Agile manifesto stuff

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

Escaping the build trap, by Melissa Perri

What is the build trap?

Companies in the build trap run projects and deliver features without having the business and customer value at the core of their operations. These companies are output, rather than outcome driven, meaning that they maximise what gets built, instead of the value delivered by what gets built.

Melissa Perri calls it the misconception of value. And her recipe for escaping the build trap is becoming a product led company and organising for products over projects.

The book uses a fictitious company called Marketly to exemplify how an organisation can make the needed changes and works through:

  • the leadership needed in order to create autonomous teams
  • the roles and organisational structure
  • the processes – the product kata
  • the PM role and responsibilities

Product vs project

Melissa makes the distinction that, whereas projects has a deadline, products do not. When a project is finished, you move on to the next one.

Products, on the other hand, are vehicles of value. They deliver value repeatedly without requiring the company to build something new every time.

The PM

The PM owns the why of the product – i.e. the problem we are helping the customer solve. It is the PM’s job to inspire the team to care about the problem and find solutions that helps the customer and works for the business. Hence the PM needs to be strategic minded and understand the business as well as the customer, the market and the organisation (vision and goal).

The work of the PM

”We’re not sure what problem we are solving for the customer” could be the start of a discovery process for the team. This bit is important to get right and must not be rushed. Take your time and fall in love with the problem. It is all too easy to jump straight into solution mode. We humans are wired to solve problems.

As the uncertainty unfolds the work shifts towards how to solve the problem, the PM is not the one who knows it all. On the contrary, she must stay humble, be mindful of biases, assumptions and counteract risks. To do this she utilizes tools such as the potential of her team as well as:

  • market research
  • customer research
  • data analysis
  • expert information
  • business direction
  • experiment results

Strategy ≠ plan

Thinking of strategy as a plan gets us into the build trap. Instead of doing discovery work to find out what takes us towards the vision and goal, we just add to the feature laundry list. Melissa Perri on Mind the Product [13:50]

Melissa cites Stephen Bungay’s definition of strategy as a framework. Melissa Perri on Mind the Product [15:05] Stephen has written the book “Art of action” – about how to execute strategy effectively in a fast moving uncertain environment. She explains how initiatives to create fast moving, autonomous teams can be counteracted by control freak managers. These mechanisms are described by three gaps also explained by the same Stephen here.

  • effects gap
  • information gap
  • alignment gap

In order to be trusted and competent and act as an agile and autonomous skilled team alignment and accountability is needed. Leaders needs to be detail oriented but be able to zoom out strategic. No control freaks. Can coach their subordinates. Explained here.

According to this summary – organisations should:

  1. Spice girls it – “tell me what you want, what you really really want” laser focus on the best possible outcome, not on crafting a perfect plan.
  2. Avoid analysis paralysis – make use of available knowledge.
  3. Explain the why and KISS.
  4. Trust people and allow them to adapt.

A company needs a vision, a mission and product strategy.

Mission statement: defines the company’s business, it’s objectives, and how it plans to reach those objectives. How will we achieve the vision.

Vision statement: A defined direction for the company or product on what it wants to become long term. Lofty but achievable. What will the customers experience when you are done building your product.

Jeff Bezos: Be stubborn on vision and flexible on the details.

Managing up

If the goal and strategy are missing you need to manage up. Work with your boss to set the goal. Great strategy is crucial in order to be agile and build the right thing.

Start with the goal and the strategy → analyse uncertainty and learn (research and analysis, problem validation, solution validation, solution optimisation) → act → learn → iterate → and as we go uncertainty decreases but always start by understanding the problem.

Good books on product

In no particular order.

  • Escaping the build trap – How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value, Melissa Perri
  • Empowered, Marty Cagan
  • Inspired, Marty Cagan
  • The Influential Product Manager, Ken Sandy
  • Impact Mapping, Gojko Adzic
  • Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days,  Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky

Discover, ideate, prototype, test – repeat

The different phases of design thinking. Here summarized with a cake theme so as not to skip the ever so important test phase 🙂

  1. Discovery – there is a problem, an itch to scratch, a craving?
  2. Ideate – how might it be solved, scratched, satisfied?
  3. Prototype – mock up a solution, move fast, cut corners and keep it scrappy.
  4. Test it out – was it a success or a failure?
  5. Learn. Repeat.