Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

After growing up using the LeSS framework, I’ve been looking forward to learning about #SAFe in detail and comparing it to some of the myths associated with it.

Myth busters of SAFe:
1. Waterfall milestones ❌️ Products governed by self-managing mission-focused agile teams; objective measures and milestones based on working solutions, delivering early and incrementally ✔️
2. People organised in functional silos and temporary project teams ❌️ People organised in value streams/agile teams; continuous value flow ✔️
3. Overly detailed business cases based on speculative ROI ❌️ Lean business cases with MVP, business outcome hypothesis, Agile forecasting and estimating ✔️
4. Doesn’t support Lean Startup principles/innovation ❌️ SAFe Lean Startup Cycle to support high levels of uncertainty using the build-measure-learn Lean startup cycle ✔️
5. It’s not Agile ❌️ Thinking Lean and embracing agility combine to make up a new management approach with a Lean-Agile mindset which aligns with the values and principles in the Agile manifesto ✔️
6. It doesn’t have any compelling principles ❌️ SAFe is based on a set of Lean-Agile principles ✔️:

1. Take an economic view; deliver early and often
2. Apply systems thinking
3. Assume variability; preserve options
4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems
6. Visualise and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
7. Apply cadence; synchronise with cross-domain planning
8. Unlock the motivation of knowledge workers
9. Decentralise decision-making
10. Organise around value

Case studies show, that many enterprises – large and small – are getting extraordinary business results from adopting SAFe eg.
• 10-50% happier, more motivated employees
• 30-75% faster time-to-market

I particularly enjoyed reading about how important a continuous learning culture is to SAFe:

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

“Our mindsets are the foundation for achieving success and happiness in life. With the right mindset, anything is possible.”

“Leadership is responsible for driving change proactively by ‘taking a stand’ for a better future state.”

I’d definitely recommend this book, especially for those who want to get an overview of where the Product Manager/PO split comes from.

This is the most comprehensive book I’ve read on lean product development.

The thing I loved most about this read by Dan Olsen is how the techniques he exposes are relevant across the whole product life cycle, so for a new product entering a new market or an enterprise level business improving a mature product in a competitive market, making it applicable to use some of the techniques for identifying/solving problems on existing products.

The book is focused around a framework called The Product-Market Fit Pyramid and The Lean Product Process which consists of six steps:

1. Determine your target audience
2. Identify underserved customer needs
3. Define your value proposition
4. Specify your minimum viable product (MVP) feature set
5. Create your MVP prototype
6. Test your MVP with customers

The writing style makes it easy to digest and therefore easy to run gap analysis on your current ways of working to spot any improvement areas.

A recommended read for anyone interested in customer development, lean UX, design thinking, product management, user experience design, agile development, lean startup, or analytics.

Fascinating book full of stories about how athletes, scientists, inventors, technologists, teachers, and musicians have needed ‘range’ to succeed.

Having ‘range’ is essentially having a variety of different skills. David Epstein explains throughout the book that by experimenting across different experiences and sectors you’ll learn different skills along the way, helping you to develop range, which means you’re less susceptible to bias, more likely to find your true potential, and able to handle complex and unpredictable situations with more success.

It wasn’t an easy read, but a unique, thought-provoking and interesting one.

“…exposure to modern work with self-directed problem solving and nonrepetitive challenges was correlated with being ‘cognitively flexible’.”

“The more confident a learner is of their wrong answer, the better the information sticks when they subsequently learn the right answer. Tolerating big mistakes can create the best learning opportunities.”

“A person don’t know what he can do unless he tries. Trying things is the answer to find your talent.”

“Struggling to generate an answer in your own, even a wrong one, enhances subsequent learning. Socrates was apparently on to something when he forced pupils to generate answers rather than bestowing them. It requires the learner to intentionally sacrifice current performance for future benefit.”

“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

Absolutely loved this read. In essence, Marty Cagan talks about the value of empowering product teams (several engineers, product manager, product designer) to serve customers with products that customers love, yet work for the business (by collaborating with stakeholders to come up with solutions that work). I particularly loved the fact that the majority of the book focused on coaching.

“Empowered product teams are all about giving teams hard problems to solve, and then giving them the space to solve them.”

