Product Culture Marty Cagan

New Employee Bootcamp

SVPG Partner Christian Idiodi has built a powerful reputation over the years for developing very strong product teams. In his past companies, he created his own new-employee bootcamp that is an excellent example of coaching ordinary people into extraordinary teams. I asked Christian to describe his program here.

By Christian Idiodi

Hiring product people is hard—especially product managers, product designers, and tech leads.

The best product people in the world are working for companies that want to keep them. They’re working on meaningful problems and creating innovative solutions.

In general, companies prefer to hire people who have had success at previous product companies. The thinking behind it goes something like, “Well if they’ve done well at that company, they’ll do great here. They launched this great product at (fill in the blank with any reputable, big company), so surely they’ll give us those same results.”

The problem is this: product people don’t start at a new company with everything they need to succeed, no matter how successful they’ve been in the past.

New-hire orientations, while they’re great for helping a new employee feel welcomed and integrated into the organization, fall far short in preparing product people on some of the more important aspects of their role. Things like making hard decisions and gaining a high level of trust among peers.

For example, product managers need to be able to contribute a deep knowledge of the customer, the business, the industry, and their product. Their first day on the job, or even their first month, won’t give them this type of knowledge unless they’re very intentionally brought into the organization.

The onboarding of a product person will therefore set the parameters for her level of contribution and success in her role.

I created a New Employee Bootcamp to fill that gap and set product people up for success.

I started the program 10 years ago when I was a head of product and in charge of hiring and equipping the key product hires. I had seen a series of failed product people within the organization, and I realized that these hires had been completely capable for the job. But there was something missing between their capability and their success in the organization.

Seeing this problem, I considered the biggest problems product people were facing, along with what they needed to be successful:

  • How are decisions made? How have they been made in the past?
  • What is important to the company now? What are we working toward?
  • How can I get people to trust me?
  • What’s the most important thing to do right now?

With these questions in mind, I created a five-day intensive bootcamp program for product people to participate in during their first week on the job.

Every day starts with a personal-growth component where product people look inward and prepare themselves for the work ahead.

They participate in exercises on communication, personality tests, personal skills, and build a career growth path for themselves. This focus on their own personal growth shows these new employees that we, the company, care about who they are and their growth. It also follows the principle of “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting other passengers.” If we train our leaders to be healthy, the people who report to them have a better chance, too.

After personal growth, each day covers a different product training topic. We call this Strategic Context.

These are some of the most important topics that product people need to understand within the company.

On day one, we talk about understanding the customer. And while most product people understand how to “understand the customer,” we bring them through our own company history and put everything into context.

We share our vision, financial models, talk through our customer discovery, and who our customers have been in the past—and who we want them to be in the future. The rest of the week we talk through validation, building and prioritizing, learning and measuring, and going to market.

All of these topics are specific to the organization’s goals and how they “get things done,” with the context that gives the product person the background to really understand where she’s coming into the story.

These topics might change based on what’s important to your company and the values it holds, but the process of breaking them down—and giving the product person the space to explore—is important and can change the trajectory of her success.

Right after Strategic Context, we bring in a product person from the company who can speak to each topic and tell stories from her own personal experience. This step might seem small, but it’s key to start establishing relationships and trust with other product people. These product people can speak directly to what it’s like to work on a team, be responsible for customers, collaborate with stakeholders, and navigate an often-complex company environment.

After lunch, we enter the Product Workshop, where participants take what they learned in the morning and apply it practically, as if they were on the job.

We bring in the team members they’ll be working with and they have a safe space to practice with the guidance of the leadership. The learning curve to figuring out how others work is shortened and addressed up front, saving everyone time and confusion.

The Bootcamp reinforces a culture of learning and growth. When the product person leaves the Bootcamp she’s not asking, “What do I do today?” She already knows the next, right thing to do. She’s equipped to make decisions quickly and the relationships she’s already built help her get to results faster.

This is how we empower product people—by providing them with the information they need to succeed and then trusting them to do the right thing.

Remember: we’re not hiring smart product people to tell them what to do—we’re hiring them to solve hard problems in ways our customers love, yet work for our business.

You have to invest in the product people, more than just a new-hire orientation packet.

Consider implementing a Bootcamp to set them up for success and give meaning to the work they’ll be doing.