5 Ways New Product Managers Learn on the Job


There is no shortcut to becoming a successful product manager. Like any major accomplishment, it takes time and practice. If you are a new product manager or just joined a new company, you may feel overwhelmed.

Do not get discouraged. Remember that all great product managers once began in your same position.

So what does it take to go from novice to pro? Here are five ways to kick-start your product management career — starting your first day on the job:

1. Know the company’s goals
As a product manager, you will ultimately be measured by two things — the success of the product and how well you are able to align that work with the company’s goals. Start small. Before you can grasp the big-picture objectives, focus on understanding your boss. How is he or she being measured? By answering this question, you will understand what is important to the company as a whole.

2. Talk to (at least) five customers
Do not be afraid to engage directly with customers — it is the only way to really understand your product value. In most cases, customers who are actively using your product want to tell you what they love (or loathe). This insight will give you the power to make pivotal decisions and trade-offs.

3. Use the product daily
If you manage a consumer product, this is a no-brainer and you should be using the product daily. However, if you work in a high-tech company that develops business-to-business applications, you need to take a different approach. Ask the engineers to give you access to a demo or staging environment, so you can tinker with the product. Hands-on use is the best learning experience. This is yet another good reason to make friends with a sales engineer since they typically have access to the demo and staging areas.

4. Befriend a sales engineer
Does your company have sales engineers? These colleagues are in constant communications with customers and know the product inside and out. By striking a friendship with one of these talented engineers, you will be privy to their wealth of knowledge. Once you have buddied up to a sales engineer, ask him or her if you can shadow them. This will give you a deep level of appreciation for the interworking of the product, as well as how it is used by customers.

5. Sit on 10 customer support calls
While you are getting friendly with internal teams, reach out to the customer support team. They are constantly fielding questions and issues from customers, and you have a lot to gain from sitting in on their calls. Listen to the feedback and questions that customers bring up, as well as how the support team handles them. This back-and-forth will further your understanding of the customer and product. If you are not able to make the calls, set up weekly meetings with the customer support manager and reps to review their issues list and the top questions that come in.

There are no shortcuts to the top. And as a new product manager, you need to be especially proactive. Not all companies will offer comprehensive training. So use the above advice as a product launch pad to grow in your role and master your understanding of your product’s value, market, and customer.

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