Critical Skills to Develop as a New Product Manager in Your First 6 Months
Members of the PMHQ Slack community regularly host awesome events for product managers to swap tips and learn from one another.
In San Francisco, Vinay Melwani (Product Manager at HouseCanary) has organized a monthly morning meetup called AM|PM. Attendees answer a thought-provoking question of the month in a round-robin fashion and reflect on each other’s responses.
Below is our summary of November’s AM | PM meetup!
Our question of the month for November 2017 was provided by Rob McGrorty, Head of Product at Webgility:
"If you could learn anything from anyone in your first 6 months as a PM, what single thing would you want them to teach you?"
Interestingly, few people shared the same perspective on what one thing they wish they knew as a new PM.
The answers revolved around the following themes:
- Scope of responsibilities & focus
- Metrics & goals
Rob found that frameworks would have enabled him to be much more effective in his early days.
He wishes he knew how to internalize and deconstruct popular frameworks, and how to modify them to fit his environment.
That is, he wanted to have the habit of starting each thought exercise with the following process:
- Identify the most relevant framework
- Break it down to the constituent pieces that align with particular outcomes
- Modify it to fit the situation by selecting relevant pieces
- Use the framework to set a high-level direction before diving into details
To learn more about frameworks, check out this article on developing mental models for effective thinking (Farnam Street Blog).
2) Scope of Responsibilities & Focus
Justin Johnson, Director of Developer Relations at StackPath, found that he was being asked to do too much early in his career, and wished that someone had taught him what the job is vs. what it isn’t.
At his organization, he was the only product manager. This situation was problematic because they had multiple simultaneous fires, all of which he was expected to resolve with limited resources and time.
He wishes he knew which single item to focus on at a particular point in time, and which items made the most sense to ignore.
Curious to learn what a PM should do versus what they should not? Check out these resources on PMHQ:
- What is a Product Manager?
- Product Manager vs. Project Manager
- Product Manager vs. Product Marketing Manager
3) Metrics & Goals
Fahad Quraishi, Product Manager at Krossover, focused on metrics. He would have liked to have guidance on how to more clearly define and track metrics to drive accountability and prioritization.
Similarly, Johnny Xu, former Product Manager at Ozlo, wished he had better guidance on setting tangible success criteria and goals. As the only PM at a fast-paced startup, he felt that if he had stronger metrics early in his PM career, he would have been able to better communicate the success of products and prioritize his team. Part of being a great PM is knowing and sharing what you’re building, why you’re building it, and when it’s going to be successful.
On PMHQ, we’ve covered a couple of critical metrics; you can find these links below. Let us know (e.g. through email, Slack, comments) whether there are others you’d like us to cover!
As for setting goals, one popular method is Objectives and Key Results (OKR). Objectives are qualitative goals (e.g. “Provide a world-class mobile user experience”), which are backed up by qualitative metrics called key results (e.g. “Reduce bounce rate by 25%). The following resources do a fantastic job in explaining how to implement this methodology:
Multiple product managers wished that they had more confidence in their first 6 months on the job.
Vinay wished that he had more confidence in making decisions and in negotiating with stakeholders. He felt that he had been a pushover and that his lack of force had wound up taking the product down paths that he disagreed with.
Lindsay Brothers, Product Manager at Indeed, struggled with organizational politics early in her career.
She wished that she knew how to build up relationships and political capital, as well as how to spend it well.
She found that her stakeholders held strong opinions about the product roadmap, and that she needed to step in multiple times to align them. She felt the process would have been smoother if she had guidance on how to build influence over time.
As a product manager, you’ll be asked to tackle tasks that you may not be familiar with, and you’ll be asked to leverage skill sets that you don’t yet possess.
It’s important to have this baseline expectation as you enter the product management world for the first time.
In other words: there is no single magical set of skills that will guarantee your success. The skills that you’ll need are heavily context-dependent, based on what industry you’re in, the position your is in, and the position your product is in.
As you navigate your career, whether you’re a new PM or a seasoned veteran, be sure to proactively reach out for help, whether it’s within your own organization or through other communities such as our PMHQ Community. If there’s one thing to know about product managers, it’s that we love to help!
Have thoughts that you'd like to contribute around skills a new product manager should be developing in the first 6 months? Chat with other product managers around the world in our PMHQ Community!