Startups are notorious for being fast-moving environments. Often by the time a PM is hired it feels like they are already months too late. “There is no time to onboard, we need to throw them into this urgent project!”
Unfortunately, this mentality sacrifices the long term for the short term. The PM is such a heavily leveraged role in a product-focused tech company. More than in almost any other role, an investment in effective PM onboarding will pay dividends. So don’t skimp on onboarding your new PM!
This is why I always make a point to create and follow a deliberate onboarding plan for my new PM hires. In this 3-part series (hey - there’s a lot to cover!) I’ll outline what my typical PM onboarding process looks like.
For part one in the series, I’ll assume you just hired your new PM. Congrats! But your work doesn’t end when the contract is signed; a rock-solid PM onboarding begins before the start date. Below are some of the things you should already take care of before your new PM’s first day on the job.
Your new PM may not have started yet but now can be a good time to fine-tune the scope and priorities of the role. Even though you probably had a pretty clear picture during the interview process, things often change at a startup. If you are replacing a PM who was previously in the role then this will be more straightforward. But if you are creating a new team then more care will need to be taken in this step.
So, what will this PM be responsible for? If you are at a very early startup maybe you haven’t defined the general responsibilities and expectations of PMs at your company yet - now would be a good time to do that. Additionally, you need to articulate the raison d'etre for their specific role. For PM’s the answer will be similar to “Why does this sprint team exist?” Aim to be explicit about the KPIs that the PM should be driving, the customer they should be serving, and the core business opportunity space & customer problem(s) that you think they should be operating within.
Having a clear picture of the role will not only be helpful for you and your new PM but it will also be valuable when you explain the role to other teammates so there is an aligned set of expectations.
Speaking of the team, I like to give teammates a heads-up about the new starter. The right amount of communication depends on the organization, but I will typically do a broader message and individual messages to key teammates.
The broader messages are sent to the people and teams who should be aware of the new teammate but maybe not working very closely with them. For example, I might do a Slack message to the broader EPD team (Engineering, Product Management, and Design) with a link to the new hire’s LinkedIn page, the start date, and an explanation of what they will be responsible for. Maybe the PM will be supporting the Sales or Operations team as well, so you could do something similar for that group. For a very small company, you can share this with everyone.
I go into more depth with the people who will work most closely with the new PM. This can happen in-person or electronically depending on the situation. I want them to be especially clear on the PM’s role, priorities, what they will partner on, and how they can help onboard our new PM.
You might think that since the candidate signed the contract they are locked in. But you never know what might happen. Maybe the former employer makes an enticing counteroffer. Maybe another company they had previously applied to now gets back with an amazing opportunity. These things can and do happen! You need to make sure the candidate continues to be committed to join.
I like to have at least one (or a few - if a long notice period) check-ins with the candidate before their start date to see how they are feeling, share updates, and answer any questions (read: address any concerns) that might have come up. If they are local it’s great to do this in person over a coffee. Otherwise, a video call will suffice.
Another thing I have found helpful is to ask the interview panel (all the people who interviewed the candidate) to send an email to the new joiner with a short note about why they are excited to have the person join. Little things like this add up to create a lot of momentum.
While I don’t expect a new hire to do work for the role before their start date (or think negatively of them if they choose not to), in my experience candidates are usually very motivated to hit the ground running. So once the NDA is signed I like to share a welcome email with some materials that they can already start digging into (with a clear note that the material is optional). Maybe you have a recording of a customer interview, an All Hands presentation, or demo account access to your product that you can share? There will be no shortage of materials the PM will ultimately need to review so it’s not about sharing the most important things but rather the things they can dive into without needing much hand-holding.