Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

How to effectively transition into a new role

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For most organizations, individuals starting a new job have 90 days to prove themselves. What happens during this critical time can make or break your career.

Your goal is to get as rapidly as possible to the break-even point. This is the point at which you have contributed as much value to the organization as you have consumed from it. Putting together a successful strategy for getting to this point, and accelerating past it, is key to your transition.

Transition-New Role

What works well in some situations does not work in others. That’s why it’s important to follow a comprehensive framework for making transitions. In his book THE FIRST 90 DAYS: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, author Michael D. Watkins has developed this comprehensive strategy.

As you begin your transition to a new role, there are things you need to do, and things you need to avoid. Among the “transition traps” you should avoid are:

  • Sticking with what you know; doing the same thing you did in your previous role
  • Falling prey to the “action imperative” or trying too hard
  • Setting unrealistic expectations
  • Attempting to do too much
  • Coming in with “the” answer—this can alienate others
  • Not learning the culture of the business
  • Neglecting horizontal relationships.

In his more than 10 years of research and application, Michael has proven you can dramatically accelerate your transition into your new role, and more quickly hit the break-even point, by taking the right steps forward. By doing the following you will rapidly create momentum that will propel you to greater success.

  • Prepare yourself: Make the mental break from the old job and take charge in the new one.
  • Accelerate your learning: Climb the learning curve as fast as you can in your new organization. This means understanding its markets, products, technologies, systems and structures, as well as its culture and politics.
  • Match your strategy to the situation: Different situations require different adjustments in how you plan for an execute your transition. Startups are different than turn-around companies, and both different than large public companies.
  • Secure early wins: Early wins build your credibility and create momentum. In the first few weeks you need to identify opportunities to build credibility.
  • Negotiate success: Because no other association is more important, you need to figure out how to build a productive working relationship with your new boss and become adept at managing his expectations.
  • Achieve alignment: Play the role of “organizational architect” by bringing its structure into alignment with its strategy and developing the processes and skill bases necessary to realize your strategic intent.
  • Build your team: You need to evaluate, align and mobilize your team members. You may also need to restructure the team. Your willingness to make tough early personnel calls and your capacity to select the right people for the right positions are among the most important drivers of success during your transition and beyond.
  • Create coalitions: Your success depends on your ability to influence people outside your direct line of control. Supportive alliances, both internal and external, are necessary to achieve your goals. Start right away to identify those whose support is essential for your success and figure out how to line them up on your sided.
  • Keep your balance: In the personal and professional turmoil of transition you must work hard to maintain your balance and preserve your ability to judge effectively. Build the right advice-and-council network; it’s an indispensable resource.
  • Accelerate everyone: You need to help all those in your organization—direct reports, bosses and peers—accelerate their own transitions. The fact that you are in a transition means they are too. The quicker you can get your new direct reports up to speed, the more you will help your own performance.

Questions: What have you learned from past transitions? How can you apply these steps to improve your next transition? Please leave a comment in the space below.


The Product Management Perspective: Transitioning into a new role in product management is not always easy. Because PMs start the role from various different backgrounds, having a well-defined transition path is not likely. Applying the steps described above will help you start your transition well.

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