Today’s business world is one that needs more leaders, from a more diverse range of backgrounds and in this book Sarah Wood provides a practical framework to give aspirational leaders the courage and confidence to step up and fulfil their ambitions.

“We are in a relationships age; empathy delivers better business results”

The biggest reason why leaders are failing to step up is because of a confidence gap – not an ability, skills or capability gap!

What makes a good leader has changed over time, from being a dominant personality and didactic style to having leadership qualities of courage, kindness, trust, authenticity and empathy.

Sarah explains that “a love of learning, and the compulsion to continously explore new ideas and put them to the test, is one of the hallmarks of a great leader.”

“As a leader, one of the most important jobs you have is to motivate, encourage and support your team”.

Want to step up? Sarah says “the most important thing is that you get started, as quickly as possible. Done is better than perfect!”

This book is filled with advice and tips from other exceptional leaders which has made an immediate impact on my mindset, so I hope it helps you too.

These are some product principles that help me make decisions:

  1. We listen to our customers daily, have empathy for them and act on key insights
  2. We understand the market and our customers needs
  3. We work with the rest of the business together to solve the highest priority problems and opportunities in a lean way
  4. We build quality products and features which customers love; recognising that delivering customer satisfaction will grow the business
  5. We have clear product ownership where we are empowered to deliver excellence aligned to the business goals
  6. We trust by giving autonomy at every level across the product delivery lifecycle
  7. We spend time celebrating successes and continuously learn
  8. We acknowledge that there is no bad question or wrong answer and have an inclusive mindset
  9. We see mistakes and failures as a learning experience
  10. We have a strong product organisation, which enables us to achieve our ambitions

Product Owner is a job role that came out of Agile and Scrum, and although many organisations use it as a job title that is interchangeable with Product Manager, it’s not correct. In Scrum the Product Owner is defined as the person who is responsible for grooming the backlog, in Agile it was defined as the representative of the business, and neither entirely describe the full breadth of a Product Manager’s responsibilities.

Product Owner is a role you play in an Agile team, whereas a Product Manager is the job title of someone responsible for a product and its outcome on the customer and the business.

Now a lot of Product Owners out there are great Product Managers, and they should just change their title. But a fair number of Product Owners have simply completed a certified Scrum product owner course and now think they’re equivalent to a Product Manager, which sets them up to fail as they never consider the broader role. So if you’re tasking a Product Owner with the broader product management responsibilities, make sure you provide the training they need to master the full breadth of the role (and then change their title).

It takes courage to ask a question rather than offer up advice, but in this book 📚 Michael Bungay Stanier gives seven questions and the tools to make them an everday way to work less hard and have more impact.

On communication and habits, Michael says that the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place already and that 45% of our waking behaviour is habitual.

Michael touches on learning and explains that “people don’t really learn when you tell them something.

They don’t even really learn when they do something.

They start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened.”

“When we take time and effort to generate knowledge and find an answer rather than just reading it, our memory retention is increased.”

The book is structured around seven key questions…

🔸️ The Kickstart Question
🔸️ The Awe Question
🔸️ The Focus Question
🔸️ The Foundation Question
🔸️ The Lazy Question
🔸️ The Strategic Question
🔸️ The Learning Question

…but you’ll need to buy this great book to find out what the questions are!

In this book L. David Marquet tells a remarkable true story of how he transformed a low performing team of 134 passive followers, into high performing empowered active leaders who received a plethora of awards as a result of their successes.

Marquet explains “You may be able to “buy” a person’s back with a paycheck, position, power, or fear, but human being’s genius, passion, loyalty, and tenancious creativity are volunteered only.”

Having independent, energetic, emotionally committed and engaged individuals thinking about what they needed to do and ways to do it right achieved excellence.

“Simply providing data to the teams on their relative performance results in natural desire to improve.”

Guiding principles the team used to achieve excellence:

🔸️ Initiative
🔸️ Innovation
🔸️ Intimate Technical Knowledge
🔸️ Courage
🔸️ Commitment
🔸️ Continuous Improvement
🔸️ Integrity
🔸️ Empowerment
🔸️ Teamwork
🔸️ Openness
🔸️ Timeliness

Leadership at Every Level!

“Ultimately, the most important person to have control over is yourself – for it is that self-control that will allow you to “give control, create leaders”.”

In this book Nir Eyal provides practical methods, realistic approaches and proven techniques to balance technology with well-being, so that you can become indistractable and make more traction towards reaching your valuable goals.

Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do.