“..this is really what I see in so many of the companies I visit. They have product teams that are more accurately feature teams, and they’re slaving away-pounding out features all day-but rarely getting closer to their desired outcomes.”

“Regardless of the reason for reviewing your topology, you should optimize for the empowerment of the teams by focusing on the dimensions of ownership, autonomy, and alignment.”

“Your highest-order contribution and responsibility as product manager is to make sure that what engineers are asked to build will be worth building. That it will deliver the necessary results.”

“Coaching is no longer a speciality; you cannot be a good manager without being a good coach.” – Bill Campbell

“Moving the product teams from the subservient feature team model to the collaborative empowered product team model begins with trust”

The majority of modern enterprise businesses now have a classic Scrum team setup (engineers and PO), but still wonder how they can respond to customer feedback quicker/more frequently, get ahead in the market, and innovate whilst protecting/growing revenue.

If you’re wondering this or generally interested in Agile, this book by Darrell Rigby is for you and will give you a very well balanced overview of what those next steps look like to unlock the benefits of Agile across the business, and introduces you to the concept of an Agile enterprise which allows bureaucracy and innovation efforts to coexist without the need for a big-bang approach.

An Agile enterprise involves creating Agile principles at every level starting from the top with an Agile leadership team, rather than just having an Agile tech team and the rest of the business bureaucratic. As a result, Agile Leadership is a big focus of the book and it dives into some starting points for principles:

– Employees learn by doing things themselves
– Trust is built over time
– Doing what only you can do makes everyone better off
– Customers are the best judges of what they want

To represent what a balanced approach could look like there’s a visual diagram showing an example of the agile enterprise operating model, which is fully customisable and “when you do it well, you create mission-inspired teams that work together across the organisation, both the run-the-business and the change-the-business elements”.

There’s plenty of inspiring success stories from Bosch, Amazon, Spotify and RBS too.

“More agile is not always better agile. There is an optimal range of agility for every business and for every activity within a business.”

“Genuine customer obsession sets a strong foundation for agility.”

View the book on Amazon here.

Top 3 reads which made the biggest impact:

1. The Mindset of Success by Jo Owen

“The most important mindset for a successful career is learning and growth. If you stay still, you will fail.”

2. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Once you’ve made the journey into the Now, you will no longer have problems (only situations) as nothing exists outside of the Now.

3. Stepping Up by Sarah Wood

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.

Thanks to all of the authors for sharing their wisdom, and thanks to my connections for sharing their book recommendations and inspiring learning experiences throughout the year.

Hope everyone has a nice festive break and a great learning experience next year.

Enjoyed this read by Scott Belsky where he uncovers a pragmatic set of techniques to help organise, prioritise and execute actions turning high aspirational goals into reality, gives tips on collaborating with other people to help accelerate progress, and provides good insight into effective leadership and self-leadership methods.

“Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”

“To push your ideas to fruition, you must develop the capacity to endure, and even thrive, as you traverse the project plateau.”

“Making ideas happen boils down to self-discipline and the ways in which you take action.”

“Even when the next step is unclear, the best way to figure it out is to take some incremental action. Constant motion is the key to execution.”

“Nothing will assist your ideas more than a team of people who possess real initiative.”

A practical short read on how to properly talk to customers and learn from them by Rob Fitz.

Whilst the book focuses on validating new product/business ideas, many principles Rob talks about still apply to existing products, enabling you to understand how and why customers are using the product in the way they are and how they feel about the product vs. competitors – building up qualitative data about the UX.

Even though the book was published 8 years ago, it’s still relevant and I loved how the book focuses on having an informal chat with customers about their feelings and why first, before diving into getting feedback on solutions which you’d do in future conversations – how can you satisfy customers if you don’t understand them first. Also, with remote customer interview tools now available like User Zoom, Lookback and User Testing, it makes it easier more than ever to talk to customers weekly.

The Mom Test:

1. Talk about their life (or how/why they use the product in the way they do) instead of your idea
2. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
3. Talk less and listen more

It’s called The Mom Test because it leads to questions that even your parents can’t lie to you about.

Link here to the book on Amazon.

It’s also a great companion to Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez.

