11 Tips for Onboarding a New Product Manager
Setup your incoming Product Managers for long-term success
When Product Managers are brought in, they are often chucked into the deep end of things.
I can understand why that may be for startups. There aren’t enough resources going around to document processes, product history, competitive intelligence etc. There’s a race for survival and priorities go to other critical activities.
However, as you mature as an organization and build a PM team, you need a better process.
Just like any other resource, the better you onboard your Product Manager, the faster they’ll be able to take on challenges and lead teams towards meaningful outcomes.
Often, the expectation from managers is that an incoming Product Manager needs to be self-driven. They should be “go-getters” and should schedule their 1:1s themselves. They should learn from merely “shadowing” other PMs or founders in customer calls, engineering huddles & Slack channels. Managers want “quick learners” who pick up cues from their cryptic sentences and magically run with the ball.
All of this is a sad excuse for not wanting to put in the effort in onboarding. Remember: If a manager doesn’t invest time in the beginning, that time will still be summoned, but potentially with a “delay tax” and possibly a few avoidable mistakes.
So, here are 11 suggestions for a hiring manager at to help their PMs ramp up:
𝟭/ 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗪𝗵𝘆 & 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗠𝗲𝘁𝗿𝗶𝗰𝘀 📈
Maintain an onboarding deck presenting the product vision, mission & existing strategy. Explain the "Why".
List down the SMART KPIs (or OKRs) that you will be holding the PM accountable for.
Summarize past trends & future goals. Refer to past initiatives that you've tried and the results.
𝟮/ 𝗧𝗼𝗼𝗹𝘀 🔨
Provide access to all the relevant tools (e.g. Analytics, Amplitude, Mixpanel, Hotjar, JIRA etc.) on Day 1 to reduce back and forth.
𝟯/ 𝗗𝗼𝗰𝘂𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘀 📃
Share recent PRDs, personas, Business Strategies, active Product Roadmaps etc. that may help build context.
Do NOT dump a Google Drive folder on them. Hand-pick the documents that will assist them in gaining critical context.
𝟰/ 𝗦𝘁𝗮𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗔𝗰𝗰𝗲𝘀𝘀 🔑
Provide access to the staging & production environment of your product so that they can play around.
If you run a mobile app, give them an iPhone & Android phone with the app installed.
𝟱/ 𝗖𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗲𝘁𝗶𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘀 🔫
Provide a list of direct & indirect competitors so that the PM size the threats.
Comment on strengths and weaknesses of each and your competitive edge over them. (even better if this is documented)
𝟲/ 𝗜𝗻-𝗙𝗹𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗷𝗲𝗰𝘁𝘀 🚀
Before PMs kickstart new initiatives, it's highly likely they will be inserted into active product development. Get them briefed on each workstream mentioning the objective, linked metric, the current owner & expected release dates.
𝟳/ 𝗣𝗲𝗼𝗽𝗹𝗲 🙋
Clarify the PM's 360 org chart. Apart from showing a photo/job title/name, also share who does what. Encourage 1:1 setups with the immediate team & cross-functional stakeholders in the first 2 weeks.
𝟴/ 𝗖𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗺𝗲𝗿𝘀 🌟
Have the PM shadow a few conversations with customers early on as a silent spectator. Shoehorn them in to allow them to start developing relationships.
𝟵/ 𝗕𝘂𝗱𝗱𝘆 👣
Assign an experienced buddy to the PM to allow them to absorb product context naturally & get quick answers. This should preferably be a product owner/manager but can be a dev or designer too.
𝟭𝟬/ 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗰𝗲𝘀𝘀 ⏩
Share a process document that lists all the active processes in the product - everything from sprint kickoffs, ticket cycle, backlog grooming, daily huddles, all-hands sessions and more.
𝟭𝟭/ 𝗣𝗹𝗮𝗻 📆
Identify check-in milestones and key deliverables for the first 30 - 60 - 90 day period.
Some additional points:
Onboarding cannot be done in a day or week. One of the most common mistakes is to call it an “onboarding session”. Onboarding is journey that takes months. You’ll find yourself unfurling information at different points of time when it’s relevant.
The Hiring manager needs to be involved. When this is the founder or CEO, the onboarding duties are often delegated to reports thinking the new recruit will just absorb the information and be ready for product battles. They are often met with disappointment later on when they discover a lack of alignment in goals & product vision.
Encourage questions. If they aren’t asking any, be very worried.
Afford the Product Manager creative space. Let them explore things on their own. Empower them to shape their onboarding as well. Collaborate on the onboarding journey and steps. This leads to increased engagement and faster uptake of information.
Onboarding a Product Manager is key to their long-term success. The sooner you invest in that, the more likely they’ll be able to drive product teams towards organizational goals.