Nir explains that “unless we deal with the root causes of our distractions, we’ll continue to find ways to distract ourselves. Distraction, it turns out, isn’t about the distraction itself; rather, it’s about how we respond to it.”

The book covers mastering internal triggers, making time for traction, hacking back external triggers (Group chats (Slack), meetings (Zoom), email…), preventing distractions with pacts, as well as making your workplace indistractable, raising indistractable children and how to have indistractable relationships.

What’s your next step to being indistractable? I’d recommend this book as one of them.

Enjoyable short read, where Roman Pichler describes the key product leadership challenges, along with ways to use your heart and mind to work effectively with the dev team and stakeholders to create value together.

Roman talks about mindfulness and the leadership-related gains for product people it can have such as greater serenity, increased empathy and better decision-making.

To focus on the important, but less urgent work you need to “be willing to set boundaries, say no, and let go: You can’t do everything without either neglecting your core responsibilities or sacrificing your health, neither of which is desirable.”

But also success doesn’t happen by magic, as Roman explains that “in addition to embracing a can-do attitude, achievement requires effort and discipline. The better we want to become at something, the more effort we have to invest.”

Leaders need to “be a role model and exhibit the behaviour you want to see in others. Listen empathically, speak truthfully and kindly, and make an effort to be open-minded.”

A must read for both new and experienced product people.

This colossal 786 page desk reference provides a fantastic perspective for professionalising Product Management, inspired by Steven Haines vision for this profession.

Throughout the book it focused on a Cross-Functional Product Team, which most people would immediately think would be just a PO/PM and dev team, but instead it was refreshing to see product in the centre of the whole organisation and that product team including someone from marketing/sales, customer service, operations, development, legal…..also in my experience when a product manager brings this team together is where the magic happens.

Steven explains regardless of development methodology, it’s important to remember that the product manager is in charge of the product’s business, not just the product’s functionality, design or features.

“No one will bestow Product Management leadership on you. It is yours to own, to internalize, and to practice”

“Product Managers will earn greater levels of credibility across the organization when they understand and act on proven facts and relevant data”

This book will remain on my desk and I’d recommend it to any ambitious product manager.

A very timely book by Marc Abraham with Covid adding more tension to everyone’s lives.

Whilst it does take experience and confidence before you can lean into tension effectively, Marc explains that embracing tension is also not easy, but it is absolutely worth it!

Marc explains the benefits of ‘accepting radically’ with tips on how to allow your mind to accept things for what they are (and aren’t), so that you can focus your mind and energy on things you can change which result in more productive outcomes.

“Tensions are inherent to products and that we as product people should find ways to embrace that”

“Pressure is an integral part of life, work, being. We might as well accept this tension, starting with a full awareness of how we perceive tension and how others around us view our perceptions and behaviours”

“When curiosity is combined with passion in the exploration of a subject, an individual may be able to acquire an amount of knowledge comparable to that of a person who is exceptionally intelligent”

“Keeping on top of your product means continuous learning and improvement, with a relentless focus bettering your ways of working”

What a brilliant way of explaining the benefits of DevOps and Agile, through this novel by Gene KimKevin Behr and George. Spafford.

This book takes you on a journey where it articulates beautifully the problems which a lot of businesses have pre digital transformation – the politics, the waste, the chaos, the inefficiency of getting ideas to customers, lack of innovation alongside the benefits of adopting a DevOps culture and practices to solve these problems.

It amazed me how accurate the book is and brought back fond memories of the DevOps journey we went on in my previous job, the value it created and a challenging time when I had to juggle similar competing priorities all at once like Bill and Chris did with big projects relating to urgent security, compliance, stability/performance, tech debt and live issues alongside everything else all at once.

Coincidentally half way through reading we were releasing one of the biggest software releases I’ve been involved in, so it made the reading even more exciting and inspiring.

“Every industry and company not bringing software to the core of their business will be disrupted”

You can’t get a more comprehensive book on product leadership than this by Richard BanfieldMartin Eriksson & Nate Walkingshaw, where they explain in detail what it means to be a product leader, how they launch great products and build successful teams.

