PMI - BOOK REVIEW - by Gregor Nicolas
Who is the author?
Melissa Perri is the CEO of Produx Labs, a Product Management training organization. In 2019, she was appointed to the faculty of Harvard Business School to teach Product Management in the MBA program. Melissa has a degree in Operations Research and Information Engineering from Cornell University. She was a Product Manager and UX Designer at Capital IQ, Barclays Capital, OpenSky, and Conductor.
Melissa believes the key to creating great products is growing great product leaders. Committed to that mission, she started two online schools: Product Institute and The CPO Accelerator.
Most companies will pride themselves on being customer-centric when the internal operation is struggling to meet a plan's requirements from management, often out of touch with customers. Significant questions roam around: why this customer; what needs; why this product; relevance, and value?
Organizations need to adopt a culture of customer-centric practices that focus on outcomes rather than outputs. Outputs are like a factory line pushing products out of the warehouse and are based on volume and timing. They may or may not solve a problem, but the numbers appease some executives. Companies that live and die by outputs often fall into the "build trap," cranking out features to meet their schedule rather than the customer's needs.
In this book, Melissa Perri explains how laying the foundation for excellent product management can help companies solve real customer problems while achieving business goals. Revenue is what keeps a company running. By understanding how to communicate and collaborate within a company structure, you can create a product culture that benefits both the business and the customer. Growing a solid Product Management culture helps create an organization of collaborators aiming for the same goal: value delivery.
She tackles early and often the difference between Project Management (PM) and Product Management (PM). Among many clients, these terms can be confused, and people expect a Product Manager to be a Project Manager and vice-versa. The sentiment is that the Product Manager will be more of a thinker and value contributor, and the Project Manager acts as an executioner or value facilitator depending on the organization.
In five parts, this book explores:
- Why do organizations ship features rather than cultivate the value those features represent?
- How to set up a product organization that scales?
- How product strategy connects a company's vision and economic outcomes back to the product activities?
- How to identify and pursue the right opportunities for producing value through an iterative product framework (such as Product Kata, Design Thinking, or Plan Do Check Act)?
- How to build a culture focused on successful outcomes over outputs?
For us Project Manager in this new era, it is often a challenge to navigate the politics of an organization not mature to focus on value delivery. We are required to be agile, know waterfall, lean, and software development and delivery methods. If not enough, we are involved in coaching the team and the executives (the organization) to deliver value and stay relevant in their industry.
This book is straightforward, walking you through experiences and examples. Combine with Design Thinking from Tim Brown and Measure What Matters from John Doerr, you can review your approach to help your clients focus on the right outcome rather than output.
In combination, they join the Agile and Lean movement or mindset. These skills are also crucial when it comes to Change Management from traditional to Agile. A Project Manager is often required to transfer his results and work to a department that will, in the long term, need to change and transition in using the output to meet the outcome and ultimately deliver value. Like recently mentioned in the review of Atomic Habits by James Clear, you need to create a system that will ease transitioning and maintaining the change.
A few lessons from the book:
- Product Managers are grown and developed, not born or learn through promotion
- Clearly define the problem as soon as possible and with facts
- Output vs. outcome with an eye on delivering value
- Fix the strategic gap
- Knowledge Gap (need to know vs. what we know)
- Alignment Gap (what people do vs. expected to do)
- Effect Gap (Forecast, Plan, or expectation vs. Actual)
- Racing to execute a solution is dangerous and often a mistake (Product Kata)
- An MVP is not a way to launch on time — it's a way to learn fast
- The Concierge Approach: do it manually before you build anything
- The Wizard of Oz Approach: looks automated, but do it manually behind the scenes
- The Concept Approach: show mocks, clickable prototypes before writing code or manufacturing anything.
It is a short read and an investment into learning more about product decision-making.
The book also helps you think of acting as a coach for teams and enables them to think for themselves in solving problems. You also understand that the whole organization needs to be involved in change management to open the space for improvement and value delivery.
As mention by others, Agile is a mindset and not a tool in itself. Mindsets are foundations to systems engaging people to build the desired habits gradually towards the right outcome.
Creativity is also an underlying aspect of this book for companies with a ZBB (Zero Base Budget process). However, the time has to be given to fail fast, learn, and improve.