When you first take over a product, typically from a product-oriented CEO, there is a honeymoon period. Everyone is excited about bringing in more bandwidth (because the CEO has a very diverse role out of the weeds.) As a company grows, it has to professionalize, and those first product people tend to be good at structure and implementing systems.
1. Aim for quick wins. As a new product person you have to get onboarded, learn the ropes, get comfortable with the team. I would recommend going for quick, easier wins—don’t try and do anything massive. Go for incremental change & demonstrate your ability to organize and prioritize.
2. Ramp up with users & customers. Early stage startups don’t typically have dedicated customer research teams, or anyone doing formal customer discovery. The CEO might have been doing it, but now it’s your job, in partnership with design & dev. So get out there and start talking to customers.
3. Over-communicate. Your CEO is going to be nervous. She might not say that, but she was running product before you, and this is her company. So you need to make sure she understands what you’re doing and why. You also need to over-communicate with everyone in the company. You may have a counterpart on the tech team (CTO / VP Engineering.) They’ll be a touch apprehensive too.
4. Simple roadmaps and short sprints. Don’t come in and rock the boat massively (at least not initially!) Stick to simple, short roadmaps, and short sprints. Initially I like 1-week sprints — they’re very fast, but they provide the most iterative opportunity to learn. Eventually you might go to 2-week sprints; anything longer than that is too long.
5. Set clear expectations with your team. In a small startup, there’s often not a lot of structure. Employees have direct access to the CEO. A lot of the decision making is top down from the CEO/founders/co-founders and people may be OK with that. Suddenly you come onboard and there’s “hierarchy.” Most early employees don’t like hierarchy. Build early bonds with your team members (and others in the company). Be insanely transparent about everything-publish your roadmap to the whole company. Transparency creates trust, but it also increases accountability (for you and everyone else.)
6. Do “show & tell”. Every 2-4 weeks bring people together to show off what the product team is working on. Most people don’t really understand how products are built, so allowing them to see “how the sausage is made” is worthwhile. You may get a lot of feedback (some good and some bad), but it also helps educate people.