“For many product leaders, work life is a constant tension between delivering value to one group and telling another they can’t have what they want. Shipping product, and its associated value, is the reason these product leaders get up and go to work”

“It is not about individual success, it’s about getting the best out of others”

“What is common in high-performing teams is that they are cross-functional, collocated and autonomous”

How to identify product leaders:

🔸️ Plays well with others
🔸️ Seeks challenge
🔸️ Gets their hands dirty
🔸️ Always acts and thinks “team first”
🔸️ Is comfortable wearing lots of hats
🔸️ Displays curiosity
🔸️ Communicates well
🔸️ Possesses selling skills
🔸️ Has exceptional time management skills
🔸️ Is a visionary
🔸️ Shows equanimity/grace under fire

The First 90 Days

Posted: Jan 1, 2021 in Book Reviews, Business
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Transitioning to a new role can cause anxiety and stress for weeks, but this book by Michael Watkins helps diagnose your situations, define the core challenges, and design plans to create momentum which results in a more successful and comfortable transition.

Hundreds of thousands of leaders have benefited from this approach, which independent research has shown reduces time to break-even by as much as 40%.

The book includes case studies of failed transitions and clearly explains how to avoid them by preparing yourself, setting your boundaries, listening, learning, collaborating, creating alliances, securing early wins and managing yourself.

“Effective leaders strike the right balance between doing (making things happen) and being (observing and reflecting)”…

…this nugget from the book is equally true even when you’re not transitioning to a new role.

I’d definitely recommend this book.

The Leadership Engine

Posted: Jan 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

Really glad I bought this book by Noel Tichy – the inspiring stories and explanations gave me plenty of opportunity to self-reflect about my leadership capabilities, which has explained a lot and given me confidence that I’m heading in the right direction.

Tichy explains how organisations that have a Leadership Engine win because they have leaders at every level who teach others to be leaders. Teaching and learning are at the heart of these organisations.

“A crucial element in this process is that winning leaders and winning companies use mistakes as coaching opportunities rather than causes for punishment. Treating mistakes as learning experiences, in fact, is one of the ways in which winning leaders encourage others to develop edge and take the risk of making tough decisions.”

I’d definitely recommend this book.

This has to be the best book I’ve read on product management. I loved the way Marc Abraham has put his heart and experience into every chapter making it extremely authentic and realistic when talking about the different techniques and the challenging scenarios that a product manager often faces.

The book has a good structure to each subject which includes the goal, related tools and techniques to consider, in-depth look, key takeaways and how to apply these takeaways.

Marc explains “Product Janitors..

..because product management can be such a broadly defined role, there is a risk that product managers end up doing a bit of everything-mopping up the things that other team members do not want to do..
..as a result, these product managers are unable to act effectively, by which I mean they fail to identify and manage products that are valuable, usable and feasible”

“When you spend more time talking to ‘internal stakeholders’ than your customers, you’ve lost the ship”

Another nugget from this short read “if I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solutions”- Albert Einstein

A short read by Kevin Brennan which provides a high-level guide on 52 approaches covering the full breadth of Product Management.

Because of the way it’s laid out, it makes it easy to refer back to when you’re next putting together a business case, product strategy, product manager’s job description etc, so it makes a good desk reference.

It was nice to read Steven Haines view on product management. Another good book for anyone wanting a solid overview of the product manager role…

“Many people confuse product management with product development, and some confuse product management with project management…

..The system of product management touches and influences all the organic supporting structures-all the business functions. Think of the human body; product management is in the circulatory system, the neural network, and, of course, the command and control center (the brain).”

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos says “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

And the final nugget from the book “measure twice, cut once”.

Want to know more about the product manager role?

New to product management?

Stuck spending most of your time on tactical work and need a recap on the fundamentals of being a product manager?….

…then I’d recommend this book by Josh Anon where he’s written a really good comprehensive guide to becoming a great product manager.

Fantastic book by Stephen R. Covey

If you’re into self-improvement I couldn’t recommend this highly enough.

Four generations of time management:

1st generation – notes and checklists

2nd generation – calendars and appointment books

3rd generation – important idea of prioritisation, of clarifying values, and of comparing the relative worth of activities based on their relationship to those values

4th generation – recognises that “time management” is really a misnomer-the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves

5th generation – tbc

The way this book uncovers the key capabilities that drive improvements in software delivery performance is brilliant.

It was interesting to read the science behind the research findings and the rigorous research methods used which was predominantly done by surveys, which I’m a big fan of.

I’d definitely recommend this book by Nicole ForsgrenJez Humble and Gene Kim

Whilst I have minimal B2B product experience, this book by Geoffrey Moore gave good insight into the complexities and challenges of scaling high-tech products, as well as practical advice on how to avoid the various pitfalls when attempting.

Although the Crossing the Chasm model is B2B, I couldn’t help notice how many similarities there were to B2C when it comes to scaling a product to mainstream customers with a ‘whole product’ offering and targeting customer segments.