CareerCultureJimLeadershipOrganizationProduct ManagementProduct Marketing

Onboarding Product Management – Mind the Gap

Recently I was talking with Michael Hopkin, author of Lead on Purpose. I asked Mike, “How often do you see product management and product marketing leaders doing a good job of on-boarding new team members?” His response, “Not often enough.”
I thought about the signs that emerged on train platforms in the London Underground. How can product leaders Mind the Gap and ensure successful on-boarding of newly hired team members?

Why is On-boarding Important?

According to Wikipedia, “On-boarding refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.”

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, “A documented process or schedule of activities may make a new employee to an organization or location feel welcome and comfortable sooner rather than later.”

From a product leaders perspective, can you afford to fail at on-boarding? If you miss the opportunity of building knowledge, setting expectations, clarifying roles and building team cadence, when will it happen?

Isn’t on-boarding HR’s job?
While Human Resources plays a key role in on-boarding, they generally provide introductions and overviews of the company, make sure new employees have essentials material such as benefits and wellness packages, payroll and tax forms and answer questions while coordinating equipment (hardware and software), IT services and ready work spaces, and review company-oriented documentation and procedures.

In essence, HR  facilitates and introduces, while leaders of product management and product marketing buildenable and launch contributor success.

Too often product leaders expect HR to do the full on-boarding and deliver new employees ready-for-action. In complex roles like product management and product marketing, this does not work.

Three Elements of Successful Onboarding

In the post, Onboarding 101, Morgan Hoogvelt suggests their are three basic elements a successful on-boarding.

  1. Participants – identify who is going to be part of the process and who will be participating in the on-boarding program. Each participant should have a full understanding of the program in order to deliver a productive and consistent message.
  2. Material – have a defined plan of action and itinerary. Topics may include: welcome message, company history, products/services, competition, policies/procedures, department briefings, etc.
  3. Timeframe: as mentioned above, the recruiting process should be ongoing and never stop. This will enhance employee engagement and communication which may help to reduce turnover and keep employees happy over the long run.

Elements for Onboarding Product Management and Product Marketing

Mike and I discussed the minimum criteria that leaders of Product Management and Product Marketing should consider and champion for successful on-boarding. They include:

For Both Roles:

  • Review the roles and responsibilities (the real ones, not the ones posted in the job description)
  • Discuss and agree on assignments and expectations. (Ones that weren’t discussed in the interview process.) Eliminate any confusion upfront.
  • How is the role measured? (You have measurements in place don’t you?) If not, read this.
  • Review the organization and how the roles works within and with other teams such as Development, Engineering, and Marketing.
  • Share insights into who the Executives of Influence are in the organization, what role they provide and how to work with them.

For Product Managers:

  • Includes the items listed for both roles, plus…
  • A plan to obtain a knowledge and understanding for the product(s) they will guide.
  • How product management communicates and through which methods are preferred.
  • A review of the product strategy and existing roadmaps (You have a strategy and roadmap in place, right?)
  • How the products are packaged, priced and positioned.
  • Introductions to product and customer knowledgeable teams such as Sales Engineering and Customer Support.
  • A current list and introduction to top customers and non-customers. (Connect product management as soon as possible.)
  • Others that are specific to your organization and team.

For Product Marketing Managers:

  • Includes the items listed for both roles, plus…
  • A plan for the Product Marketing Manager to obtain an understanding of the product(s) and their strategy.
  • The current positioning, competitive landscape and personas associated with the product.
  • Review the Product Marketing roadmap. (If you don’t have one, read this post.)
  • How product marketing communicates and works with Marketing.
  • The process used for discovering market problems and artifacts Win/Loss Analysis, Customer Interviews, etc.
  • A review of industry analyst information and introduction to customers willing to talk about their buying process and use of the product.
  • Other items that will allow the person to better understand the role, responsibilities, strategy

Minding the Gap

The same natural drive and curiosity that compels individuals to become product managers and product marketing managers drives them to dive into their new role and come up to speed using any resources and methods possible.

However, perceptive product leaders should develop a plan to focus on the first few weeks, the first 30, 60 and 90 days and provide guidance. To give new team members the best possible on-boarding experience,  assign another team member to answer questions, mentor (if necessary), provide insights, experience and information from the first day going forward.

As a product leader, schedule 5-10 minute discussions each day in the first week to understand and surface gaps in the process. After the first week, schedule 10- 15 minutes each week and if possible, use team meetings to support the on-boarding process. If no one else is available, it’s your responsibility.

Thanks to Mike Hopkin for his collaboration and contribution to the post.

If you like the post, please retweet: Onboarding Product Management – Mind the Gap, a new post for #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership http://wp.me/pXBON-2wj

I also welcome your comments and insights as to how you have successfully onboarded a new team member or been a recipient of great on-boarding.

  1. Jennifer Doctor

    Great reminder! Too often people in PM/PMM are not engaged in helping our other business departments, leaving them to develop the materials. This results in two feelings, in my opinion: 1) a “de-valuing” of the roles, since it is being left to someone else who is less knowledgeable to present the market data that PM/PMM owns; and, 2) a feeling by others who don’t understand the roles to begin with, that the roles are “elitist” or not a “team” player, helping to further create the silos that we spend so much time trying to tear down.

    One elaboration on the PMM list above – don’t underestimate the power of how those user & buyer personas can be used within the onboarding training! Be creative and integrate throughout, and by the end of the process, the new employee will walk away feeling that s/he is empowered by the market knowledge gained.

  2. Karol McCloskey

    Jim, Couldn’t agree more.

    On-boarding (and the follow up – mentoring) is incredibly important to team building and *continuous* sharing of knowledge about company, process, products and stakeholders. It’s a shame to waste time figuring it out solo. People silos are just as dangerous to the bottom line as product silos.

    Thanks Jennifer for calling my attention to this article.

  3. Nikki Gore

    Great post. One thing I also do as part of onboarding is to develop a 30-60-90 day plan for educational milestones as well as to identify deliverables that can be achieved during that time frame. I find it gives the new employee early “wins” in the organization and the starting point for success.

  4. Geoff Anderson

    As always a thought provoking post. It has been difficult for me as well to do an effective job. Perhaps it is the non-linear nature of the PM world. I do 30/60/90’s, and a metric ton of mentoring (usually bringing in someone with very different industry experience).

    One thing that is helpful is to measure out the onslaught. If you hit a new employee wit the firehose immediately, it can be truly demoralizing. Try rationing the exposure, and then testing the response at intervals during the honeymoon.

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