Book Review: Inspired, by Marty Cagan – Principles of (successful) Product Management
A few weeks ago, Jon Lin , our team’s manager, sent the team an excited email, on a Saturday morning, about a workshop he attended that week, led by Marty Cagan, from SVPG, a renowned expert in the field of Product Management. Now, to understand the greatness of that, one needs to know Jon – Jon does not get excited very easily, in fact we are always referring to him as THE King of Cool because he has a very easy way of keeping cool no matter what. So seeing Jon so excited was getting us very curious. Jon was Inspired by the workshop and wanted to share it with us. He sent some slides and gave us the book Marty wrote about creating successful products – Inspired.
Now, we are all really busy, working literally 24/7, especially this time of year – so getting time to read the book was another task which needed some time allocated to. I told Jon I will read it after Christmas, but he suggested I read it now – in a rather crucial time for the business and product. “it will take you 4-5 hours, not more” he promised. “Well in 4-5 hours I could get a lot of work done…” I was thinking. What I later realized is that had I read this book earlier these 4-5 hours would have saved me – and potentially others – a lot of precious time later on.
What can I say – this is one of the best books out there for anyone leading or participating in the process of ‘baking’ a product online, enterprise level or consumer services level. It is so hard to come up with products that people really love, especially this day and age when the abundance of web 2.0 tools and the quickly shifting user behavior means Products need to play catch up as well as come up with the next groundbreaking thing. Even to get your product to work for the user is never an easy task. We are the generation that needs to serve for those who use social media products with caution, as well as for those to whose lives are so intertwined with ‘social media tools’ that to them there is no ‘social media’. That is a BIG challenge, one I am very lucky to participate in.
The book’s structure divides analysis and recommendation into 3 main elements to comprise a successful product: people, process and actual product.
* Who comprises the core product team and what is their role and focus? Cagan puts really big emphasis and what is – and what is not – the role of a Product Manager, and how important is their work with the User Experience Designer and lead Software Engineer. Key is Product Manager – UX Designer relationship, when Marty stresses the freedom that needs to be given to the UX team using Patton’s advice: “never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity”. Product Manager’s role should focus on 2 main things: identifying Product Opportunity and Discovering the product through it. What is the core problem the product is trying to solve, for whom, and what is a solution the target audience WILL use?
* As tempting as it is to deliver, don’t jump into the solution, design vs implementation – as a product leader it is very easy to fall in love with your own ideas, thinking it’s just what the product needs, confusing your needs and enthusiasm, with the customer’s. Exploring new ideas is inspiring and fun, and to make them worthwhile the effort they need to be done hand in hand with identifying the problem solved for the user, and how we are solving it. The process of discovering a product, validating it, that will be used by your audience can only be done in one way: customer interaction. If you don’t check it with several customers that the suggested solution works for them, you are basically shooting in the dark. with a prototype before you deploy it to the market, that’s where the main requirements and product discovery processes are done.
* Hence, the crucial importance of a validated, robust user experience: hardware is serving the software, software is serving user experience, user experience is serving the member.
* Avoid the temptation of offering billions of alluring features to the user – this will be resource and time consuming, and even worse – confusing and distracting for the user. Focus on the core elements that make the product, that if you remove one of them, the site simply won’t work. Avoid the temptation to add more features after you validated the prototype with your audience.
* Developing strong relationships with your customers – to ensure the the solution is validated in time, before piles of money, resources, effort and expectations are built on an implemented solution, and in additional to user market research tools, connecting a few organizations and developing close relationships with them to feedback on prototype has incredible value with developing a product that will be used successfully by your customers. Beware of ‘specials’ though: tailoring your product for one account only can have dangerous consequences, make sure you engage with several customers and accounts.
Marty also refers to personas and product principles as extremely useful tools to align thinking around who and how the product is developed. He also has some great advice and tips around how to manage products in large organizations (heavy and slow) as well as start ups (no time and resources for methodical prototyping).
Inspired changed not only the way I view Product Management, it really put emphasis on leveraging the already existing collaborative nature of communities and social media, to collaborate on product development. especially when in comes to Product Management for Social Media products.