Their NPS score shot up faster than a SpaceX rocket.

So, are you Company A or Company B? Choose wisely. Your career trajectory depends on it.

"It Takes a Village to Raise a Product" - Winning Over Your Internal Team

By now, you might be getting the hang of this whole "Product Manager" thing. But hold your horses, cowboy! The rodeo isn't over yet. To truly succeed, you need to win over your most unpredictable users: your internal team. 

Yes, those same folks who think a "stand-up" is a type of comedy show. Here's how to navigate these murky waters.

The Politics of Stakeholder Management - What No One Tells You

"Office politics" might sound like the title of a B-grade Netflix drama, but it's more Game of Thrones than you think. When it comes to stakeholder management, here's what those LinkedIn articles won't tell you:

  • Know Your Allies and Adversaries: Not everyone wants you to succeed. Shocking, right? Identify who’s who.
  • Speak Their Language: The developers speak Java, but your Sales team only understands the language of commission. Translate wisely.
  • Quid Pro Quo: Sometimes, you have to give something to get something. No, don’t offer your firstborn. Maybe just back someone else's project before you need them to back yours.
  • Manage Up, Not Just Down: Your superiors need handling too. Manage their expectations and keep them in the loop, or you may find yourself managed out.

Types of Internal Activities: Team-building, Stakeholder Mapping, and More

There's more to internal team alignment than awkward ice-breakers or booze-fueled company retreats. Here are some other methods:

  • One-on-Ones: Personal attention can't be overrated. Schedule regular check-ins.
  • Stakeholder Mapping: This isn't cartography; it's a strategy. Know who holds the power and influence within your organization.
  • Skill-Sharing Sessions: Let the Sales team teach negotiation and let Devs teach the basics of code. Skill diversification can only make your team stronger.
  • The 'Donut' Meetup: Use a tool that randomly pairs team members for coffee (or Zoom). Surprise human interactions can yield surprising ideas.
  • Sprint Reviews With Non-Technical Teams: Involve Sales, Marketing, and even Customer Service. Make them part of the product journey, not just passengers.

Timing is Everything - When to Schedule These Activities

[ ] First Week: Lay down the law. I mean, set expectations and objectives. Do your stakeholder mapping here.

[ ] 30-Day Mark: Initial one-on-ones and team-building activities. By now, you should have enough dirt, um, I mean, data on your team to know what will work.

[ ] 60-Day Mark: Time for a more in-depth review. Are your initial assumptions holding up? Adjust and plan skill-sharing sessions accordingly.

[ ] 90-Day Mark: This is your victory lap. Celebrate the wins, learn from the losses, and prep for the next quarter.

The Playbook & How It's More Than Just a ‘Play’

Alright, hotshot, you've networked your way through customers and stakeholders. But now, you need something more concrete—a playbook. And no, we're not talking about a collection of cheeky one-liners to woo your team during meetings. This is your blueprint, your Grail, your... well, you get the point.

What Goes into a Product Management Playbook?

A playbook is like a bowl of grandma’s homemade stew: a mix of several ingredients that come together in a magical amalgamation. Here's what you should throw into your metaphorical pot:

  • Accountability Matrix and Product Management Score Card 
  • Customer Personas: Because not all users are created equal.
  • Product Roadmap: The GPS for where the heck you're going.
  • Success Metrics: The scoreboard, if you will. Keep it updated.
  • Stakeholder Communication Templates: Ready-to-use scripts to handle internal drama—kind of like an SNL skit for the corporate world.
  • Crisis Management Plans: You're going to mess up. Plan how you’ll get out of it.
  • Checklists: Yes, they seem trivial, but you’ll thank them one day. Remember Apollo 13?

Integrating the Playbook with Other Activities for Actionable Insights

Your playbook shouldn't be a dusty file in your Google Drive. It needs to be a living document—like the Constitution but less argumentative. Here's how:

  • Feedback Loops: After every customer call or stakeholder meeting, update the playbook.
  • Data-Driven Revisions: Use metrics to refine it continually.
  • Team Reviews: Make it a point to review the playbook in team meetings. Yes, even the Devs need to read it.
  • Quarterly Audits: Cross-reference your playbook with the quarter’s wins and losses. It’s like a performance review for your playbook.

Formalizing, Planning, and Acting - The Trifecta for Success

  • Formalizing: Once your playbook is drafted, get it ratified by key stakeholders. Yes, that includes Linda from accounting.
  • Planning: Assign specific tasks from the playbook to your roadmap and team members. Ownership is everything.
  • Acting: No, not the Hollywood kind. Execute the tasks, measure success, iterate, and make that playbook your Bible, Quran, Gita, Torah...or whatever scripture you swear by.

The 30-60-90 Day Plan Unveiled

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. Similarly, your product management strategy won't be. That's where the legendary 30-60-90 day plan steps in. Let's decode this roadmap that looks like a Tetris game board, shall we?

An Overview of the 30-60-90 Day Plan

The 30-60-90 Day Plan is essentially a timeline to set expectations and checkpoints for yourself in your new role. Here's the bird's eye view:

First 30 Days (Weeks 1-4):

  • Internal Engagements: You're all in, mate! The initial weeks are about immersion. Dive deep into the organization's internal processes, with a 100% focus. Think of it as courting your company.
  • Tasks: Notice Task 1 to Task 4 are highlighted. These are likely foundational tasks—your bread and butter.
  • Playbook: A slow and steady 0%. You're just warming up.

