"Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love" by Marty Cagan
Product Manager? Building Software Products? Buy This Book!
I have always been interested in how great software products are built. In the early 90’s, I took several “software engineering best practices” courses at Boston University as part of my doctoral studies. Since then I have read many books and articles and have lead many software product development and product management teams. Now I even teach a course at Stanford on product management and the software product lifecycle.
Marty’s Cagan’s book is by far the best book I have ever read on software product management, or really on how to build great products.
His general theme of discovering products that are “valuable, usable, and feasible” is brilliant. He discusses the role of the product management including contrasting it to product marketing, project management, design, and engineering. He lays out a guideline for product management processes including how to succeed with agile methods, waterfall processes, in a start-up, and in large companies. It is hard to believe he covers so many useful topics (cutting features vs. slipping dates, market research, innovating in large companies) and classic problems (confusing product management with product marketing) in this relatively short, very straightforward, and very readable book.
If you are a product manager or just want to learn how to build great software products, but this book! Then buy one for everyone on your team, everyone around you, and especially for your CEO.
In Part I Marty describes the different roles in a product organization, specifically he contrasts Product Management (defining the product) with
-Product Marketing (telling the world about the product)
-Project Management (coordinating release management, engineering, site operations, customer service, and product management especially for the frequent releases in the internet world.)
-Design (interaction design, visual design, rapid prototyping, and usability testing)
-Engineering (building the product right versus building the right product)
He goes on to describe the most important characteristics of a product manager (product passion, customer empathy, intelligence, work ethic, integrity, confidence, and attitude) and skills of a product manager (applying technology, focus, time management, communication skills, business skills). He then discusses how to manage these wonderfully talented people including how to measure their success (net promoter scores) and where product management should live (on par with engineering and marketing, not inside either organization).
At the end of Part I, he discusses how product managers can “manage up” in order to be more successful:
-Measure and plan for churn
-Adjust to different communicate style and frequency
-Do your pre-meeting work
-Provide recommendations, not issues
-Use your manager
-Do your homework
-Write short e-mails
-Use data and facts, not opinions
-Be a low-maintenance employee
In Part II he discusses Product Management Process:
First he describes how to assess an opportunity:
1) What problem are you solving?
2) For whom are you solving the problem?
3) How big is the opportunity?
4) How will you measure success?
5) What alternatives are there now?
6) Why us?
7) Why now?
8) How get product to market?
9) Critical success factors
10) Go/no go recommendation
He then continues and discusses product discovery (defining the right product) and product principles (deciding what is important). He also discusses how to get key stakeholders and decision markers together to make timely and definitive product decisions – the product council. After discussing charter user programs, he talks about market research: customer surveys, site analytics, data mining, site visits, usability testing, competitive analysis, and personas (which he then drills into).
He then makes the bold suggestion to forget traditional product specifications and create “high fidelity” prototypes. In a similar vein, he describes how the user experience must be defined before the product is built. He suggests the way out of the “cutting feature vs. slipping date problem” is to define a product with the minimal functionality needed to meet a business objective. Of course later you must then undergo product validation – determining if the product is valuable, feasible, and usable. Finally you want to do prototype testing in which you put your ideas in front of real users. While many of these techniques assume a new product, Marty discusses improving existing products and states that it is not all about adding features.
Once the product is built, you should practice gentle deployment (to avoid user abuse) and make sure you create the ability to rapidly respond to problems in your newly deployed product.
Marty then gives his top 10 list on how to succeed with agile methods:
1) The product manager is the product owner and represents the customer, he will need to be extremely involved with the product development team especially when answering questions as they arise.
2) Agile isn’t an excuse for lack of product planning – use lightweight assessments (above).
3) Product Managers and designers need to also be working one or two sprints ahead of the development
4) Don’t break design work into too small of chunks.
5) Instead of product requirements documents use prototypes and stories.
6) Let engineering break functionality into whatever granularity of sprints they prefer.
7) Make sure product managers and designers are at every daily status meeting.
8) The result of every sprint isn’t a releasable product.
9) But it should be at least demonstrable.
10) Get Agile training for the whole team
He even addresses the out of fashion but still used and often useful waterfall process and how to succeed with it.
In later chapters he discusses startup product management (it is all about product discovery) and innovating in large companies (difficult but worth the effort). Similarly he offers his Top 10 List on how to succeed in large companies:
1) Learn how decisions are really made in your organization
2) Build relationships before you need them
3) Long live skunk works.
4) Just get it done
5) Pick your battles
6) Build consensus before meetings where decisions are required
7) Be smart about how to spend your time
8) Share information
9) Put your manager to work
In the third part of the book he covers a variety of “Product” topics. He discusses lessons from Apple (hardware serves the software, software serves the user experience, user experience serves the emotion), being weary of specials, the old new thing (what is possible is constantly changing – common misconceptions), the role of emotions in products (fear, greed, and lust – all the good ones), usability vs. aesthetics, and the emotional adoption curve.
Finally he provides a few more Top 10 Lists:
Keys to consumer Internet service products:
5) Customer support
6) Privacy and data protection
7) Viral marketing
9) Gentle deployment
10) Community management
Keys to enterprise products
2) Product actually needs to work
4) Customers and charter user program
5) Designing for the sales channel
6) Customer versus the user
7) Product installation
8) Product configuration, customization, and integration
9) Product Update
10) The Sales Process
(He also discusses the keys to Platform Products)
Best Practices Summary
1) Role of product management
2) Role of user experience
3) Opportunity assessment
4) Charter user program
5) Product principles
7) Focus on discovery
8) Use of prototypes
9) Test prototypes with target users
10) Measure to improve
Product Manager worry list
1) Product compelling to target customer?
2) Product easy to use?
3) Produce succeed against the competition?
4) Know customers who will buy this product?
5) Is my product truly differentiated?
6) Will the product work?
7) Is it a whole product
8) Are the products strengths consistent with what is important to the customer?
9) Is the product worth the money?
10) Do I understand what the product team thinks about the product?