Guide: The first 90 days of onboarding new product managers
Tl;dr: I’ve onboarded as a product manager with a new company 4 times. I’ve also helped many other product managers with onboarding. That means I’ve had to learn what makes a great onboarding experience to make sure my first week, month, and year at a company set me up for success going forward. I’ve put together an onboarding template that should help you get started.
When first joining a new company, the onboarding process is essential, not only for the person joining the company but also for the team and company welcoming that product manager. I’m of the opinion that how much you put into onboarding will predict how long you’ll be able to retain them.
First impressions can make or break the experience of someone joining the team. I know I’ve used it as an indication of how the rest of my experience at [Company X] would look like. The average time someone spends in a job is two years. In tech, those periods are even shorter, and that’s because there’s a shortage of experienced product managers: there are more experienced product manager roles than there are experienced product managers.
I find this makes a strong onboarding experience critical. For example, if there’s no onboarding plan and you’re being added to day-to-day meetings and being asked to present the product on the first day to your leadership team, or you join a company and the team you were supposed to join has been dissolved and have to fend for yourself. What does that product manager think about the company and how they treat new employees? What indicator does it give that the company cares about their experience and that they’re being set up for success?
As a product manager, the first 90 days can also either accelerate your path at a company or make it feel like you’re digging through swamp water trying to find your way through. The difficulty of finding your way at a company has also multiplied with the difficulty of starting remotely.
Starting as a product manager is hard: you have an amorphous role where there are a lot of people relying on you while you might not have built up the relevant domain knowledge and you don’t know why previous people made certain product decisions. There are risks: if you start making decisions too early, you might make the wrong one because you didn’t have enough product context. You wait too long and you might lose the trust of your team because you seem indecisive.
I’ve put together an onboarding template that should help you get started. Feel free to copy and paste it to use the template yourself. An onboarding plan is personal, therefore take this as directional rather than a holy grail and spend more time shaping it to what you need for a start-up of your size and the type of product manager role you’re taking on.
Key takeaways for managers:
- For managers, it’s crucial to put in time into building an onboarding plan for your direct reports. It sounds simple however, I have seen many situations where the onboarding template is simply copied and pasted or where there wasn’t an onboarding plan.
- For IC product managers, if you haven’t received an onboarding template, build your own onboarding plan and seek feedback from your manager. Your proactiveness will be noted by your manager and this will impress them
- Onboarding starts even before the product manager has officially joined the company. With everything moving remotely, building context, relationships, and an understanding of how things work take that much longer. Start onboarding before they’ve joined the team.
- Ultimately, the onboarding plan should be owned by the product manager who is starting. Create and build the onboarding plan, but let them be the owner of the document and add to it before they execute on it.
[Feel free to copy and paste this onboarding template for your own use.]