How to onboard a new Product Manager
+ 6 reasons why product features fail
Hey there, product folks,
In this edition of Behind Product Lines, we’ll be looking into:
A 14-point plan to onboard a new Product Manager
Despite the layoffs in the tech industry, a number of product leaders are still looking for talented PMs these days. However, I can safely say a majority of them are not ready to hire. I’ll share a helpful template that can offset this issue.
6 reasons why product features fail
Shipping features are the bread and butter of many Product Managers & owners. However, features often don’t bring back the dividends they were expected to. We’ll inspect some of the reasons behind this.
Let’s get into it.
14-point plan to onboard a new Product Manager
Most product leaders looking to hire PMs are simply not prepared.
Often, PMs are hastily brought in, thrown into the deep end & then, asked to crank out deliverables in days.
If you’re guilty of this, you’re setting them up for failure.
Here’s a statistic that helps highlight some of the reasons why new hires leave early:
But there's something that can fix this: an onboarding plan.
Hiring managers underestimate how handsomely investments made in the early days of a PM pay off later on.
Let me start by addressing a couple of objections first.
(1) “I don’t have enough time to make an onboarding plan”
Most managers complain about not having the time to organize onboarding material.
First, the writeups don't need to be verbose - 1-pagers will suffice.
Second, chances are that you already have the content. You just need to consolidate it.
Finally, it's a one-time investment worth gold. Once you have it, you can reuse it indefinitely with little maintenance.
How about I give you a head start? Here’s a Notion template you can steal:
(2) “We’re launching a new Product with no history”
If you’re working on a product that’s yet to be launched and bring in a PM, fill them in with what you have. But then collaborate in their initial days to build the docs.
It’ll help them and the entire team to gain refreshing clarity on the core value proposition, target users and overall strategy.
So, here are the 14 areas your onboarding plan needs to cover (even if you don’t have stellar answers for each, declare that explicitly or share where you are on that):
Start with the Why
Give them a 1-pager on the product vision, mission & the pain you're out to solve.
Explain why you exist.
Locate where you are
Share a brief on the existing state of the product. List out the broad components that make up the product. Spotlight the stand-out capabilities (what makes you different from others). Highlight what needs attention and the focus in the near-term.
Who’s the Audience
Who pays for the product? Who uses it for free? Who are the power users? Share persona profiles or ICPs but don’t limit them to just demographics or firmographics. Segment your audiences by pain point, goal and constraints. The Notion template I shared has an example for this.
State of the Market
Prepare a 1-pager on what market evidence supports your mission. What’s the total addressable market size and what do you reckon is the SOM (Serviceable Obtainable Market). You can estimate these by looking at the size of your direct and indirect competitors or leverage industry reports.
Who are other players playing in the same pond? Adjacent ponds? Who are the indirect competitors? Briefly describe the strengths & weaknesses of the top 3. this helps the PM understand who they’re up against.
Current Product Strategy
This can be short answers to the following questions:
Who will we focus on? (ex: sales managers)
What are we building? (ex: a revenue intelligence tool that helps sales managers close deals faster)
What will we not focus on? (ex: we’re not planning to develop a CRM)
How will we be better than others? (ex: we’ll train chatbots on the sales data to highlight opportunities to sales managers)
How will we distribute the product? (ex: we’ll generate demand by deploying add-ons on CRM marketplaces & running LinkedIn ads accompanies with an ABM strategy to engage high-fit customers)
Briefly explain the rationale behind your choices.
Metrics you measure
Identify the North Star metrics you obsess about on a daily & monthly basis. Also, guide them where can they find the numbers in real-time? What other proxy metrics would you like to track or optimize?
How you sell the product
Briefly describe the buyer journey. How does a user get access to the product?
Is it Product-led or Sales-led? Call it out.
What marketing channels do you use to generate demand? What tactics do you use to capture demand? (ex: SEM, SEO, Social media etc.)
Clarify active workstreams
Summarize what's going on “now”. Share what’s been top of mind in the weeks leading to their joining and what will likely be the focus in the next 3-4 weeks. Highlight core PRDs that they should read to get up to speed with active in-flight initiatives. But don't dump an outdated Google folder with 100+ docs.
Share the near-term roadmap if you have one.
This is particularly useful in B2B. Mention your top 5 customer accounts. Share customer testimonials but also document existing frustrations or wish lists.
