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How can you help new product managers hit the ground running? Here is product management advice we share at HubSpot when onboarding new product leaders to the team. Check out the blog post here: http://product.hubspot.com/blog/9-lessons-from-onboarding-new-product-managers
Food for thought
Product management is great at teaching you essential life skills like critical thinking and
decision making. There is no blueprint to follow and no silver bullet. You have to learn fast,
identify problems, ask questions, and work well with your team.
So how do you welcome someone new to this world of product management? What are the
tangible activities you can introduce in order to ensure a newbie is focused on flexing the
right muscles and is set up for success?
As we have been onboarding new product managers to the HubSpot team, we have
stumbled upon some useful lessons, made some mistakes on the way, and found a couple
of handy practices. Flip through them below!
Focus on the problem and seek a quick development cycle.
You want to establish a short
release cycle based on small
iterations and the idea of a
minimal viable product
(MVP) to allow you to solve
problems in the smallest
amount of time, get new
information quickly, and
change direction as needed.
In this work you’ll be flexing
management muscles at
different times – research,
problem articulation, an
understanding of the impact,
design work, customer
Tactically, you can
strengthen these skills
with a couple of things
from your backlog:
identifying the problem
and its scale, validating
solutions with your team,
testing the solutions with
real users, shipping to
listening to feedback,
iterating, and measuring
The problem identification process is the first step in the
development cycle: it addresses something that is causing
customer pain and needs to be fully understood.
A product manager needs to spend time researching the
problem and its scale, defining it clearly, validating it, and
creating a vision for what success might look like. This
usually means pulling usage data, support data, and talking
Once the problem and opportunity have been
defined and validated, a product manager can
work with her team to explore a few ways of
solving it. The idea here is not to jump to the
very first solution that comes to mind, but to
allow for the evaluation of different ideas. To
narrow down the number of ideas to one
proposed solution, you might use
whiteboarding, prototypes, and user testing.
When you feel good about the proposed
solution to the problem, you’ll start
doing some beta testing, internal
communication, and product marketing.
At this stage, also ensure that you have
all the usage tracking you’ll need to see
if the changes you’ve made address the
problem you sought to solve in the first
place. It’s vital to close the loop and
provide this information to yourself and
Think through your decisions out loud.
It’s hard to make a decision
that you know will impact
customers in a short period of
time and with limited
information, but you’ll have to
get comfortable with it.
Evaluate a few options and
think through the pros and
cons. Walk through specific
examples with your team.
Don’t forget, you’re solving for
the whole customer base, not
just the loudest customers.
Sometimes you’re going to
have to make tough
decisions, decisions that you
know will hurt some
customers, lose some deals,
and get support reps yelled
at. But they’re still the right
things to do.
Any decision is better than
no decision. You're almost
always going to be wrong so
take your best educated
guess, make sure you're
making small bets, and be
confident that you can test
Spending Your Time Wisely
Do the work that will support your team the most.
You’ll often doubt whether
you’re spending your time in
worthwhile ways. You’ll
wonder if the things you’re
doing are the things you need
to be doing. Remember, your
time is well spent if you’re
supporting your team in ways
that only you can.
You don’t need to fix every
problem. Focus on being the
voice of the customer. When
in doubt, talk to more of your
customers or read more
customer feedback. You can
never do too much of that.
For example, understanding
a customer problem really
well or understanding your
app’s usage patterns inside
out or finding out the root
cause for many of your
support cases are all good
ways to spend your time
and support your team.
Think about the majority of customers.
Ask yourself what will solve for 80% of
your customer base. Most times, that
answer will direct you to the decision you
need to make.
Sometimes you’ll choose work that will
only impact 20% of the customer base
because that segment may be highly
valuable and support the business or
support the usage of the other 80%. That
isn’t a bad situation to be in, but just be
aware of that context and be able to paint
that picture for others.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you think through
whether something is important enough to work on?
✘ Will most customers benefit from this today?
✘ Does it move activation or retention rate?
✘ Does it make our customers better marketers or sales reps?
