By Jonathan Jin
Uber’s product managers (PMs) ensure that our technologies fulfill the company’s vision of improving transportation experiences for users worldwide. Among other duties, PMs lead cross-functional teams, prioritize efforts, and communicate with stakeholders to facilitate the successful execution of product roadmaps. At Uber, PMs are embedded within various parts of the tech organization and are accountable for products ranging from our core rider, eater, and driver experiences to our internal applications.
By 2017, we had grown to over a dozen offices, thousands of employees, and hundreds of PMs, with PM representation expanding across multiple geographies and departments. Being an effective PM necessitates collaboration not only with your lateral teams (e.g., engineers, program managers, and operations), but also with other members of Uber’s Product org. To facilitate greater knowledge sharing and stronger connections between product teams, we created Uber’s PM Bootcamp, an onboarding program for newly hired PMs.
In this article, we outline how we designed this program as a way to increase alignment, communication, and collaboration between product teams, as well as share lessons learned from our first year. We hope that our experiences and key takeaways can help other companies launch their own onboarding bootcamps.
Basics of building a bootcamp
When we set out to create our PM bootcamp, there was nothing yet in place quite like it at Uber; in addition to our company-wide onboarding program, each product team had their own informal onboarding process, these processes were (necessarily) focused on their team’s specific training needs.
With the guidance of Uber’s product leaders, we leveraged the PM program’s existing body of resources (including playbooks, competency guidelines, and more general roadmaps) and feedback from recent hires to design the bootcamp.
First, we identified three key goals for our program:
- Create a sense of pride, community and collaboration among PMs
- Help PMs understand the core competencies of product management at Uber
- Educate them about available PM resources
Next, we laid out three key tactics for executing on this vision:
- Build a foundation. The bootcamp would complement existing onboarding that individual managers provided, with more emphasis on the company’s approach to product management, cross-team goals, and PM best practices.
- Leverage the experts. When building out our program, we worked with specialists in each product category to design these courses, and our instructors would be hand-picked PMs who were experts in the topic area they were presenting on.
- Iterate, iterate, and iterate some more. While we were determined to launch our bootcamp as soon as possible, we knew that the only way our program would have long-term staying power was if it adapted to the ever-changing needs of our organization, as well as feedback from our first several waves of participants.
Once our goals were defined, we worked with our product leaders to design these classes, organizing them into four key themes running through the PM experience:
- Company and business context. Our first course outlines key business metrics, organizational history, and industry landscape, concluding with a Q&A panel featuring members of our product leadership team.
- Life as a PM. Next, we walk through how a PM’s day-to-day is structured, outlining key functions, from assembling product roadmaps and understanding core competencies, to leveraging data (and data scientists) to inform development decisions.
- Customer empathy. At the end of the day, improving our products is a PM’s top priority, but in order to do that effectively, we have to understand and empathize with user needs. During this course, PMs shadow support teams, drive for Uber, and undergo customer support training.
- Stakeholder management. Finally, we discuss best practices for working effectively with various stakeholders (e.g., Engineering, Design, Data Science, and our on-the-ground Ops teams).
Leveraging these themes, instructors were given a general outline of topics to cover, but had the agency to design the content, exercises, and outcomes of their class. We also gave instructors a six-week runway to prepare their content, with regular check-ins to gauge progress. Ultimately, each of these classes composed a full two-day bootcamp.
Of course, our bootcamp would not be a successful “product” if we did not have key performance indicators (KPIs). We defined success as 1) ensuring 100% attendance for all eligible PMs within 3 months of their start date and 2) the average score of 4.5 or above (out of 5.0) on a post-bootcamp satisfaction survey.
We officially launched the program in May 2017, and after four bootcamps (and constant iteration), we met these KPIs, validating our product as a core element of the new PM “UX.” During our PM bootcamp, participants noted that they were able to better leverage the resources available to them in our org; learned valuable context about company objectives by increasing their exposure to other parts of the business; and reported a greater understanding of customer experiences across our products. Most importantly, however, our bootcamp helped foster a greater sense of collaboration between disparate product teams, leading to greater satisfaction overall with the Uber product management experience.
Several months and sessions later, our bootcamp is a mandatory requirement for all new PMs at Uber, both new hires and transfers alike. Below, we outline some key takeaways from launching our bootcamp that others can apply to their own onboarding programs:
Set company context
Before joining a new company, you may think that you have a pretty good sense of its history and overarching product vision. Still, it never hurts to glean additional context, understand key business decisions, company organizational structure, and team leads. These details will be critical to your success.
Make time to socialize
Being a PM requires frequent collaboration and socialization—after all, they spend the vast majority of their working hours with team members, stakeholders, and customers. Socializing is even more important during a PM’s first few months at a new company as they learn the ropes and better understand how their role fits into the rest of the picture.
During our first few bootcamps, we assumed that a few happy hours and team meals would be sufficient; however, one of the biggest pieces of feedback we received was that the program needed more bonding activities. We quickly learned that hosting lunches, dinners and happy hours is an easy way for new hires to build relationships and get a better sense for how their product fits into the larger scope of our business. Now, we jumpstart the bonding process by sharing an introduction packet with fun facts about each person in the bootcamp in advance of our first session.
Build customer empathy by “doing”
As mentioned earlier, fully understanding the customer experience—including possible pain points—is foundational for improving our products. In addition to partnering with our Customer Obsession team to better understand support tickets, we also work with our Employee Driving Program team to get PMs on the road, picking up riders or delivering Uber Eats orders during the bootcamp so they also understand the driver experience. Building meaningful products is only possible if we can empathize with our customers and partners.
Make bootcamp an experience to remember
This goes without saying, but taking care of the smaller details such as providing good food, timely communication, swag, comfortable seating arrangements, an agenda with ample breaks, and links to all training content goes a long way when it comes to fostering customer satisfaction. Running a tight ship means attendees have little to think about other than learning to be an effective PM.
Tackle real challenges
Each class of our bootcamp was purposefully designed to be interactive. It is easy to lose interest during even short lectures, so our instructors spent at least half of their allotted time leading both individual and group exercises. For example, one instructor peppered his presentation with quiz-style questions about various business metrics, while another had teams tackle current challenges facing the company, presenting their learnings to the class.
The future of PM training at Uber
Since launching our PM bootcamp, new Product hires have acknowledged an improved sense of collaboration, a faster rate of learning, and greater community-building during their first few months at Uber. In the coming months, we look forward to improving our bootcamp by adding more hands-on projects, opportunities to engage with our customers, and new courses.
If you are interested in tackling product challenges that drive business impact at scale, consider applying for a role on Uber’s Product Management team.