Quantify churn & common reasons why customers leave.
One of the biggest challenges new joiners have is understanding who does what on the team and creating those bonds. Facilitate that.
Work with HR to build out a mini-org chart. Share who is on the immediate team (name, picture, title, team, reports to).
Encourage your new PM to schedule 1:1s with them in initial days.
Tools & Access
List down relevant tools they will have at their disposal. ex: Mixpanel, JIRA, Figma, Miro etc. Share how they can get access.
Align on product processes
Orient the new PM on how the product is developed at your organization. Where does one file bugs, specs? What does the dev workflow look like? What meetings take place regularly? What rituals do you undertake?
Explain 30-60-90 Milestones
Lay down the company & team OKRs/KPIs. Then, define the goals the incoming PM needs to hit every 30 days. What does success look like for them?
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6 reasons why product features fail
Product Managers know all too well that the number of dev hours spent on a feature don't necessarily have a bearing on its intended impact.
First, there’s the “Next Feature Fallacy” - a term that Andrew Chen coined.
Product Managers incorrectly surmise that the next feature that they build will make users want to use the entire product and adopt it whole-heartedly.
That’s usually never the case.
Andrew explains this on his blog:
The vast majority of features won’t bend the curve.
These metrics are terrible, and the Next Feature Fallacy strikes because it’s easy to build new features that don’t target the important parts. Two mistakes are often made when designing features meant to bend this engagement curve:
Too few people will use the feature. In particular, that the features target engaged/retained users rather than non-users and new users
Too little impact is made when they do engage. Especially the case when important/key functions are displayed like optional actions outside of the onboarding process.
Here are 6 reasons why features don’t make the impact you’re hoping for.
1. Poor Discoverability
Products tend to tuck away their new feature under a busy navigation & hope users will discover it.
Instead, PMs need to think beyond nav linking. How can you weave the value you're creating into the fabric of the product? Think more on the lines of "organic" discovery.
Ex: Mailchimp surfaces "Audiences" on their nav, dashboard, campaign flows & reports. It's in the product DNA.
2. Fragmented cross-device experience.
Viewing desktop & mobile experiences as 2 separate features can be damaging, especially if you have heavy cross-device usage.
Sure, not all features deserve a place on both. But if it applies, keeping it for only one form factor will likely frustrate users and will limit adoption.
Ex: Slack has heavy usage on desktop (during office hours) and mobile app (during off hours). Imagine if one didn't offer the huddle feature.
3. Lack of education.
Sometimes features are lost in a blanket of jargon. The user understands what the feature does but isn't sure how to use it for their business case.
Emailing customers case studies and sharing persona-specific walk-through videos helps a ton.
Show how the product is "applied", not just how it works.
Ex: in the initial days, marketers were a bit unsure how to use Sparktoro. But Rand’s helpful videos & help guides in the product have helped users gain massive appreciation for the tool.
4. Lack of continual awareness
Some product teams over-optimize for the "first-time use" of the feature by leaning on product tours & announcements.
However, after the initial buzz, the feature takes a backseat & its use cases aren't highlighted to new cohorts as vigorously.
Onboarding flows & marketing sites aren't updated. No email workflows mention them again. Instead, that airtime is given to new features & the cycle continues.
5. No internal alignment.
I've been in orgs where product would roll out a feature only for sales/marketing to learn about it months later.
Without company-level alignment, you're limiting the amount of push & evangelism your feature requires.
Think product townhalls & active sales enablement.
6. Weak Product copy
Clear headlines, instructions, blank state copy & error messages can make a world of difference in helping users understand the what, why and how of the feature.
This is usually an afterthought in several product teams.
Ex: Wise, the money transfer app, uses descriptive copy to reduce anxiety at every step as users dispatch payments.
Features are thought to add value to the user by solving their problem. That’s why every PM obsesses over adding functionality to their product.
Sadly, as you add more, you also elevate the complexity and clutter of your product.
Moreover, the “more product = more value” equation stands true if your customer base at large is aware about the feature, knows how to use it and can successfully induce a habit to leverage it. That’s easier said than done.
Thus, after you’ve validated the need of a feature, invest heavily on education and go-to-market to dial up adoption.
That’s all from this week. I’ll see you guys in the next one!
I’ve onboarded at 3 different companies since 2020. Would have loved to come on board with a situation that leveraged these points.