Book Review: Product Leadership — How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products…

The book Product Leadership — How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Teams focuses on specific aspects concerning product leaders across different organisational stages

Basic premise of the book is about reinforcing that domain-specific skills aside, product leadership is more about leading people and less about pushing pixels, writing code or administering project schedules. And that it’s not about individual success, it’s about getting the best out of others

Below outline covers basic structure of the book and salient points

Key Traits of Great Product Teams

Efficient communication and decision making are key to great teams

The theme of having right people present to make daily, weekly or longer term decisions is ubiquitous in successful product teams

What’s Product Management?

The book starts with familiar UX, Tech and Business Venn diagram and its intersection to be the defining place of PM as far as these specialities are concerned. It then proceeds to describe genesis behind marketing and product schisms in many tech organisations where both departments feel they “own” the customer. The chapter ends with authors’ views on the future of product leadership revolving around driving customer experience in organisations

Product Leader’s Role

Product leadership position can be a source of truth and one of the purest forms of unbiased knowledge transfer for an organisation. Developing processes that remind teams of the customer and their needs is a big part of leader’s role. Operating at a cross-functional level is the whole point of having people who lead departments

How the team is recruited, developed and guided is probably one of the most important elements of product leader’s role. Product leaders also have first-hand insight into customer experience. In C-suite, specific to a product leader’s role is challenging task of synthesizing and figuring out other leader’s expertise and molding it to make the most effective strategy. Besides while leverage is essential elements of all leadership positions, what’s unique about product leadership is the leader’s sharp focus on strategy and to ensure that product strategy is essentially the company strategy

Product Leadership challenges

  1. Prioritisation: especially when it’s seen polarising by other stakeholders. Having a testable prototype through design sprint or directed discovery or having data behind design decisions could be helpful to reduce dissonance among stakeholders / executives
  2. Prioritisation can be modeled as co-creation exercise to neutralize politics in the organisation
  3. Managing upwards: knowing who is road blocker and who is decision maker
  4. Aligning and focusing the organisation: being passionate helps

Setting Product Principles

Getting buy-in from stakeholders for the first 5–6 things which need to be achieved in the year is the first step. Any feature should align with the product vision

Influence product manager’s decisions in the right direction since most often people do what they want to do and not exactly what you tell them to do. Make it valuable for both individuals and the organisation

Product discovery process should consumer larger time of a product leader. Also focus on why and how of the work

Successful product leaders are great team workers, seek challenge, remain attached to details, possess great communication skills especially written and demonstrate selling skills

Start-Ups and Product Leadership

Lack of clarity is the biggest challenge. Focus on the vision and not the chaos. And always solve the number one problem. Don’t skip to know your customer

In early stage products

  • Leaders can get to play the customer in order to bootstrap the system, then get in beta users and then daily users as proxy for customers
  • With so many tension, respect and empathy are part of creating a space where the team can be productive and supportive

Emerging Organisations and Product Leadership

Biggest challenge is to manage growth of the team. Have your first public win in the first 90 days as a new hire. Maintaining user focus is important. Vision is aspiration, while strategy is execution, maintain the distinction. In hiring, key is to separate the task the person did with team’s output

Enterprise Organisations and Product Leadership

An appetite for change needs to be nurtured especially when established products are concerned. Ensure that at least one product sets the company apart and focus on the most interesting customer segment. Undocumented checkpoints should be watched out for while executing product roadmap. And executives must avoid using sanitized data for taking decisions

Parting Advice

Ask often: is it valuable (to customer and business, feasible (to deliver) and delightful (to use)?

And always be learning!

Overall I found this to be a great book for understanding practical nuances of product leadership roles across organisation life-cycle. Since product management is essentially a leadership role, the book should be useful for all product people along the totem pole!

The book can be ordered from Amazon. Cannot link to Flipkart since site search was non-functional for a weird reason!

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