Inspired, by Marty Cagan

The book that will tell you everything you need to know about Product Management

In the beginning was the Project, and the Project had a Project Manager, and the Project used traditional software development methodologies. During a limited period of time, people would assume specific attributions and each phase would feed the next one, until something could be delivered and people could return to their original attributions or be allocated in new projects.

With the advent of agile, the Project still existed as a main concept, but we began to see development with new eyes. A word was in vogue as something that every team member should have, as hard to define as it is to implement, the ownership. It is hard to feel ownership when you can be moved to another project, that may need you more, at any time, so companies started to change their teams to squads and do their projects over one or more products. The development team came from behind the scenes to assume a big role with the new main character on the software theater: the Product Owner.

Anyone that has ever worked in tech knows that:

  1. Everything changes all the time in the world; and
  2. The boundaries between positions aren’t clear.

So, the Business Analyst position merges with the Product Owner, wich works together with the Project Manager, whose attributions may be confused with the ones from the Scrum Master, and in this mix, we started to hear about Product Managers.

All of this happened years ago. But we all know that even in tech, some tendencies take a little while to get to some places, such as Brazil, from where I’m writing this. Up to January of 2020, in Belo Horizonte, the sixth capital in the country in population, many professionals, even on the companies that are considered advanced regarding agile, have the same question: What is a Product Manager?

On this second edition of his book, Inspired, Marty Cagan is dedicated to answer this question deeply, not only defining the position, but exploring the many skills that are necessary to whoever wants to be a Product Manager, by unraveling the way great product teams work and illustrating with the profiles of people that succedeed.

The book has 5 parts. On Part 1, Lessons from Top Tech Companies, Cagan discourses about some of the companies he has worked for and what we can find useful in his experiences, bot for startups, growing companies or the big ones everyone already knows about.

Part 2, The Right People, defines the roles that may be found inside and around great product teams. Here is the chapter that has impacted me the most during the reading, the one that lists the main responsabilities of a Product .

When a product succeeds, it’s because everyone on the team did what they needed to do. But when a product fails, it’s the product manager’s fault.

For those who are starting, reading about so many challenges may be discouraging, but for me, it’s a needed reality check, a shock that that is good when brings us to action. In my case, as I’m currently looking for an opportunity on a product team, realizing that I already have many of the skills that were described and I have already accepted similar responsibilities on other positions motivated me to pursue my development on those that I’m not that experienced.

For those who already work as a product manager, this part may be useful to identify some of the roles that may not be well defined, but that are important to raise the work from an “average product team” to a “great product team”.

Part 3, The Right Product, could be considered the heart of the book. Everything in product management, everything in agile, everything in lean development revolves around building the right product. If it seems obvious, that’s because it is obvious, but it’s not easy — if it were, there wouldn’t be so many techniques, so many books or so many fails.

My first project as a business analysts, back in 2007/2008, was an audit system for a language school. This was one of the best clients I’ve had in 16 years: Open minded, interested, collaborative, understanding. The team was also very good and I, the newbie on the role, had all the support I needed from my manager to do my job the best possible way. The project was a success. We delivered all the requirements on time, we didn’t have many bugs, the client was pleased. Years later, I ended up working with that same client again. Our main stakeholder was glad to see me, he praised my job and was looking forward to working with me and with the company one more time. I then asked if they were still using the system we had built in that project. He said they had never used it, because they soon found out it wasn’t what they needed.

I can bet with confidence that 100% of the people that work in tech have already been through something similar and that’s why agile methodologies insist so much on this topic. On the book, there are 10 chapters about product vision, strategies, roadmaps and other related concepts, closing with one of the profiles I found the most interesting, Alex Pressland, the product manager that brought BBC to the digital era.

On Part 4, The Right Process, more than establishing a process — a word that many agile teams fear — Cagan brings us a diverse menu of techniques for discovering activities, prototyping, interviewing, usability and value tests, feasability etc. There are 31 chapters to which I’ll certainly come back many times to remember or to just gain a new perspective as I acquire new experiences.

Finally, Part 5, The Right Culture, talks briefly about the qualities of the companies with a strong product culture, with some tips on how to instill this culture on the teams.

Despite the pretty title, Inspired isn’t an easy book, that you can read in one sitting during a few hours. It’s a dense reading, that asks for pauses and notes, so that you can soak up better on its content and actually understand how to use it. For me, particularly, it was a good direction of how to better explore my strengths and how to develop the areas where I still need a little practice. The book also helped me to organize all the information I already had and prioritize my own needs.

The person who recommended me the book said it is the most important reference to whoever wants to start a career as a product manager. She wasn’t lying.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

Head de Produto na Ao Cubo. Escrevo sobre produto e agilidade, mas também sobre séries, livros e assuntos aleatórios.

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