There is a lot of material online about how to adequately onboard new employees. There are even some good posts on how to onboard new Product Managers. However, they don’t really touch on the single most important factor that makes a Product Manager successful, or at least as I see it – empathy.
Good companies will offer new employees a well structured onboarding process. This means there is some kind of checklist for you to follow, with tasks that ensure plenty of interaction within and across teams. You know what to do on your first days and who to talk to. Onboarding is considered an important process that is not rushed and everyone in the company happily contributes to making new arrivals feel welcome and valued. This process is reviewed frequently, those who have just been through it are asked to offer feedback and this feedback is actually fed back into the process. So far so good.
So by now you’re on your way to knowing the teams and the people, familiarising yourself with process, learning the tools. That’s all quite generic stuff that is also quite common sense. Your biggest differentiator as a product leader at your new role will be whether you can successfully relate to and empathise with the people who use your product. It is them you are working for – you are their champion within your organisation. The best way to do that is by becoming an active user of your product.
In a B2C product, or on the B2C side of a marketplace product, this might be relatively simple depending on the industry you’re in. Simply go out and use your product. Take rides, buy products, use services. In some industries this might be a little harder to do authentically, but there is often a way to achieve this.
In B2B this can get more complex, but at the core it’s the same – get your new team members to go out and actually use the product in the same kind of environment where you will find your real users. This might require drawing on your relationship with key clients, so that your team members can actually go to them and see what it feels like to use the product in real life.
At Quandoo, for instance, we make products for restaurants. When a new team member arrives, they have to go to a restaurant and work a shift as a host. This is, I assure you , terrifying. It is also a complete game-changer on how you view the product and how you relate to your users. No amount of reading user research or looking at analytics will replace the nervousness that you get as service starts and people start showing up at the door of the restaurant. The hesitation to decide whether you can take a large group that just walked up to the door without a reservation cannot be simulated in focus groups. The experience completely changes how one views the product and the users.
So the takeaway here is – onboarding a Product Manager is, for the most part, just like onboarding any new employee and we benefit from following overall best practices. However, there is a special component which is how to genuinely build empathy for your users. Here you should not spare any efforts. Products built with real empathy stand out. Make it real, and in the long run this will make a difference in your product. It will show.