Days 30 to 60 (Weeks 5-8):

  • Balancing Act: A 50-50 split between internal and external engagements. You’re basically becoming the office’s yin and yang.
  • Tasks: Task 5 to Task 8 light up. These are probably about outreach, external collaborations, or product iterations.
  • Playbook: Still on the bench with 0%. Let it marinate a little more.

Days 60 to 90 (Weeks 9-12):

  • External Engagements: The spotlight is now on the outer world, with a full 100% focus on external activities. Maybe you're selling, showcasing, or shouting from the rooftops.
  • Tasks: Task 9 and Task 10 get the nod. Likely culminations or project wrap-ups.
  • Playbook: 50%! It's game time. Implement, refine, and rewrite the rules.

How to Customize it to Fit Your Organizational Needs

Your organization isn't a one-size-fits-all, and neither should your roadmap be. Tailoring it is essential. Here’s how:

  • Task Prioritization: Replace the generic "Task X" with specifics—maybe "Stakeholder Interviews" or "UX Prototyping." Identify what’s crucial early on.
  • Adjust Time Splits: Not every organization will have a 50-50 or 100-0 split between internal and external tasks. Tweak it. Maybe your company demands more internal focus till week 10.
  • Playbook Integration: The template doesn’t see much playbook action until the final stretch. However, if your organization values documentation or strategy formulation, shuffle that % around.

Remember, the 30-60-90 Day Plan isn’t a straightjacket. It’s more of a flexible yoga outfit. Bend, stretch, and twist it to align with your goals. Because by the end of those 90 days, you won't just survive, you’ll thrive!

Bonus: Debunking Popular Myths about the First 90 Days in Product Management

So, you’ve read a zillion articles and listened to countless podcasts about the sacred 30-60-90 day plan in Product Management. And while it's proven and popular, every coin has two sides. Let's flip this one and see the other side, shall we?

1. Myth: The 30-60-90 Day Plan is Set in Stone.

Reality: Nope! Think of it more as soft clay. The essence is adaptability. It's a framework, not a commandment.

2. Myth: The First 30 Days are Only for Learning.

Reality: While learning is paramount, action isn’t forbidden. Who says you can't make minor tweaks or even ma jor recommendations in the first month?

3. Myth: Playbooks are Reserved for the Last Leg.

Reality: The roadmap template might suggest so, but hey, if you've got a winning strategy up your sleeve on Day 10, jot it down!

4. Myth: 100% External Engagement means Zero Internal Communications.

Reality: External focus doesn’t translate to neglecting your internal teams. It’s about leading the external charge while ensuring internal alignment.

Conclusion: Reflect, Project, and Act

You've embarked on a journey through the intricacies of the first 90 days in Product Management, navigating diverse terrains, from understanding the role to creating your playbook, and even laughing with some contrarian views. As with every journey, it's essential to look back, look forward, and determine our next steps.

Reflect: The Rearview Mirror

  • Roles & Expectations: Remember, clarity is the antidote to anxiety. Understand the product manager's multifaceted role and calibrate your expectations to align with organizational needs.
  • The Heart of the Strategy: With strategies ranging from Product Management for Startups to a comprehensive Playbook, you've amassed tools to tackle challenges head-on.
  • The Lighter Side: Our contrarian views and unpopular opinions reminded us to not just follow the rulebook blindly but to approach tasks with creativity, a dash of humor, and a pinch of salt.

Project: Peeking into the Horizon

  • 30-60-90 Day Plan: It's more than just numbers on a calendar. It’s a holistic plan of action, adaptable, and scalable. Customize it, live it, and watch as it transforms your first three months into a symphony of structured achievements.
  • Beyond 90 Days: The journey doesn't end at Day 90. It's merely the beginning. As you get more attuned to your role and organization, adjust and expand your strategies.

Act: Your Next Steps

  • Customize Your Roadmap: Download that template. Adjust the tasks, shuffle the percentages, and make it your own.
  • Network & Collaborate: Engage both internally and externally. From stakeholders to fellow product managers, build relationships that matter.
  • Continuous Learning: Dive deeper into areas that piqued your interest. Maybe it's furthering the playbook or exploring contrarian strategies.
  • Review & Revise: At regular intervals, review your roadmap, measure achievements, and adjust your sails.

You’re now armed with the knowledge, the tools, and the mindset to conquer the first 90 days in Product Management. It won't always be smooth sailing, but with this guide, you've got a robust compass pointing you towards success. Now, it’s time to take the helm, set your course, and embark on this exciting voyage. Bon voyage, future product maestro! 🚀

FAQ

What is a 30-60-90 Day Plan in Product Management?

A strategic roadmap designed to guide product managers through their first 90 days in a new role, focusing on setting goals, building relationships, and implementing strategies.

Why is early customer engagement important in Product Management?

Early customer engagement helps product managers understand market needs, shape product development, and align their strategies with customer expectations.

How can a Product Manager effectively manage internal and external activities?

By balancing time between team collaboration, stakeholder management, and customer interaction, ensuring a comprehensive approach to product development.

What are common pitfalls for new Product Managers in their first 90 days?

Common pitfalls include neglecting team collaboration, focusing too much on feature development without customer input, and failing to set clear success metrics.

Can the 30-60-90 Day Plan be customized for different organizations?

Yes, the plan is flexible and should be tailored to the specific needs, culture, and goals of each organization.

What role does stakeholder management play in a Product Manager's first 90 days?

Effective stakeholder management is crucial for aligning product goals with business objectives, gaining valuable insights, and securing necessary support for initiatives.

How important is a Product Management Playbook in the early stages of the role?

A Product Management Playbook is vital for establishing clear guidelines, strategies, and processes, helping new product managers navigate their role with confidence and clarity.

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