- JJ Rorie
Onboarding Product Managers
Mirela Mus: "And I think for a new hire, it's good to understand the micro- interactions and context before you step on something or on someone's toes there. And you're not yet established. I mean, in an ideal case, company shouldn't be political, and there shouldn't be these type of behaviors. But even the best companies will try to iron that out may still have someone who is somewhat disgruntled about a certain topic at some point, and may not be helpful to the person trying to make a difference."
people, company, product, product managers, onboarding, meetings, months, hire, onboard, joining, context, bit, person, organization, stakeholders, team, structure, documents, client, work
Welcome to Product voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests, or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of great product management.
Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. You know, a lot of people have been moving jobs over the past couple of years. And at least anecdotally, from what I can tell the average tenure of a product manager seems to be shortening, moving companies and even industries can frankly be a good thing for someone's career. So we're seeing that more and more. And I think it's probably a positive thing All in all, but for companies, they need to ensure that new product managers get on boarded and integrated into the team and the culture as soon as possible. So this episode is all about how to successfully onboard new product managers onto your team.
My guest has a very unique perspective on this. So I'm really excited to hear her thoughts and insights on that Mirela Mus has 11 years of hands on and product leadership experience a background in computer science and an MBA. She's the founder of Product People, a product management consultancy with 42 full time product managers, who help his interims in Europe's top product companies. As an interim PM, she's contributed to Tier, Zalando, Omio, and WHO, and continues to do so with her growing team.
Mirela, thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you for having me, JJ. I'm excited about this conversation.
I love your perspective with Product People, you just have a really unique perspective of ensuring that you onboard product managers very quickly and successfully. So with that, tell me more about Product People and how leading this company has led you to frankly become an expert at what successful onboarding looks like for a product manager.
We are a product management consultancy on a mission to help companies discover and deliver great products faster, our 42 full time product managers help as interim. So with that they onboard at new clients every three to nine months. That's roughly 100 on boardings per year in series B to publicly listed companies. So this is why I would like to share our learnings on how you can board fast as a PM, if you're a listener, or for product leaders are hiring managers how to not freak out your new product hires in the first weeks, and also help them make an impact and for you get most of our your time with them there.
And the reason we've noticed this is that roughly most companies tend to suck at onboarding in general, it feels sometimes like an afterthought, or it's something not revised that often. And even those who don't struggle to onboard product managers due to the role having a very wide surface area, and being poorly understood in some areas or or in some organizations. And that's a pity because it wastes time, money and talent.
Yeah, so that's a lot of onboarding over 100 in a year. And I know some some teams grow quite a bit, but I doubt that anybody has that much experience of onboarding that many new product managers tell me, tell me what the keys are that you have found to onboarding a new product manager successfully.
Sure. Before that, just to give a bit of context, why this is a bit harder than for other roles is that the product managers having this huge surface area so the lie is from business. Stakeholders, marketing can be also legal, customer success, engineering teams, operations, design, anything depending on the type of product they work on. They're also the ones who make decisions to invest everyone's times, which makes a mis-hire even more so expensive than having just an engineer Mis-hiring, Mis-hire in engineering, and they're also the ones in the middle of the information flow and they can make and break it confuse people or not confuse people.
There was personal admirer, Robert Chokr from Delivery Hero. He said the value of a good product manager he can go into a very confused meeting full of people who kind of all talk different things and come out with clarity out of that. So it's it's a high leverage position. And they also need a lot of this background on the company's market strategic context. What are the next goals the company wants? I'm Stuart Schiff. And with that, then what would be the key takeaways are kind of discipline, deceptively simple, but also not. So I would say it's people and problem and how to secure initial quick wins to build the trust of these large surface area of stakeholders so that they can help you be successful later on.
Yeah, that's, that's really interesting. And I love your context in terms of, you know why the pm role is so difficult or can be so difficult to onboard because of the surface area that they cover. I love the way you contextualize that. So let me dig a little bit more into that I think that's a really good point about, you know, finding the quick wins and how to build that momentum and trust with some of those stakeholders.
So, so any examples or any other thoughts on how to to identify some potential quick wins when somebody starting, and then maybe how to go about that, how to communicate them how to how to how to have those quick wins when someone's starting?
