What you could learn from ‘Product Leadership’ (2017, 209 pages)

How do companies produce products and services that customer want?  The book ‘Product Leadership’ suggests that the key is to build empowered and autonomous product teams, lead by product leaders.

These product teams should:

  • Be as autonomous as possible, with as few dependencies on other teams as possible, but
  • Have diversity of thought
  • Be cross-functional, with not just designers & developers, but also risk analysts, lawyers and ops people
  • Allow each team member to have autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • Have control over the processes and tools they use
  • Strong communication, reducing the time taken to solve problems and risk of miss-communication
  • Accountable, for the product and for each team members work
  • Work in an agile way (see below)

The teams should work in an Agile way (see The Agile Manifesto below):

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Product leaders are different from normal business managers, in that they are responsible for co-creating key Agile artefacts with their team and the wider business.  For example:

  • Principles – what values guide the product or the team, e.g., “keep customer inertia”
  • Product vision – what to the team will build e.g., “1000 songs in my pocket”
  • Product strategy – how the product will fulfil the vision, for example,  key features/actions e.g., import, store, easily access and play music
  • Product roadmap – what order these main features will be delivered (based on value, usability and feasibility)

To be able to both manage the team and align the team and business about the product vision, product leaders need to be able to do the following well:

  • Understand the customer and their problems they have and what a great solution would look like
  • Set key success SMART criteria (based on outcomes) for the product
  • Communicate the product vision and strategy to key business stakeholders, and is able to ‘sell’ the idea and hustle to get resources
  • Set the tone for the team through their use of language, the expectations they set and how they manage disagreement and conflict.  Critical is the ability to provide ‘psychological safety’
  • Access wider company resources
  • Curiosity about the customer, the product, the company, leadership and self-development
  • Protect the team from wider, unhelpful influences
  • Manage and lead people (easier said than done)
  • Adapt as the product, team and company develop, what made you successful in one context may not matter in other contexts

Product leadership is a fantastic book.  Simple to read, with great advice on the important things that matter when making great products.   There are not only explanations of the key Agile artefacts, there is also sage advice from some of the top western product management, e.g.,  “a prototype is worth a thousand meetings” (John Maeda).  You should read this book if you are a start-up CEO or an established or aspiring Product Owner.

You can find a link to Product Leadership on Amazon UK here.

There is much helpful advice and guidance in the book.   One of the key lists is the product leader cheat sheet.

  • Understand why you are solving the problem for the customer
  • Understand why the solution the company offers to the customer actually does what it is supposed to
  • Understand the problem you’re solving for both the customer and company and how they connect
  • Focus on the #1 problem, not the #2/#3
  • Build time with customers into your weekly cycles
  • Understand the user’s most pressing need by talking to them and observing them
  • Develop a roadmap that outlines the core themes and priorities
  • Determine how much time your team will have to implement the work
  • Figure out if the team need help from outside
  • Discuss the technical details of how to make the work interesting and innovative