I just finished reading The Art of product management by Rich Mironov. In this review I will talk about the what I learnt from my reading and where I think the book can be improved.
The book does a great job of identifying the key roles and responsibilities of a Product Manager in a start-up. I particularly enjoyed how he stressed the importance of decision making as a critical aspect of product management. I have captured a couple of "clippings" from his book:
- Much of product management is about trying to understand customers: what they want, what they say they want, and what they really need.
- Ideally, you want your PM to be both right and decisive. It may take years to find out if a decision was right, but indecisiveness can freeze up an entire organization. A great PM recognizes the important few decisions worthy of serious analysis - and plows through the rest.
- David Thompson, a manager of mine at iPass, taught me that executives are paid to make decisions: a productive day must include least one decision. Meetings, emails, discussions, forecast reviews and brainstorming are secondary to making decisions that drive action. It's easy to be distracted by the minutiae of business, or by analysis paralysis.
- So, we've defined the ideal PM: an experienced, decisive driver who understands the customer enough to make complex trade-offs.
The second aspect of the book I liked was tips that Rich provides for day to day Product management tasks. Its a very handy checklist to ahve in your reportaire as you tackle the problems on a daily basis. I have captured a few below:
- Customer facing vs. Internal roadmaps: I'd consider two or three distinct (and distinctly named) documents: a public roadmap for use with press, analysts and prospects; a Key Customer roadmap, used strictly under NDA when Product Management is present; and a Development calendar for staffing, planning and executive buy-in. Getting agreement and maintaining these is hard work.
- Marketecture. Savvy product marketers can always describe their solution as a better fit with standards, upcoming technologies, industry leaders and the customer's own roadmap. Somehow, you are positioned as narrow and inflexible: a one-product company who arrived too early to see the important trends.
- "whole B-O-M": Let's talk about how a "Whole Product Bill of Materials" can save both you and your customers a lot of grief. The hardware world has always known about Bills of Materials, also called B-O-Ms (pronounced "bombs"). GM and Honda have armies of BOM specialists who can recite the parts inventory for a transmission plus every supplier's production lead time. Among free-spirited software start-ups, there's usually a good list of the key software modules that have to be written. (Larry works on the installer, Sarah has database access, Vijay owns the user interface...) However, many of the essential parts of a software product are not software. Seemingly little things like toll-free support numbers and upgrade paths are often neglected, but are critical to customer success. A complete Marketing Requirements Document should have a Bill of Materials but usually doesn't.
Another aspect of the book that I really liked is the fact that Rich is able to capture so many different facets of product management into such a short book. I am a product manager in a start-up (well I work for a large Silicon Valley giant, however, our group functions like a start up) and could relate to each and every chapter. This book gave me a framework in which to analyze all my efforts over the past two years- including what was doing well and areas where i could improve. Here are a few "clippings" of sections i thought were useful for any product manager (its not rocket science and most of us already know this stuff):
- Processes are not naturally good or bad. It's all about results, effectiveness and motivating the right behaviors. Especially at a startup, initiative and insight need breathing room as well as rigor.
"Insider thinking": Stuck at headquarters, it's easy to forget customer realities and needs. Great PMs know that internal goals and criteria are only one part of a successful product. Frequent escapes to talk with live customers are essential to remind us of what's important.
- Trying to find beta customers- read this FIRST: In theory, we all love beta testing. In practice, loyal customers are joined by a few panicked prospects in a rush to general release. This generates scant feedback and minimal revenue. If you want useful results, plan a long beta phase for friendly customers followed by a short, post-QA cycle for urgent
- The beast called pricing: Out in the field, where sales teams wrestle to bring in your paycheck, pricing should never be the focus of a sales call. You want your reps to spend prospects' precious time on benefits, solution selling, and creative problem-solving. As soon as pricing becomes the focus, the sales team loses their ability to sell value.
However, one of the key shortcomings of the book is the lack of depth (the author chose to cover a large set of topics instead of diving deep on a few). In my opinion, each chapter of the book could be followed by an optional section either a list of further readings or appendix with a detailed (real or fictitious)example. This would have enabled better understanding as well as more actionable next steps.
All in all, its a good read for any start up product manager- won't tell you anything new, but will give you a nice framework to assess yourself as a product manager and tips on how to improve. I would not recommend to someone without any product management experience as they would sturggle to appreciate the naunces of the job due to lack of details in the book. Similarly the book is not very useful for very experienced product managers who have been there done that. Ideal spot would be for young product managers with a couple of products under their belt.
Hope you found this review useful.