The First 30 Days as a Product Leader
Over the years, I’ve taken up product leadership roles in multiple organizational contexts (enterprise, expansion stage, growth stage). Through these experiences, I’ve realized there’s an effective template for what to focus on during your first 30 days. Here are some of my recommendations:
Build a baseline view of the firm
As part of the interview process, chances are you’ve met with a few executives. Try to meet all of them and focus the discussions on:
- Vision, strategy (market and product), business model, and moats
- The top 3 priorities for their functional area and what has gone well and what hasn’t
I prefer to do all these meetings before officially starting the job, but if that’s not possible, try to do it within a couple of days of getting started. At the end of this phase, build a baseline view of the business, and its priorities and challenges. (See if you can complete a business model canvas for the venture). Later, you’ll revisit this executive baseline and compare it against the leadership baseline.
Additionally, if you’re aware of any key team member leaving the organization in the last three months, try to reach out to them in confidence for a chat. Keep any information you collect during this chat isolated until it’s time for triangulation.
Earn the trust and confidence of your team
At the product leadership level, you’ll probably have a few direct reports (product managers), assuming you’re on the people manager track. It’s important to remember you’ve been hired to make them successful.
The first step in that journey is to invest in this relationship. Don’t dive into work stuff right away.
- In your first 1–1, focus on sharing who you are: your upbringing, your family, your values, and how they came to be. Sharing that upfront allows them to relax and hopefully return the favor.
The next 1–1 is ideally done outside the building.
Over lunch, discuss career aspirations. Again, share first to set the stage. Highlight your career path thus far, your motivations for seeking this role, what you hope to accomplish in this role, where you see yourself in the next five years, and the next ten. Now, it’s their turn. At the end, give them a commitment that you’re here to help them grow and succeed. And that together you will come up with a plan (within your first 90 days) that puts them in the right path to achieve their aspirations.
Don’t forget to walk the talk later.
Assemble your fellowship
For the free-peoples of the middle earth, the fellowship consisted of nine members. Who will be in yours? Identify the key stakeholders from the leadership level (Dir/VP) across functions. Normally, this fellowship could be a mixture of other product managers, product marketers, engineers, business operations, etc. Select your crew carefully. Take your time in assembling this crew and invest your heart and soul into these relationships. Keep it to five or six people so you can dedicate the time required.
When it comes to making hard decisions, they’ll be the ones alerting you about any blind spots and biases. When it comes to alignment, they’ll be the ones doing the pre-wiring on your behalf. Remember, together you will go farther.
Roll up your sleeves
With the first week well underway, you can now focus on your learning. Based on your executive chats, you should already have a high-level understanding of the market, the customer segments, the buyers/users, the product positioning, competitive landscape, etc. The next level of learning is best categorized into topics and tactics. Keep in mind, this is within the context of first 30 days, but the learning never stops!
- Read and subscribe to relevant blogs, newsletters, and industry reports from consulting firms and venture funds.
- Set up time with account managers from each segment and learn more about the user, their motivations, and challenges.
- Listen in on at least two sales call per market and customer segment.
- Set up time with product marketing to understand the buyer journey for each segment and the relevant product positioning.
- Get a demo from a sales representative, an account manager, and from a product manager. Observe if they focus on different aspects and make a mental note.
- Get the product manager to walk you through the various use cases and how the product caters to them. Get the account manager to do the same. Observe if they differ in any way and make a mental note.
- Review all NPS feedback verbatim from the last six months.
- Listen in on at least two product discovery calls per segment per week.
- Review usage metrics, relevant objectives, and key results established for 2018.
- Blogs are a great resource to get objective feedback. Supplement those with conversations with sales representatives.
- Review win/loss reports for the last six months.
- Read the latest 10K of all public competitors.
- Review the market map by CB Insights, or some other research firm, and go through all the websites of relevant competitors. If you can’t find one online, reach out to your investors.
- Review all public webinars, demos, etc. (check official YouTube channels).
Put the general manager hat on
It’s probably been about two weeks into the job by now, you’ve completed the above tasks and are starting to feel grounded. Now, it’s the right time to build a baseline grounded in reality for your products and the overall business.
Remember, you’re new to the firm. You can question any assumption, ask clarification on any expectation, and draw new baselines. Don’t let go of that opportunity lightly.
- Review all assumptions made in the business model. Does the top line growth for 2019 make sense? When do you plan to break-even or focus on profitable growth? Does that make sense?
- Review the key metrics identified and definition of success. Do you have a north star metric? Does that metric make sense?
- Review the roadmap for the next six months. Are you focused on the right problems? What outcomes are they driving at? Do they sync with your key priorities around growth, engagement, monetization? Are you adequately resourced to achieve your goals in a timely fashion?
- Recall conversations with the product manager(s), product marketing manager(s), account manager(s), and sales rep(s). Are they all in sync about the product strategy? Are they all in sync with the execution plan for next six months?
- Recall conversations at the executive and leadership levels (VP/Dir). Are both groups in sync about the top three priorities and challenges for their function? Do they have the same view on what went well and what hasn’t historically?
State of the Union address
At the end of your first month, with the bulk of the last two weeks spent as a general manager thinking about strategy, roadmap, go-to-market, and organizational dynamics. It’s time for you to give the first State of the Union address.
Your primary goal here is to achieve alignment with the executive leadership and set (or reset) expectations on future goals for the product(s) that you lead. Ensure everyone walks out with a clear understanding of the status quo and is in sync about the future goals. Subsequent meetings may be scheduled to address individual topics like roadmap or objectives and key results, but the goal here is to level set as a whole.
A secondary goal is to earn the trust and confidence of your executive leadership. You do that by showcasing your ability to take a step back, pause, and critically review the product and business in a thoughtful way, and communicate your findings in a compelling manner. Thus, driving alignment.
Hopefully, you’ve done just that and scored your first win as a product leader! Over the next two months, you’ll dig deeper, take more ambitious projects, and drive more value for your team and the firm. More on that as I wrap up my first 90 days!
For now, congratulations! You’ve successfully completed the first month in your product leadership role. Keep at it and may the force be with you!