A room without books is like a body without a soul.
—Marcus Tullius Cicero

Product Management

Matthew Skelton, Manuel Pais (2022)

Remote Team Interactions Workbook: Using Team Topologies Patterns for Remote Working

The shelter-in-place mandates that governments all over the world found themselves obliged to impose in 2020 undoubtedly caused much headache. While many employees were put on furlough-schemes at best or entirely out of their jobs at worst, those who were suddenly expected to do their jobs from home also had a lot of challenges to face: Literally over night, teams that had collaborated face-to-face for years had to switch to interaction models that they had little prior exposure to: Chat tools, audio and video conferencing, and various forms of asynchronous communication almost entirely replaced face-to-face interaction for months on end.

Since then, many of these changes have been integrated in a “new normal” that covers various remote and hybrid working models. In many organizations however, this transition proved to be painful and uncovered underlying, structural issues in how people and teams interact. Unclear responsibilities, badly distributed workloads, and unexpected bottlenecks were often exacerbated by the inherent lack of depth in digital and asynchronous communication.

Enter Team Topologies: The idea that by consciously designing interactions between teams, almost like you would design how the components in a software system work together, you could reduce cognitive load, increase focus, and eliminate waste. The basic concepts, introduced by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais in their 2019 book, of course remain the same, regardless whether the collaborators are physically co-located in an office building or working from anywhere around the globe. The intricacies of a distributed environment however merit their own exploration. Therefore, the authors published the Remote Team Interactions Workbook as a practical encore which focusses on how to bring the theoretical ideas to life in remote-first settings.

The workbook is surprisingly short, but covers both an overview of the basic concepts of Team Topologies as well as answers to many many burning questions. How, for example, do you effectively structure interactions via chat and video conferencing tools? How do you identify team dependencies, and how do you most effectively work with them? Which interaction patterns between teams should you look out for, and how can you foster more productive ones? How do you move from chaotic and unstructured forms inter-team collaboration to a workflow that’s clear, transparent, and creates value for the organization? Answers to these, and many more issues can be found in the workbook, together with plenty of real-world examples and useful checklists.

Interested readers are however advised to check out Team Topologies before they dive into the Remote Team Interactions Workbook. But even if you only get an executive summary of the former, most of the practical aspects of the latter will already be beneficial.

Full disclosure: I was provided with an advance copy of the book by the publisher free of charge.

C. Todd Lombardo, Bruce McCarthy, Evan Ryan (2017)

Product Roadmaps Relaunched

Roadmapping done right is a product management superpower. A great product roadmap will excite people about our vision, build trust in the strategy that will make it a reality, and create shared understanding about priorities. But oftentimes, roadmaps just suck. They’re misused as project plans, backlogs of things-to-get-done, or wishlists of features and functions.

The authors of Product Roadmaps Relaunched provide a new, refreshingly pragmatic take on roadmapping. They focus on a handful of key elements, including a vision, business objectives, timeframes, and themes, to construct a lean roadmapping approach that can work for startups just as well as for enterprises.

Read my full review over here.

Marty Cagan, Chris Jones (2020)

Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products

How do you build great product teams? Certainly not through micromanagement or taskmastering, but neither by hiring a bunch of smart people and telling them to “figure it out”. There’s a fine line that leaders need to walk in order to create environments in which outstanding results can be achieved. In Empowered, Cagan and Jones build on the strong foundation laid in Inspired (2008) and expand it into a practical handbook for product leaders at all levels.

Read my full review over here.

Alberto Savoia (2019)

The Right It: Why So Many Ideas Fail and How to Make Sure Yours Succeed

Regardless of our industry or discipline, what matters most in is that we build things that people actually want. That may sound obvious, but a surprisingly large number of ideas fail not due to flaws in execution but because they never found a suitable market.

To avoid that mistake, Alberto Savoia argues, we need a new approach to product discovery and design, one which focuses a lot more on learning than on building. The data-driven techniques he presents include pretotyping, hypozooming, and many others. They’re designed to be useful in startups, in-house projects, as well as large enterprises and aim to help us discover what our right it is before we invest endless resources in building something that nobody will want to use.

Read my full review over here.

Richard P. Rumelt (2011)

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters

Most strategies fail because they are not actual strategies. Whilst a grandiose vision, a thorough business plan, or a list of ambitious sales targets each have their merits, calling such things “strategies” is hardly helpful. Rumelt illustrates that point with countless examples of organizations which failed to achieve the outcomes they sought particularly because they pursued too many disconnected activities at once, rather than following a coherent plan. To help us avoid that pitfall, he walks us through what makes “good” strategies good and how to build them.

Rumelt’s classic is a fantastic read, not only for product leaders but for anyone interested in thinking more strategically about politics, business, or life in general.

Raymond Sheen with Amy Gallo (2015)

HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case

An inspiring product vision is seldomly enough to make things happen. Unless your business is a one person show, you will need to convince others to commit resources to your cause. Regardless if you’re asking venture capitalists to fund your next startup or negotiate the coming quarter’s budget with your finance department, a well-structured business case can be extremely persuasive.

The book doesn’t specifically cater to product managers in the software industry but is a general toolkit for anyone who wants to persuade others to invest in their ideas. Nevertheless, the approach that Sheen and Gallo lay out is highly useful for people in product leadership roles. The only downside is, that the HBR Guide really attempts to cover all it’s bases, and thereby can be a bit tedious for readers who already come equipped with real-world experience.