Most books touch the surface of what it takes to achieve high aspirational goals, but The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky gives a comprehensive insight into what it really takes to reach them and long-term success, covering the highs and lows of the journey built on seven years’ of research.

You read in books and the news new venture kickoffs with inspiring missions and the big celebratory achievements giving a sense it’s quick and easy to reach them, whether it’s funding, IPO, market-leader status, job role…when in reality it’s not and instead takes relentless patience, grit and empathy to achieve long-term success which is the focus throughout the book.

The book is structured well keeping to around two pages on each subject, where Scott gets right to the point and focuses on modern approaches to help build and optimise your team and improve yourself.

“Milestones that are directly correlated with progress are more effective motivators than anything else.”

“The only ‘sustainable competitive advantage’ in business is self-awareness.”

“Don’t start to question your gut solely because it is different. Nothing should resonate more loudly than your own intuition. The truly differentiating factors of your project are the ones most likely to be different, misunderstood, or underestimated by everyone else.”

“Every leader needs to come up for air now and then. By temporarily disconnecting from your journey, you’re able to take perspective of all the moving parts.” – very relevant as I read this on holiday.

A fantastic read which I’d recommend to anyone struggling to progress towards their missions, looking to make sense of their experiences or generally interested in learning from Scott’s journey and wisdom.

Working smarter, not harder is the essence of this book. Dan tells tons of stories of how people have efficiently achieved their personal and professional goals by collaborating with other people and feeling comfortable about asking for help, rather than just going it alone in a silo.

People helping you with your high aspirations will also give you more freedom to relax, recover, do hobbies…which is important as Dan explains only “16 percent of creative insight happens while you’re at work. Instead, ideas generally come while you’re at home or in transit, or during recreational activity.”

Dan covers teamwork and leadership in detail talking about his winning formula of autonomy + goal/vision clarity + regular feedback = high performing teams.

“It all starts by setting a goal, a new bigger version of your own future. Then your next step is to ask, ‘Who can help me do this?'”

If you need some tips on how to reach bigger goals or you want to avoid procrastination, this is the book for you.

Written in the same novel thriller style as The Phoenix Project, Gene Kim touches on every element you need to transform a slow-moving monolithic digital setup to a more modern Agile and Lean operation which allows you to validate ideas and solve problems at speed, getting ahead in the market.

I found the original Phoenix book gripping and a fun read as I’ve not experienced a manufacturing plant environment before, but I found the Unicorn Project more predictable as I was reading it, but I guess that’s due to going through various Agile and DevOps transformations over the past few years…

…saying that, it was still a pleasure to read the heroics of Maxine, Kurt and Brent with their relentless perseverance and motivation to continually improve and learn whilst getting ideas to customers, hearing about the fruits of the impacts they were making, and the value that a dedicated and empowered team can have, through a different lens.

“A healthy software system is one that you can change at the speed you need, where people can contribute easily, without jumping through hoops.”

“Because the distance from where decisions are made and where work is performed keeps growing, the quality of our outcomes diminish.”

“It’s been true for hundreds of years and probably thousands more: employee engagement and customer satisfaction are the only things that matter. If we do that right, and manage cash effectively, every other financial target will take care of itself.” Amen!

Another fantastic book by Gene which I’d recommend for anyone experiencing significant delays in the value stream or generally interested in DevOps.

“Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.”

This book by James Clear has to be the best book I’ve read on continuous improvement. James’s approach is to just focus on making one tiny change, continuously, which in itself will yield positive results and in time a powerful outcome.

The content is structured around the Four Laws of Behaviour Change (obvious, attractive, make it easy, satisfying) and gives you some good tools and strategies that can help you build better systems and shape better habits.

Throughout the book, there are dozens of stories about top performers, who have faced different circumstances but ultimately progressed in the same way: through a commitment to tiny, sustainable, unrelenting improvements.

“There is a version of every habit that can bring you joy and satisfaction. Find it. Habits need to be enjoyable if they are going to stick. Choose a habit that best suits you, not the one that is most popular.”

James also talks about some common pitfalls to avoid when creating habits, one of which “is that they can lock us into our previous patterns of thinking and acting-even when the world is shifting around us…

…a lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote.”