Sure How to identify the quick wins. That sounds something at least for for us as externals is relatively simple because we're usually brought in by a person or two people. And they will already have something in mind why we're rocking therefore. But I'm considering also new hire when they join someone who's overwhelmed with work. That's probably the boss or someone who has been holding down the fort until the new hire joins. So I think that will be the first person to help. And that's also the framework that we have going in there. We look at two parts we look at people and problems and for people is understanding who are the people that decide your success there. So for us, we call this a champion, right? Because we don't have line managers as we are externals. But for a new hire, it can be a line manager or very influential decision maker.
So it can be anything from a founder, CEO, head of product, VP of product, but even a pure product manager or senior product manager that they're taking some work from, and they're seeing someone responsible. And then the other ones would be the stakeholders, especially commercial or business areas like sales, marketing, PR, legal customer success. And then the teams do you usually need to execute upon initiatives like engineering, product design, user research, bi, potentially marketing. And as well, people who may not be very helpful to you, we call those troublemakers not not because we think people may be bad or just it's sometimes maybe they are disgruntled employees, or someone who has some beef with the people you're working with. Or life usually kind of happens.
And I think for a new hire, it's good to understand this, the sort of micro interactions and context before you step on something or on someone's toes there. And you're not yet established. I mean, in an ideal case, company shouldn't be political, and there shouldn't be these type of behaviors. But even the best companies will try to iron that out may still have someone who is somewhat disgruntled about a certain topic at some point, and may not be helpful to the person trying to make a difference.
Yeah, I think that's amazing advice. And I love you know, the the perspective of the fact that that you have product people, like you said, you kind of have an edict or you have a direction from your client, but a product manager, just being hired onto a new team isn't necessarily going to have that. So I really love the the thought about looking at it from a problem perspective and a people perspective, and especially that people those relationships, it's so important to find those champions, or to identify those troublemakers. I love that that term. So really good advice there.
So so as a new product manager being on boarded, even if you don't have clear direction, on what could be some of those quick wins, you can take it on yourself to identify some of those. And I think that might even be more or make a bigger impact if folks don't even know what they're looking for. And then someone new can come in and make an impact there. I think that's a really interesting perspective there.
Absolutely. The reason I said usually ask the people who bring you in. Because in the past, I used to also look from outside and the product and say, Oh, they need to fix this and why didn't they do that and so on. And then I would join that company and realize they have performed an A B test with my idea. About six months ago, and it lowered the conversion rate. And I've also noticed that people in general, feel that newcomers haven't earned the right to complain about things. Not everyone. So some, some companies are fine. But as a general rule, it's easier to be helpful initially on a few things, and then start asking questions and making comments about things you're not sure that are going well, instead of going directly and pointing at things you think are not going well, before you've established some credibility internally, yes, I love that. Unless this is what you're told to do, unless they say, Hey, this is broken, come here and fix it, then that's also very clear. But But if not, I usually start by asking questions and asking for a lot of information. And sometimes the people say themselves, CES, were not very happy with these. We know it's bad. We just had other priorities to fix it. And I had just asked, Hey, how about this thing? And try to imply anything?
Right, right. I love that. I remember one time when I was early in my career, it was working at a company and the CEOs son came into the company as a vice president, he was like, 24 years old, I was as well. So he was, you know, around my age. And, and so this, this person who's new to the business world, which I knew I was new to the business world didn't have a clue what I was doing. So I know he didn't either. But he was hired as a VP. And I remember him in some of the meetings when he was meeting us say, you know, we would ask, so what's your role? What are you going to be doing? And he was in, he would say things like, Well, I'm just going to look around and see what the problems are, and just fix everything. And your to your point, he had no credibility, you know, nobody trusted him. And he definitely didn't, didn't do it. No, no, you know, no offense to him. We were we were all young and naive and silly when we were 24. But, you know, it's, it's a good point to go in, ask questions, get to know that people see what they've tried before, hasn't worked and really kind of get the groundwork before you, you try to bulrush everything. So I love that advice.
Okay, so here's my next question for you. And this is something I've struggled with in in my past as I was trying to onboard product managers, how do you measure onboarding? How do you how do we know when something has been successful? Are there any good indications about maybe even who will be a good PM? Or what you know, what will help us onboard someone easily and successfully?
