Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

What tips do you have for a new product manager?

Posted on February 15, 2008 · 2 Comments

Question: What advice would you give to someone new to product management?

I have just secured a job as Product Manager. Though I have been in sales all along, I have never worked as a Product Manager before. I have the confidence that I can do the job, but I feel I can do even better with your professional advise. What kind of approach should I give to my job?

Answer from Jeff Lash of How To Be a Good Product Manager: Congratulations on the new position! It’s great to hear that you’re excited and confident about your new role. Starting off as a product manager for the first time is an exciting and challenging experience. New product managers can easily be overwhelmed with the position, with so many different responsibilities to learn all at once. I hate to put in a blatant plug, though since you’ve given me the opportunity, I’d first recommend a (free) webinar I presented on the subject: Ten Tips for New Product Managers. You can also download the slides (2MB PPT). For the quick summary, here’s the ten tips:

  1. Spend time with customers
  2. Ask “dumb” questions
  3. Let go of your past
  4. Surround yourself with experts
  5. Gather data
  6. Focus
  7. Concentrate on what, not how
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate
  9. Sell your product internally
  10. Do whatever it takes

With your background in sales, I would especially pay attention to tip #3. Your background in sales will be helpful, though you are not in sales anymore. You need to learn how to interact with customers without being in “sales mode.” You need to learn more about the other areas of the business about which you are less familiar.

My one other “bonus” tip which I include at the end of the presentation is to learn from other product managers. There are plenty of books, blogs, newsletters, webinars, conferences, professional associations, local groups, mailing lists, and other resources available. I have a number of them listed on the Resources page of How To Be a Good Product Manager.

I’d also suggest some product management training. As beneficial as these resources are, they are no substitute for attending professional development classes in person. Unfortunately, many new product managers face resistance when they try to get funding for training. I’m not sure why a company would agree to provide a hefty salary and benefits for a new product manager, yet not spend an extra 1-2% more to provide that person with training to help them be significantly more effective. I strongly urge you to research different training options and pick the one that is best for your situation. The benefits to you and your organization will be significant.

Best of luck in your new position!

2 other answers so far ↓

  • Brian Lawley // Feb 24, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Product management is very different than other jobs. I suggest you take a good training course on the product lifecycle, how to write an MRD/PRD, business case, marketing plan, etc. Also there are a few good books on PM – The Product Manager’s Handbook, Software Product Management Essentials and Expert Product Management (my book) – search for “Product Management”.

    There are also quite a few white papers and templates on the web. There are a bunch available for download on our site and you can easily do a web search.

    Hope this helps!

  • Derek Britton // Feb 25, 2008 at 4:13 am

    Agree with the remarks so far.

    If you are new to the role, but there is a role defined, then the good news is your organization has established a strategic value to this role. It really means you need to look again at the definition your company has made of the role and plan things from there. Tempting as it may be to consider product management the same role everywhere you go, it will differ wildly based on company culture, maturity of function in the organization, leadership, the size of the team and the seniority of the role, the vertical industry, the customer segment / market, and any number of other factors.

    It also depends on you and whether there is scope for defining your own role.

    A couple of tips based on what didn’t quite work out for me personally.

    1. Don’t assume it’s about the “product”. The term is almost a misnomer, because the role is not about being THE expert on the product in the organization. Sure, that might happen as a consequence, but that is not the end game. The expertise should be in the reasons people buy the product, the reasons they use it, the way we can sell it, the value it brings. These are all largely externally-based information. It is useful then to consider your first port of call a few key clients to learn THEIR perspective.

    2. SE’s are super enough! Don’t feel obliged, compelled or even bullied into learning HOW the product is built, how it is best demo’d. Sure, you have to be able to explain it and support internal training, sales calls and all manner of evangelical work. But expect big things of those in other functions who you touch — expect developers to be able to design good code and build what you need; expect SE’s to do a decent demo and be able to describe the value proposition; expect sales to understand selling and work at the right level to help satisfy a customer problem. Don’t expect you have to do jobs for others, do expect a lot from your ecosystem, and put measures and controls in place to check it happens.

    3. Build a plan. But build THE plan, not YOUR plan. Your roadmap, revenue targets, customer plans, etc. may be shaped by existing strategy, business plans, release commitments, development funding/priority, marketing calendars. Dovetail into this and work with the overall strategy; don’t start with your product, start with your customers and your business. Keep what you do firmly in context of what the company wants to happen. Then you will see your “next release” as what it is, and you won’t over-demand, you won’t over-complicate, and you will focus on ensuring customer satisfaction.

    Finally, I personally recommend 3rd party training organizations (of which there are several including Pragmatic Marketing). Your org’ might have a preferred supplier, use them! The real value is seeing how many other folk are trying to achieve the same thing and understanding that there is a reasonably scientific process to doing it right.