Product Field Guide

The First Thirty Days

How to hit the ground running

The First Thirty Days

A new role is exciting, scary, intriguing, confusing, fun, and overwhelming, especially at a new company that feels like a distant planet where everyone’s speaking Acronymish.

In an ideal world, you’ll have a clear 30-60-90 plan that defines success and some low-hanging fruit to pluck along the way. Often, this is incomplete at best.

I’ve started new roles nine times in my product career, and my most effective onboarding occurred when I learned by doing. So, here are 30 actions to earn quick wins and accelerate learning in your first 30 days of a new product role.

Note: The list is numbered for ease of reference and is not exhaustive nor prescriptive—it’s a grab-bag for getting started.

1. Take meeting minutes. In team meetings, volunteer as scribe and share notes afterward. Notetaking will help you better digest the material, and you’ll do the team a small favor—adding value and demonstrating humility.

2. Meet customers. Ask to shadow a product-related call with an account manager or participate in a discovery call with a designer.

3. Create new hire training. Make it easier for the next person who joins the team.

4. Use the product. Get the proper permissions and use the product! Even if the product is an internal system or has no user interface (like an API), use it a few times and get a sense of how it works.

5. Make a list of product issues. As you use the product, log your onboarding challenges and questions about features. These will help you understand gaps in your knowledge and could inspire product improvements later.

6. Review user feedback. Ask team members for user-reported feedback—these might be in a system like Jira or (more likely) some clunky spreadsheet. Read each one manually and label them.

7. Get the latest slide template. Ask a marketer for the most recent slide template that follows company brand guidelines. While it may seem trivial, your future presentations will demonstrate best practices and reduce the surface area for nitpicking.

8. Perform a competitive analysis. Do some light market research to see what the competitive landscape looks like. Put these learnings into a few slides and share them with your team.

9. Understand how you’re measured. Meet with your manager and ask what OKRs, KPIs, or goals they have for the year and how you can help.

10. Create or improve the product dashboard. Ask where you can see product performance metrics (i.e., latency, uptime, active users, revenue, sales pipeline, churn, customer acquisition cost). Help aggregate the most important ones into a simple view.

11. Meet everyone on the team. Schedule a short 1:1 with each person to learn what they do and their challenges. Ask relevant questions about the product to round out your knowledge—i.e., ask a marketer about positioning or an engineer about the architecture.

12. Schedule recurring 1:1s. For people you’ll regularly collaborate with (i.e., the engineering lead and your manager), schedule a meeting at a cadence they recommend.

13. Perform QA testing. Ask to help test a new feature before launch. Ask for the most tedious test cases to take the load off the team and go deep with the product.

14. Make a pull request. Ask engineers if there’s any simple coding work you can take off their hands (i.e., running test scripts, performing routine data ingestion) so you can get comfortable with the tech stack and DevOps process.

15. Schedule 30, 60, and 90-day reviews with your manager. Set up 30-minute check-ins every 30 days to get honest feedback on your performance. Take the feedback seriously.

16. Memorize the org chart. Review reporting structures to understand how work flows through the organization.

17. Create or update product FAQs. Based on your learnings, compile short and simple FAQs and share them with the team so they don’t need to repeat themselves when others have similar questions.

18. Query logs. If your product has plaintext search logs or usage statistics, ask for SQL read access to the relevant databases so you can perform exploratory data analysis. Put your query templates on a wiki page and share your findings with the team.

19. Update the wiki. As you read the documentation and discover outdated information in your talks with team members, update the wiki. If the content doesn’t exist (i.e., how to query search logs), create it.

20. Update system diagrams. When you review architecture diagrams with an engineer, and they say, “That’s outdated; it works like this now,” update the diagrams to match.

21. Offer to write status reports. For a project status report, ask if you can facilitate writing and sending the email. Ensure the sender list is up-to-date and all the content remains relevant.

22. Do the grunt work. Offer to do any busy work for your team (i.e., data entry or document formatting). Be clear that this is a one-time favor and not your new job.

23. Collect bookmarks and acronyms. Keep a running file of valuable links and acronyms. Add this to your new hire training and share it with the team as a common resource.

24. Assist your stakeholders. Understand the key internal stakeholders of your product—a representative in sales, a vocal account manager, and a product leader are a good start—and make a good impression by listening to their needs and earning them a quick win (i.e., updated FAQs, a better product dashboard, a clear status report).

25. Ingest what your customers ingest. Figure out what your customers engage with—are there industry reports they read, podcasts they listen to, or online forums they chat in? Find these and subscribe.

26. Honor the history. Ask a tenured employee about the history of the company and its products. Learn how it came to its current state, what challenges and successes it had in the past, and how the users/customers have changed.

27. Tighten up acceptance criteria. Look at some tickets your team is working on and ask if any requirements are unclear. Update them with the right level of detail.

28. Learn to send praise. Many companies have an HR tool to send a public “thanks” to coworkers. Do this for someone who was especially helpful in your onboarding.

29. Clean the backlog. Review it with a teammate to close outdated items, combine related ideas, and add light prioritization.

30. Reserve judgment. Many processes won’t make sense, but try to learn why they exist, and don’t assert your opinion too strongly in the first month. Nobody likes a Scrum Zealot.

This post was inspired by Jackie Bavaro’s tweet about your first 90 days.

This article was last updated on 08 Jan 2024.

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