Alright, so first question, how do you measure and then who would be a good pm, I would start with how to measure. I think the the first part is also considering the initial context. If you're onboarding someone in a structured and relatively well functioning product organization, then it will be harder for them initially to show any outcomes. Because one, someone who works at one of the fang companies told me, it took the person six months to ship a checkbox, of course, it was League of checkbox implication. But that's sometimes how it takes in companies we work for, it can take between two to four to have meaningful impact on the user experience or a meaningful capability rolled out, depending on on also how you ramp it up, how you test it initially, and so on. So of course, you don't want to wait four months to see if someone has failed, you want to pick up a few initial things. But that's also the timeline. So if let's say someone joins right now, they may be launching something someone else has been prepping and setting up for in the last two months. And I think in this case, most of the success can be from managing the day to day without any hand holding, they can understand the existing processes, they can understand why certain decisions were taken, they can spot if something was not well thought of, or it can help adjust the trajectory if some things are falling through, but they won't be able to make this very big impact. So there's still some things you can see. If if the people land in something that's going terribly well in an unstructured organization. It can also be just due to hyper growth where the whole structure needs to be reshuffled, and so on. I think there you can see way faster, especially if the person is more senior because senior people can come in through a terrible mess. and starred Marie Kondo in it.
And then you're going to be amazed of how much changes from one week to the other from what was there before. But in a more structured place, even highly capable people will take a bit more time to make themselves notice, just because there's a lot of inertia and a lot of things already set in motion, that they won't be able to influence from day one, and now going to measuring. So that's the context. Of course, what are the outcomes? These people have drive? are they impacting key business metrics that are important for that division or stream they're working on? How are people working with them perceiving them? Are they able to gain trust very well? Are they able to motivate the team? Or stakeholders? Do they get the loan? Do they get things done without creating too much fast or raising a bit of dust, because you can also get things done by being very annoying to people or not a nice person to work with. But these type of people will create churn and no one will want to work with them again. So you want to be highly performant without being an asshole, right? And then for, for you to see that this has not been just a one trick pony. Can these people create processes or improve them along the way, while they achieve these outcomes? are they setting up also good culture and good examples from the other afford for the others to see? Are they using certain methods or templates. And also, most importantly, at which speed do they impact the above, because in in our world, and depending on also the size of the organization, you can, it matters if you do things in a day, or in two weeks, and how fast people react to changes or unblock the team or channel information from one point to the other, which enables the organization to change direction faster.
You know, one of the things that I learned as a leader onboarding product managers is to be very aware. And I know that sounds simple, but to be aware of those things that are happening to not just throw a new product manager into the team, and then you know, walk away and don't don't pay attention to what's happening. So I love the insights on, you know, what impact they're making, how quickly they're making, are they doing it through good relationships or through just you know, running through people, all of those things are really important. And so as a leader, you just have to be aware what's happening, right is, you know, what, what is happening? And can you measure, you know, the success of that. So I think that's really important. So I, you've had a lots of, of onboarding that you've you've gone through yourself, and then of course, with with all of your team, and product people and through all your clients. So do you have some memorable onboarding things that you could share with us, like, you know, something that that really stuck out either, you know, a really good or bad experience, and maybe some of the achievements or lessons learned from those?
