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Set new hire product managers on the path to success

It takes deliberate effort to create an environment where a new product manager can hit the ground running. Their onboarding experience in the first few weeks helps set the tone for their whole tenure at the company. Given that your product culture is shaped by your product operations, the new hire experience will also be influenced by how you’ve set up their first few weeks.

To set the tone, I like to include something I call “one small change” on their 30-60-90 template to get them up to speed on the company’s product processes. Creating an environment where the new hire can succeed at “one small change” means investing in documentation and infrastructure that will benefit the entire product team.

“One small change” is exactly that – take one minor improvement all the way from idea to execution. Identify a point of customer friction, work with the team to create a solution, and get it deployed, all within their first 45 days at the company.

The onboarding experience

Looking at a product with fresh eyes, it’s easy to see all sorts of major issues that need to be fixed, but there’s often a complicated reason those issues haven’t been addressed. That’s why I focus on helping new hires get to know the teams and processes at their company.

I had a “one small change” experience when I onboarded as a new product manager at SpotHero. They had set up a customer feedback Slack channel, giving me an immediate stream of data. I noticed a pattern — 1-2 times per week someone would ask for help deleting a credit card from their account. The current flow required a swipe to delete and people had trouble finding it.

I approached our design team about fixing it. They quickly came up with an easy fix based on common patterns. Engineers were happy to add it in the next sprint and still get a bunch of other things done.

The impact was apparent as soon as we shipped. The requests to delete cards stopped. It gave me a chance to learn about how the team worked and develop trust, and I had my first fingerprint on the product within my first 45 days on the job. 

I came to them with a idea backed by data. I let everyone bring their expertise to solving the problem. I learned a few things about our development processes that served me well as I started looking at those big, hairy issues. We all got an easy win.

Operationalize the experience

Looking back, I realize that product leadership had set up a number of systems and processes to make this accomplishment possible. As a result, when I’m onboarding new product managers, I now take the following steps:

  • Create an easy way for your product manager to access customer feedback. The Slack channel hookup meant that from day 1 I was getting quantitative customer feedback.
  • Make your product development lifecycle explicit. I knew exactly who to approach first in order to get the design process started.
  • Express leadership support. I call it out as an expectation on the new hire’s onboarding plan.
  • Celebrate the accomplishment. Highlight the new hire’s success by inviting them to demo their first win. Give them the support to make it go smoothly. This also opens up the door for the broader company to meet them.

The bonus is that this helps the entire product team. Everyone can take advantage of the customer data, having a clear product development lifecycle makes it easier for everyone on the team to move in sync, and celebrating the small wins reinforces the value of quick, small releases and continuous delivery. It’s a small technique to push people towards a cultural change.

After having been at a company for a while, it’s hard to remember how much a new hire has to learn. The “one small win” provides a structure for them to focus on people and processes, while allowing for the subject matter expertise to be gained along the way.