Today, I had a conversation with another product manager about the experience of being the first PM. While I wasn't the inaugural PM at efood (that was Jason), I did get involved with the product at an early stage. At Instacar, I was the first hands-on PM consultant.
Every popular app or online service we use today, regardless of its size, started with a small team of engineers and a first PM. Many companies have CEOs who built the initial product from scratch, as was the case with efood. Nevertheless, the first PM was always close to this stage.
Moving from zero to one is one of the most challenging stages in product development. The development uncertainty, the volume and complexity of decisions, and the absence of structure can make this journey quite a roller-coaster ride.
In an environment where there is no established rulebook, the first PM must operate without the advantage of set documentation and procedures. Their approach is more practical and agile, always ready to adapt and pivot as required.
Their experiences, including both failures and successes, form a solid foundation of knowledge that can guide future PMs and other professionals in the field.
Therefore, it is beneficial to seek them out, engage with them, and ask them questions. You might gain insights that could help your product become the next big thing.
It's all about managing the chaos, thriving in uncertainty, and having the foresight to build from nothing to something.
So, what if you are the first PM within a company?
As the first PM, your role is to set up the foundations of the product development process for the company. To do this, you need to work closely with both Tech and Business. Ensure you cover all important elements of each pillar in Product Management (discovery, planning, delivery). Let’s overview:
On Product Discovery:
Ensure you have an easily-followed, lightweight process to:
- Identify the most important customer problems via feedback or user research process.
- Identify the most interesting solutions and opportunities in the industry, considering role models, business competition and market analysis.
The main purpose is to match customer problems with feasible solutions that make sense for your business model.
On Product Planning:
Align all functions and stakeholders on what you're going to build next.
- Use strategic thinking to develop your Product strategy and set the right objectives. Huge plus here is to add the things or features that you are NOT going to develop. Also, make sure that you’ll include experiments.
- Use quarterly OKRs to match product development with business metrics.
- Use analytical thinking and data to properly assess opportunity cost and establish a culture where everyone's ideas are welcome but also open to debate.
- Assess your team resources and draft a pragmatic roadmap that should be regularly checked and adjusted.
On Product Delivery:
Ensure everything is in place to maximize the team's output.
- Create a team structure to minimize internal dependencies and blockers.
- Set up a relevant and lightweight development process, retaining only necessary steps for effective and continuous development.
- Have all the technical skills needed to be an active contributor to the team.
The way you shape the foundations will define the team's future culture. Be pragmatic, understand the dynamics of the team and business, and work towards establishing a culture of a product-led organization!