Product Foundations

How to build a world-class product team: Creating a culture of success for new product managers

Mike Iampietro Director of Product Management @ Mixpanel

Congratulations! You’ve used a detailed spec and careful interview process to make a really solid hire to your product management team. Now what?

In part two of “How to build a world-class product team,” we’ll take a look at how to set up new hires for success. From integrating new product managers into teams and the overall corporate culture at your place of business to supporting their continuing development, here are some ways to grow and develop PM talent.

Onboarding

Making sure that your new product managers are able to meaningfully contribute their first day requires thoughtful planning. Here are a few tips on how to make that happen:

  1. Start with the basics. It’s a good idea to help new PMs onboard via a series of pre-structured meetings presented by other product managers, the owners of processes, or key stakeholders. These meetings should have two purposes: going over tools and processes that new employees need to know in order to succeed at their job (for instance, “This is how product gaps work) and how to work across the organization (“this is what sales needs from PMs”).
  2. Get personal. For the first months, new PMs should be assigned an existing product manager who can guide them through the onboarding process and be their go-to person for questions. Another good idea is to give each new hire a list of key people with whom they’ll be working directly with and to whom they should introduce themselves.
  3. Start small. Give PMs a quick win that will let them go through all the steps of launching something. Start small but not too easy. Have another product manager work side-by-side with them, letting the new PM own and drive the process, but being there for questions or for a backstop if something goes wrong.
  4. Get out of the way. One of the best things I learned about building teams was “hire smart people, then trust them.” Assuming that they get that first product shipped successfully, that customers like it, and the engineers aren’t throwing darts at pictures of them, then take a step back. Let your new PM take the reins of his or her team and figure out what customers want, and then build it. Make sure that they know you’re there to be a mentor or to answer questions, but recognize the value of learning by doing.
  5. Don’t disappear. Timely mentoring can nip serious problems in the bud. While the particulars will vary according to your core business, at Mixpanel, we tend to focus on two core competencies for our product managers (new and experienced alike): maintaining customer focus and strengthening team relationships. If you keep an eye on the big things, often the small things will sort themselves out.
  6. Career development. Development talks should start immediately, and it can be something as simple as asking:

“What are you doing well that you could do more of?”

“What are you doing not so well that you should do less of, or can you change how you’re doing it?”

“These are the things you’re great at.”

These kinds of conversations are useful, of course, but at Mixpanel we really encourage our product managers to be directly involved with customers. Our product managers’ development is measured on three key axes: 

  1. The scope of the products you’re working on.
  2. The strength of your team leadership.
  3. The impact you’re having on customers and our business. 

In addition to talking with customers, product managers get indirect feedback via tech support or through gaps and direct feedback from beta testers, usability sessions, or research. The most honest feedback of all is heard on sales calls, talking to people who aren’t actually customers but are thinking about becoming customers, or talking to people who are customers but are not sure if they’ll renew. If you want your team to get better at being a product manager, this is how they’ll do it. 

Final advice

If I were going to sum it all up, I would mention two important points: 

  1. Never underestimate the power of dogfooding.
  2. Know and understand your customers. 

The more time your PMs spend learning from customers and using your product, the better they are going to be. 

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