Simon Sinek (2009)

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Outstanding leaders manage to connect everything their teams do with a purpose, a why. Organizations which achieve that tend to be more trusted by customers, inspire greater enthusiasm in their employees, and are ultimately much more successful than others.

In this book, Simon Sinek dives deep into the topics he outlined in his famous TED Talk. He also tries to help the reader uncover and shape their why, provides techniques to muster the discipline and consistency required to execute on it, and showcases helpful tools to communicate it effectively. Furthermore, the book is sprinkled with real-world examples, both good and bad, that make it easy to relate to Sinek’s ideas.

Marty Cagan (2008)

Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love

Without a doubt, Inspired is my number one reading recommendation for anyone in a product-related role. Marty Cagan, who worked for and with countless tech companies in Silicon Valley, presents a battle-hardened, comprehensive approach to product management that can scale from startups to enterprises. The core elements of his philosophy include people, product, process, and culture, and for each of these he shares some theoretical background, a lot of practical advice, as well as tools and techniques one can immediately take into action.

Furthermore, the book is perfused with case studies to highlight how product managers in the messy real world addressed particular challenges at organizations such as Google, Adobe, the BBC, Microsoft, and Netflix.

Philip M. Rosenzweig (2007)

The Halo Effect: And the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers

Cognitive biases are a fascinating topic. In The Halo Effect, Rosenzweig explores their effect on decision-making in business, as well as how our perception of such decisions gets warped once their consequences become obvious. Turns out, the exact same management choice, say “increasing customer centricity”, can either be seen as the salvation of a company (“Doubling down on customer service protected their core market!") or as a hallmark of it’s demise (“Their narrow focus on existing customers stifled growth and innovation!"), solely depending on what effect the decision ultimately had.

Rosenzweig clearly takes great pleasure in dissecting how much of the advice given in the revered business literature of his day (including “In Search of Excellence” and “Built to Last”) has been victim of such fallacies. While the examples showcased in the book, including the rise and fall of Cisco and ABB, are a bit dated, there’s still a lot to be learned from them. Even if it’s only to take lessons learned from other companies’ successes or failures always with a grain of salt.

Brian Lawley, Pamela Schure (2017)

Product Management For Dummies

If you’re new to product management, or unsure if such a role is even of interest for you, then this book is definitely a great place to start. You’ll learn what the heck product management actually is, why it’s need at an increasing number of organizations, and how it’s different from product ownership, product marketing, and project– or program management.

The main aspects of the job are explained alongside the end-to-end product lifecycle, from conceptualization and discovery via development, launch, maintenance to end-of-life. Some areas, like how to develop the skills required for the job, its business and commercial concerns, or how to communicate vision and strategy effectively, are covered in much more depth elsewhere. But nevertheless, Product Management For Dummies is a comprehensive introduction to the mess and complicated reality of modern product management.

Christina Wodtke (2016)

Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results

I’ve never been the greatest fan of OKRs (“Objectives and Key Results”). But while reading Radical Focus, it became clear that everything I intuitively disliked was more related to how the approach had been implemented at certain companies rather than the basic ideas themselves.

In her pleasantly short book, Wodtke boils OKRs down to what they’re really all about and gives practical guidance on how to implement them in lean and agile way. Certainly a worthwhile read for everyone in a product-related role, regardless of one’s industry.

PS: In this interview for the Product Podcast, Wodkte goes into more detail about common OKR pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Clayton M. Christensen (1997)

The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business

In the long term, almost every successful venture fails at some point. Very few companies consistently outperform their competitors for decades or more, and The Innovator’s Dilemma explores why that is the case.

In this 1997 classic of business literature, Clayton Christensen coined the term disruptive innovation and systematically explored why organizations that seemingly did exactly what they were supposed to be doing were upended by it. As it turns out, as companies become more and more successful by catering to their core markets, they run an increasing risk of neglecting particular small, hardly profitable segments of niche customers. In these corners of the market, upcoming competitors can thrive because they’re pressured to innovate—often out of the pure necessity to survive. But once those battle-hardened contestants come out into the daylight, they can swiftly and aggressively move upmarket and completely disrupt what was once the incumbents sole realm.

Examples including IBM, Kodak, HP, and Honda illustrate how these dynamics have played out time and time again, and how one can safeguard against their destructive potential. Today, more than 20 years after Christensen’s book was first published, the innovation/disruption cycle is spinning faster than ever, making The Innovator’s Dilemma highly relevant for anyone who wants to understand—and to influence—why some companies succeed while others fail.

Richard Banfield, Martin Eriksson, Nate Walkingshaw (2017)

Product Leadership: How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Teams

Eric Ries (2011)

The Lean Startup

When I first read The Lean Startup in 2017, I was working for a corporation that was as far away from being a startup as one can imagine. Nevertheless, the basic idea that Eric Ries presents—a relentless focus on validated learning coupled with a willingness to pivot when needed—made perfect sense in that environment as well. Since then I got to employ many more of his techniques in various other contexts and was rarely disappointed.

Be warned though: Ries’ approach demands a lot of honest humility about ones’ own ideas. But once we’ve got comfortable with the fact that we “just don’t know” how good they are until we thoroughly tested them in the market, the pathway to building significantly better products is wide open.

Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon (2016)

Competing Against Luck

Roman Pichler (2016)

Strategize: Product Strategy and Product Roadmap Practices for the Digital Age

Nir Eyal (2013)

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Jeff Patton, Peter Economy (2012)

User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product