My first steps when working with a new organization is to understand the corporate objectives. This can be to grab more market share, more revenue per client, drive brand recognition, etc. Just understand where the company is going and why. This helps you align your decisions and not be running in a different direction than everyone else.
“Given that, where are we today?” -M. Crowley. To blatantly “borrow” from her, “…where are we right now and what’s the gap to what we want to do?” Figure that out.
Second, learn the business and it’s particular challenges and nuances. Above all, you’re going to have to adapt your processes and methods to the situation. What worked in one company and team will not work for another, you’re going to have to adjust your thinking and approach to suit the situation.
Third, what metrics do you currently have access to that can help guide you? Take inventory, figure out what’s missing, build a relationship with the people that can help you get access to whatever is missing.
Fourth, understand how the company markets itself and it’s products. What are your customer segments? How is the company viewed by the marketplace, by customers, and by potential customers. Whatever you do, you want to support that, you probably don’t have budget to go create an entire marketing campaign. Then again, maybe you do.
Fifth, develop customer segments and align a value proposition to each customer segment you’re targeting. Then align your features with the value propositions.
Sixth, you need an artifact to show that you’re doing something and you plan to take all this somewhere by some point in time. That’s the product roadmap. There’s tools out there that can do this for you but I’d suggest just using sticky notes until you have an idea where you’re going. You’ll inevitably have two audiences, one at the executive level (strategic) and another at the department level (tactical). You’ll end up with at least two roadmaps as a result.
Seventh. Nobody has all the answers and you can’t possibly know exactly what to build. You need a way to cultivate ideas and test them cheaply, preferably without writing a single line of code. Test this with clients and users and validate your ideas. The output of this is the input to the product backlog. Easy ways to get cheap tests quickly in front of clients is through Invision.app or Powerpoint, the former being preferable. Use this feedback to to help you reach product-market fit or refine features that align with your current value prop.