10 tips for onboarding as a new product manager

Onboarding as a new product manager can be an overwhelming experience.

You’re not only learning the ins and outs of a new company, but you're also responsible for managing a product and leading a team. You're usually coming in cold to a hot situation.

It can be a lot to take on, but with some planning and proactive communication, you can make the onboarding process a little less daunting.

Here are 10 tips to help you get started:

1. Ask how the company onboards new hires during the interview process

Onboarding doesn’t just begin once you have the job.

Asking how a company onboards new hires is an interview question every candidate should ask.

This will give you a sense of what to expect during your first few weeks on the job and can help you prepare.

It will also set an expectation with your new manager of what’s required on their side to get you up to speed.

2. Set a 30, 60 and 90 plan and share it with your manager

This one is shamelessly stolen from the great book everyone should read: ‘‘The First 90 Days”.

Make a clear plan for your first 30, 60 and 90 days and what you want to achieve in each time period.

Share this with your manager and use it as a guiding doc to prioritize what you’ll start with.

This will help you stay focused and on track, and it will give your manager a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish during your first few months on the job.

3. Set up one-on-one meetings with as many people as possible

This will not only help you get to know your team, but it will also give you a better understanding of the company and its processes.

These meetings should not initially have an agenda. Moreso use them as just a get to know you session. So you can put a face to a name (this is especially helpful in remote jobs).

4. Write and share a ‘how I work’ guide

This will help set expectations and prevent misunderstandings.

Include things like how you prefer to communicate, how you handle deadlines, and what your work style is like.

For example, I prefer more of an async style communication approach. I prefer a slack DM over a ‘quick call’ (as it helps me avoid context switching).

If someone does DM me don’t just say ‘Hey’, tell me why you’re messaging me upfront.

Others may have an exact opposite preference for working. This is okay, it’s just better to have an understanding of what people prefer under an ideal scenario.

5. Ask dumb questions

As a new product manager, you're going to have a lot of questions, and it's important to ask them. A PM who’s afraid of asking questions will never begin to understand the problem or idea at hand.

Don't be afraid to ask for clarification or more information, even if you think the question might be "dumb."

It rarely is a dumb question and personally I always respect people more when I learn they’re not afraid to ask seemingly obvious questions.

To me, it shows they’re more concerned with understanding the problem/context than what people think of them.

6. Ask for regular feedback from your manager and coworkers

This will help you understand how you're doing and where you can improve.

It's also a good opportunity to get input and ideas from your team.

Depending on the context of your work maybe people would prefer you do certain things a different way or they have questions themselves why you’ve chosen a particular approach.

There are infinite possible permutations of this but if you make the conscious choice to explicitly ask for feedback on how you’re doing with your manager and co-workers then their input could be invaluable for you.

7. Organize your bookmarks

Bookmark as many things as possible in your browser and implement a structure to ensure you can easily access things quickly.

This will save you a massive amount of time.

It’s also a good question to ask your manager and co-workers to share what links they have bookmarked. If they consider it worthy of bookmarking then likely you’ll get value from it too.

As time goes on, keep an eye on which bookmarks you find yourself returning to again and again. Then prune the ones you rarely use.

8. Review your team's roadmap and backlog

Once you get a sense of who the people are you’ll want to get a sense of the work your team will be working on.

Reviewing the roadmap and backlog are the perfect place to start.

The roadmap to get an understanding of what the team wishes to achieve in the future. You’ll likely be heavily involved in some of these projects.

The backlog will give you a sense of how your team expects work items to be broken down. What info is required before work can begin.

The backlog is also a glimpse into what items the team prioritizes and de-prioritizes.

9. Understand how your team prioritizes work items

Every team has its own process for prioritizing work, and it's important to understand how your team does it.

This will help you make decisions and prioritize your own work.

What criteria do others use to prioritize? This gives you a sense of what the company values.

That’s not to say all companies do this properly. Maybe your observation will be that the company is prioritizing items for the wrong reasons.

Investigate further and find out. Maybe there is a factor you’re currently unaware of.

10. Your first impressions are gold dust, take note of them

You’ll never have your first impressions again. Very quickly you’ll get used to the ways of working, right or wrong.

Make sure you make a conscious effort to take note of your first impressions on everything you come across. From the products themselves, the team processes and culture.

Reflecting on these first impressions at a later stage, say around the 90 day mark, will give you a more nuanced perspective on everything.

This perspective can then be used to improve the product or process or whatever it is you’ve noticed.

If you don’t take note of your first impressions it’s amazing how quickly you’ll adapt and forget them.

Onboarding as a new product manager can be challenging, but simple, conscious choices can make the whole thing easier for everyone.

By following these 10 tips, you can hit the ground running and begin contributing value to your team as quickly as possible.

This should be the ultimate goal for any new product manager.

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