✘ Compared to other things we could be working on, does it
solve a bigger problem?
✘ Does it make us more competitive?
✘ How much work will it take? Is it realistic to have an MVP
within a couple of weeks?
Often times something is good to focus on, but the timing isn’t right
Talking to Customers
Accept phone calls and learn to ask open-ended questions.
Make it a point to talk to customers at least
twice a week. These chats don’t need to take
more than 30 minutes each, so you should
learn how to make them as productive as they
Start by thanking your customer for their time
and input. Ensure that you know who they are
(get some general background information on
them) and then focus on the problem they’re
experiencing. Ask open-ended questions to
really uncover the issue and repeat it back to
Ask for specific examples as you walk through
the problem. Ask if the customer is interested
in beta testing or user testing in the future.
Don’t just talk to your
customers; watch them
use the product. Find out
what other products they
use in their process, and
how they use them. Do
they use Excel? Do they
use a notepad? Do they
have team meetings and
how often? Do they hate
their boss? Do they want
a raise? Do they have a
family? What time do they
go home at night? What
time do they come to the
office in the morning?
Find out what they really
do to get their job done.
What really drives them?
Find out what they won’t
think to tell you.
Keep asking questions to
get to the real problem.
You typically have to peel
back a few layers of the
onion to get there.
Documenting Your Learnings
Catalogue what you learn.
Don’t give in to the impostor
syndrome. Yes, you’re new, but
that doesn’t mean anyone is
better at solving these problems
than you are. The truth is, there
will always be people who can
learn from your discoveries, gain
insight from thinking about things
from your perspective, or benefit
from the care you took in
documenting your research.
If you learn something new
that’s valuable and that
hasn’t been documented,
There will be other people
coming after you who’ll have
the same question, so pass
your knowledge on and let
them benefit from all your
Find out how helpful your product actually is.
There are a couple of questions you need to ask
yourself in order to find out if your product is
actually helping anyone:
✘ Are new people using it? (Activation)
✘ Are users continuing to use it? (Retention)
✘ Is anyone recommending it? (NPS / Virality)
Establish the usage events that represent activation
(the first time a user experiences value) and
retention (repeated usage) of your product. Build
reports to monitor those numbers over time and
consider combining the data into a dashboard.
Similarly, if you have Support data, use that
too so you can follow the number of tickets for
your product over time. Make sure these
reports are widely available to the rest of your
Being a Team Builder
Enable your teammates and collaborate with them.
To earn the respect of
your team, become a
domain expert and
represent the voice of
Don’t be afraid to ask
collaborate with your
engineers on the
processes by walking
through examples and
by focusing on the
Manage the product, not the team. The
people on your team are good at what they
do, and will often come up with better
solutions if you give them the autonomy to.
Find the best
channel for your
team: virtual or in-
short 1:1s, informal
lunches, or ad-hoc
your desks. Find a
and stick with it. Do
whatever makes the
most sense for your
team and what best
enables them to be
Reinforcing the Vision
Keep things simple by revisiting the long-term mission and vision.
Clearly articulate the values, mission and long-term
vision for your team and product.
For example, your product may seek to:
✘ Help teams automate work confidently.
✘ Become the defacto CRM for SMBs.
✘ Empower teams to manage work in one place.
The mission statement should be
simple and concise; it doesn’t
need to encompass every possible
feature. Based on this statement,
you will want to say "no" to some
product ideas you are currently
Be sure that your long-term vision
matches the mission and goals of
your company as a whole. Then
connect the dots between this
long-term vision and the ways you
might get there in the short-term.
Reinforcing the vision regularly
and in informal settings will help
your team feel more confident in
Focus on the goal, not the features. The
features will change. “Future you” will come
up with better ideas and better features as
new information comes to light.
Beware of feature roadmaps. You should be
able to pivot and iterate to build a truly great
product. Don't promise features because
you don't know if they'll actually solve the
problem at hand.
We don't use product roadmaps at HubSpot
because they don't solve for the customer;
they solve for the company. You are building
for the customer and, more importantly,
learning what to build along the way.
You can find us at
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