Sure. So I learned I think this is a bit of personality, or also seniority part, that I did well in organizations that either don't have any structure, but relatively nice people. And or ones that have some structure, but that structure is permeable to some degree. And so to get some idea, there are some companies where there's a process for the sake of process and people mostly kind of look at that instead of looking like, why was this in place? My most memorable onboarding was with Lucy McGlinn, Director of Product at Zalando. Her business unit is responsible for inspiring people who are interested in fashion. So this is also pretty big an ambitious goal. Because usually when you think of that, you think of Instagram and Pinterest. And the way onboarding was structured, there was context of what what are the user the key user personas targeted by this? And what are the problems and quotes from from this type of users? What are the premises and pages or experience owned across this whole place? So for for people who are not in Europe, Zalando is like an Amazon of fashion, with quite a big and complex product. So you actually need to know which parts of this product this business unit owns. And what made it more complex is that on certain popular areas, like the product detail page, we would own Only a component there? And what are the Northstar metrics? How is that business unit structure was the responsibility of each product team within that business unit. And also, most importantly, what documents to read. It was like 17 documents because it's very, let's say return type of culture where you need a lot of context and need to come prepared to the meetings with a lot of knowledge to be able to discuss things. And also a list of about 10 to 12 people to meet in my first week there, and also had someone set up these meetings already in advance, which I thought for a new hire, I generally don't have this problem reaching out because I know our clients pay us to connect superfast with people. But I did see with some of the people joining my organization, that some were shy to put this into meetings, whereas others would go and absolutely make a meeting with everyone in their first week there. So I remember one of our PMS, which is it's a very extroverted person, he had back to back meetings with absolutely everyone in the company in his first week, I think he missed the person because the one was out of office and caught the person next week and send the meeting a 15 minute meet and greet. By the way, I've seen also other people who are a bit reserved, and they see that others have full calendars. And they're like, Oh, should I actually also send another meeting to this person, look at how much they have on their plate, and they don't do it. So having someone else's set that up for the new joiner covers this case where someone doesn't know how much time they should take from someone else? How far in advance should you set meetings in this in one company or the other, and so on. So to summarize what was very good about it, it had the product context, it had the business context, it explain what a smaller product organization did within the context of a very large company, and had already things to read and people to meet. And these people were already lined up for me to meet.
And the cherry on top was that there was also a one pager with expectations for our three month contract there. And those were three listed in order of priority as any good product person would would have it. What some of those changed over time, and that was also good, because then we were talking in our one on ones and I said, Okay, noweditor's we did was extremely successful, which of course then made it relevant for us to prioritize it, that initiative above other things that we had going on. And then people were very accommodating. They said, Yeah, absolutely, it makes absolute sense. Let's put that on hold or like work on it when we have time and then prioritize this new thing that is catching on a lot. So that was my mum. Another one I wouldn't say it was, it was bad. But I kind of found it as a personal challenge to complement for the lack of any onboarding info was another company. I think due to growing so much the everyone there was completely overwhelmed. So my onboarding was, first of all, people forgot that I was joining. So it took me the first hours of a Monday to track down people to get people to respond and figure out the contact person to create some accounts for me. And then towards the afternoon, I managed to have a few meetings with people and get a sense of what what I was supposed to help there. And then the rest of my onboarding was, hey, I'm going to invite you to these meetings that had some funny nicknames. I'm going to reject these meetings. And here are a few documents, people are going to start tagging you there. And then I had like 40 to 40 stakeholders trying to approach me for different launches in different countries, which also made it fun. I think the fun part of there was that the product was intuitive, and the value of it and the company has managed to hire very energetic and enthusiastic people. It was pretty hard to track who to do what but whenever you track someone down, they were energetic and enthusiastic. And that makes things relatively easy and also didn't put me off from all this detective work of figuring out who does what, where there were still a few funny things where at some point and the end of the circle, people would point me back to my department. But overall, it was it was very stressful, but also very immersive and fun. And they This also made me realize that if I have more senior people, then I can just draw vague things at them if I don't. And this is also pretty hard to measure, sometimes task relevant maturity differs on on different topics, right? So someone can be very good at x, but very bad at z. And then you've you've seen, see them do one thing very well. And then you throw another thing in another area where they're not that well developed. And they may fail, because you were not aware that they're not so well developed in that specific area.
Yeah, such great advice. Well, I love those examples. And, and two examples, kind of on on on the opposite ends of the spectrum, if you will, really, really prepared and setting you up for success. And then just kind of throwing you out there. It worked. And as you said, you made it happen, or we made it work. But really, really good advice on how to, you know, understand the culture and understand, you know, what are the things that you can do to set someone set someone up from from the beginning for success? I think that's, that's awesome. I love those stories, I think I think most people probably have have examples or stories more like the latter one. And then the former one of being, you know, really, really set up for success and prepared from the beginning, unfortunately.
Yeah, it depends because it takes a bit of time to set it up. And this is also something we've learned to do for the new product managers that in most of our engagements, we close it when the company has a full time hire, either this person comes back from parental. So in Europe, you have very generous parental covers, you can take from three to 12 months, sometimes one of the spouses can take some of these months, and the other, the other, and so on. So all our parental covers are three to 12 months.
