Miscellaneous

Lessons Learned: Your First Full Year as a PM

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What will your first year of being a PM feel like? Well, you’ll feel emotions ranging from “I’m a boss, someone hand me the keys to the C-Suite!” to “WTF just happened, I have no idea what I’m doing, why am I here right now…Let us pray I don’t get fired this week…MOMMY!!”

And…. that is completely normal…

These are feelings and thoughts that will go through your mind during your first year as a PM:

  1. You’ll feel like you have absolutely no idea how to do your job.  There are so many processes to learn, people to meet, and training to take that you will feel overwhelmed.  In addition, there is not a single standardized way to be a PM. Every PM has their own style of getting things done.  Along with the information overload, you also have to figure out what your PM style will be.
  2. You’ll feel like things are moving at 1,000 miles per hour and you’re not moving fast enough. You’ll see feature release email after feature release email then get anxious about why you haven’t released a feature yet.
  3. You’ll feel like you don’t own a significant project. You know first impressions are lasting impressions and you want to impress everyone immediately by working on the next huge feature release for your team.  
  4. You may feel like you have to do everything. You have heard that YOU are the CEO of the product and must coordinate efforts on all fronts (marketing, engineering, customer feedback, design, etc.). CEOs must have the final say in everything that must be done, right?

Now let’s add some perspective to this initial list:

  1. You’ll feel like you have absolutely no idea how to do your job.  There are so many processes to learn, people to meet, and training to take that you will feel overwhelmed.  In addition, there is not a single standardized way to be a PM. Every PM has their own style of getting things done.  
    • Perspective: You’ve just started.  You literally have no idea how the company is run or what is expected of a PM. You’re still learning the processes, meeting people, and diving into your project (as you learned in “The Three P’s of Principled Product Role Preparation”) .  You are adapting to a new environment and that transition takes time.
  2. You’ll feel like things are moving at 1,000 miles per hour and you’re not moving fast enough. You’ll see feature release email after feature release email and get anxious about why you haven’t released a feature yet
    • Perspective: You won’t get sh*t done as quickly as you think.  It took me 9 months to release my first product at LinkedIn. Trust me, you will get anxious and want to join in on the product releasing fun, but have patience grasshopper. Be flexible. Be water.  Who knows…your first company release could land in the Wall Street Journal?  Yeah…I’m still shocked.
  3. You’ll feel like you don’t own a significant project. You know first impressions are lasting impressions and you want to impress everyone immediately by working on the next huge feature release for your team
    • Perspective:  Would you entrust your child with someone you just met, regardless of how trustworthy that person appears?  Probably not.  The product your team works on is their child.  It’s your manager’s child.  It’s your CEO’s child. As a newbie, you should expect and embrace smaller projects.  As you execute these smaller projects, it builds your credibility within the team and with your manager.  These smaller projects are what enable you to be given the responsibility to handle a larger scale project.  Take pride in completing these projects with as much ferocity and dedication as you would a larger, higher prioritized one.
  4. You may feel like you have to know and do everything. You have heard that YOU are the CEO of the product and must coordinate efforts on all fronts (marketing, engineering, customer feedback, design, etc.). CEOs must have the final say in everything that must be done, right?
    • Perspective on doing everything: Now depending on the size of your company, this may be true 🙂 but if you work for a large company with resources for the various job functions I mentioned in the article “The Prod Squad”, then LEVERAGE these experts!
    • Perspective on knowing everything:  Okay, this one is a little tricky.  Are we talking about the details related to the development of your product (design/engineering progress, roadblocks, launch date?). If so, then yes you do have to know everything.  Want to know the best way to keep yourself updated on progress? Check out the article “Master Communication using this Weekly Update Template”.  Are we talking about the exact line of code that your engineer has to edit in order to make the update to ensure you can launch your product.  You don’t have to know that.  Check out the article “How ‘technical’ do you have to be? (Engineering)” to learn more about being technical enough.

"What will your first year of being a PM feel like? You’ll feel emotions ranging from “I’m a boss, someone hand me the keys to the C-Suite!” to “WTF just happened?!..…MOMMY!!”

Other important things I learned:

  1. Account for debugging and potential roadblocks in your timeline.  I’m an engineer by degree so I remember the days when I thought it would take 1 week to finish coding.  I would actually begin coding and realized that there were 2 other unexpected dependencies, despite the fact that I did as much due diligence as possible to surface all expected dependencies.  As a new PM, you may also be eager to get your product out and assume that you will release it exactly when you think. You won’t, despite how easy of an implementation you expect.  There will be an unexpected engineering issue, a shift in design resources, or even something as small as a typo issue that pushes out the release.  Account for these in your release timeline.
  2. Empathize with your team, not just your users – Just like you put yourself in the shoes of the user when you find the right solution to their problem, you need to do the same with your team to truly understand what it takes to do their jobs.
    •  Sit in on a UX research session and take notes.  Sit in on another UX research session and ASK QUESTIONS. Oh you WILL feel the difference.  
    • Take an online coding class over several weekends to get a taste of what your engineers must go through when turning an idea into reality. Note: For those who don’t have a technical background,  In “How Technical Do you have to be? (Engineering)”, I clarify that being technical isn’t 100% necessary to be a successful PM.  The goal of empathizing with your engineer is not to become an engineer, rather to get a taste of engineering so you understand what their job is like.  Trust me, it’s hard and you honestly don’t need a two-weekend class to know that.
    • Take a week to try and create several design iterations for one of your products on the backlog using Photoshop, Balsamiq, or a free product JustInMind (which is free at the time of this posting)
    • By empathizing with your coworkers, you will have a greater respect for your team and their expertise which will ensure the entire Prod Squad works like a well oiled machine.
  3. Make mistakes – Not on purpose! But everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone at one point was a novice in what they did.  You will make mistakes. Despite any potential mistakes you make, have confidence in knowing you used the best information you had at the time to make that decision.  Correct it and move on.  Do not let past mistakes haunt your future success.
  4. Have confidence!You’re new. Who cares! Let everyone know that you can and will do the best job possible, despite how big or small the project you are working on is.  Instilling this confidence in your team builds trust that you can tackle any problem and that you don’t let challenges hinder your performance or product quality.
  5. Lastly, ALWAYS. STAY. READY. – There’s a phrase I like to use “If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready.”  This PERFECTLY sums up what any PM, especially beginner PMs should do.  Always be in a learning mentality.  Soak up as much information on as many projects as you can.  Do you have an idea for the next greatest feature for your company?  Create a PRD for it as if it were going to be resourced TOMORROW!  You never know when the right time for your idea implementation will pop up.  I’ll be writing an article soon on what to do when you have the next greatest idea that your team should implement.  Stay Tuned!

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