The first three months of any job can be tough. But when your role is to step in and drive the direction of a product, even though you’re the new kid in town, that challenge becomes exponentially greater.
This past Wednesday, Montreal’s veteran and aspiring product managers gathered at Pub L’Ile Noire for ProductTank #11 to hear Gaël Meagher of Busbud, Scott Usheroff of Salesfloor, and Raisa MacLeod from SweetIQ describe the ups and downs of their first three months in the role of product manager, or in the case of Usheroff, his first three months after moving to a new company.
The three speakers had starkly different backgrounds and perspectives. There’s no clear path to becoming a product manager; some have developer backgrounds, others have worked in marketing or as business analysts. The only commonality is work experience that leads to a deep understanding of the market, how best to approach the development of a product, and how to communicate your vision and work amicably with a team of developers, marketers, and everyone else who depends on your expertise.
Assess the lay of the land
“[I] start off by learning and observing,” said Usheroff. “Ask questions to everyone I can ask. I’m going to hold my thunder, because no one wants anyone coming into a company and trying to make change within the first few days. You have to learn the process, learn the problems, and then execute.”
Meagher echoed the idea that the best way to start is to learn everything possible about the company and its processes. Before taking on the role of product manager, he had already worked at Busbud in a number of other capacities, so he went both to his work colleagues and outside the company for insight into his new position.
“What I started doing when I arrived was just take a step back, and I went through the company and chatted with everyone about the business, chatted with folks outside the business […] just to find out what had worked well, what worked for other companies.”
“Come prepared. Do a bit of research. Do your due diligence,” said Usheroff. “Find ways that you can relate to the people you’re going to be working with. Break the ice, and that’s the best way you can learn from them. Listen to them.”
Win your team’s trust
While stepping into a new team requires strength of character and vision, sometimes changing roles within a company can be even tougher when it comes to winning over your colleagues.
Having already worked at Swee IQ as business analyst — although she admitted that she was really the “Jane of all trades” of the company when it was still a small team — MacLeod first had to win the trust of the management, stakeholders, and the dev team before she could step into the role of product manager. Ultimately she proved both her intelligence and vision to her colleagues, and was given the opportunity to take the lead on a number of projects.
“Listen, respect each other, and trust that everybody is trying to make the best product,” said MacLeod.
“You have to put your ego aside and you have to work on the product,” she continued. “Your number one goal is to get the right product out there, and to work with the developers.”
“Product management is always going to be difficult,” said Usheroff. “There are times when you’re going to feel like everyone hates you; there are time when you’re going to feel like you’ve done a great job. Embrace all of it because at the end of the day, we’re all here for the same reason: to get shit done.”