And as you can imagine, if if someone goes away, they would like to come back and understand what has happened in the meantime. And it's it's like onboarding back to the company. But it also feels like a new company. Or other cases, we have a new full time hire joining. And since it has already been a bit tough for us sometimes don't board at that client, we usually have a document, sometimes it's a conference or a notion page, depending on what the client is using to onboard this new person. And it's it's simple things like this part with meeting people, the ceremonies they need to attend and what they need to prepare for the ceremonies like can can imagine steering, or roadmap review or different plantings. And also things that are in discovery things that are currently ready for development, and what are the priorities and where's the either the user research the documents, the tickets, the design, you know, like anything, you want to immediately grab and look at things that are currently in development and some other things that you kind of let leave have finished, to put a note on what would be the next steps. And to also clarify that this is still work in progress and so on. Because sometimes people may realize after they read it, and then get a bit frustrated, because they may assume this is finished. When it's not.
Yeah, such good advice. I mean, honestly, it's it's just good practice, for ongoing work, not just onboarding, but but certainly ongoing work and just the communication and, and, you know, making sure that everybody's on board and understanding what's happening and really love the perspective of coming back from parental leave, you're basically onboarding back to your company. So I think that's a really important way to look at it is that you know, what's happened in those three to 12 months that you've been off. And that, you know, the work has continued and what has happened. So I think that's a really, really important one, sometimes we need to be on boarded back into our own company. So my final question for you is, what resources have you used as, as you've learned, obviously, you know, product people has become a resource in itself in in onboarding, and, and being successful at that, but, you know, what resources would you recommend for someone, you know, trying to improve the way that they onboard new PMS?
I would need to think a bit about that. Because there's there's nothing super. It's not like you need to read a book about it. The only book I would see on that, but it's more for new hires is the first 90 days by Michael Watkins. Which details weigh more than then I did here and I think this is also useful for people who get promoted from one role to the other because that's also another onboarding and started In literally a new role. The other one I, I would say mostly something around communication. Because it's setting some time outside, I wouldn't even say they need to read anything they need to set some time aside, understand when these new Pm is joining, and make at least a one pager for them, or ask some other people to contribute with links and resources, because in most places don't boarding HR gives you is compliance setting up accounts and general stuff. But it's not related to what you need to do to be successful. And if someone would take half an hour to write this Okay, in in my expectation for for you new PM, is that in week one, you set up your accounts you have meet and greet with people, you join you shadow, you take meeting notes, and so on. At the end of the first month, my expectation is that you have already ran a sprint planning or you know something around the line. And by the third month, you would already do the quarterly planning for your area of the products. So that would be something I would put down. And then setting time aside for them, maybe even a bit more time. So knowing let's say you have a new joiner next month, assume that in the first two weeks, they're going to need more time for you. So maybe put like some daily check ins with them, which you then move to weekly check ins which you then maybe can move to bi weekly, after you see they're doing well, unless there's also another person there that's more knowledgeable and can help them out. So that in case they get a bit lost or demotivated, you can catch that on sooner, as if you miss the onboarding timeframe, then it probably may not even be a successful hire. And another thing we did was look also at the exit interviews and see what we've missed there. Even it helped us change something in hiring people what expectations we should have already from the culture fit call and what we should, should we tell them about the way we work. But again, it's not something necessarily to read, I guess the there's more of how to manage direct reports and make sure they always have the new context. And even having checklists for more small things like do which Slack channels Should I add them because HR is not going to know all the private Slack channels, the product team uses or all the documents or Confluence notion pages that are useful for this person to learn more.
Yeah, that's great advice on how to how to make sure that you're you're checking all those boxes and setting folks up for for success. So that's awesome. Thank you for sharing that. Marilla moose, thank you so much for joining me. I've loved our conversation I've learned I've loved learning from you and hearing your stories and experience. Thanks for joining me.
Thanks a lot, JJ was a pleasure chatting.
And to learn more about Product People you can go to get to productpeople.com You can also go to productvoices.com to hear the episode or see the transcript. So thank you again for joining us on Product Voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.
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