Over a million of these books have been sold, so if you haven’t read it yet and are interested in self-improvement, psychology or wanting to take control of your habits, I’d recommend this book.

Link here to the book on Amazon.

“85% of job success comes from well-developed people skills.”

“70% of team issues are caused by people skills deficiencies.”

It’s becoming increasingly more common for Product Management and therefore product managers, who are generalists, to sit at the centre of the business surrounded by specialists, making collaboration with everyone in your team and stakeholders across the business a fundamental part of the job in order to manage the product and product business effectively. How you handle these relationships will contribute significantly to the success of the product and your role as a product manager.

Human Powered by Trenton Moss will give you a better understanding of yourself, increase your empathy to help forge better relationships and provide you with the tools you need to inspire those around you, setting you and your product up for success.

Throughout the book, there are short realistic stories with characters as examples to explain situations and resolutions making them easy to digest and relate to.

They don’t teach you how to handle conflict at school, but Trenton does a great job of setting out a framework to help you resolve conflict. The book covers 5 other key areas, with a framework for each including:

1. Conflict resolution
2. Strong relationships
3. Leading and influencing
4. Facilitation
5. Storytelling
6. Outbound comms

I’d recommend this book for all product directors and product managers/owners.

EQ is the new IQ!

You can order the book here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1781336067/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_glt_fabc_4ZFMT00SGSVD473E0K56

This is the best book I’ve read on DevOps and it follows on nicely from Gene Kim’s other book The Phoenix Project.

It’s quite easy to think that DevOps practices are just something that dev teams deal with and the value is simply just an increase in throughput, but the book provides clarity on the colossal value that adopting a DevOps culture and the principles can have on teams, the business, and customers.

Throughout the book, Gene echoes the importance of having the whole product team (product manager, designer and several engineers)) involved in the transformation, as well as focusing on outcomes, and to achieve outcomes you need to collect data and learn through experimentation which is covered in the book too.

Gene gives good advice that it’s important to avoid funding projects and instead you should fund services and products: “A way to enable high-performing outcomes is to create stable service teams with ongoing funding to execute their own strategy and road map of initiatives”.

This is the most comprehensive and practical DevOps guide out there and the layout makes the content easy to digest. The book covers:

– History leading up to DevOps, and Lean thinking
– Agile, and continuous delivery
– Value streams
– How to design your organisation and architecture
– Integrating security, change management, and compliance

The principles and tech practices of:
1. Flow
2. Feedback
3. Continual Learning and Experimentation

“Our goal is to enable market-oriented outcomes where many small teams can quickly and independently deliver value to the customer”

Rewiring your brain to avoid your mind crippling your energy as it obsesses about past or future events is difficult, but it is absolutely possible, and this book makes it much easier.

It gives you tools on how to do it written in an easy to understand question-and-answer format to show you how you can silence these thoughts and use that energy more practically.

Essentially once you’ve made the journey into the Now, you will no longer have problems (only situations) as nothing exists outside of the Now. It is here you will find joy, are able to embrace your true self, and feel comfortable in the present.

“The energy form that lies behind hostility and attack finds the presence of love absolutely intolerable”.

Over 7 million people have read this book, it’s a best seller on Amazon, and I can understand why.

Loved reading this book by Eliyahu Goldratt as it’s written as a novel in a fast-paced thriller style, so once you start reading it it’s hard to put down.

Although it tells a heroic story of a manufacturing plant being saved from closure, the improvements closely resemble modern software development techniques – especially Kanban, as it touches on managing constraints, throughput optimisation, continuous improvement, less (smaller batch sizes) but more frequent, prioritisation, waste, the right KPIs (Goal), capacity, effort, WIP, value, estimation, and teamwork.

Throughout the book, rather than the external consultant (Jonah) just telling the plant manager (Alex) how to solve all of the problems they were facing at each stage of their continuous improvement journey to save the plant, Jonah coached Alex by asking him questions instead and getting him to find the answers out for himself, which sets Alex up for success in the future…reminded me of The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stainer.

If you liked The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim you’ll love this book as it’s written in a similar style, and comes with all of the drama of balancing family life with a high demanding job.

In this book, Frank Barrett writes remarkable stories on leadership, learning, and innovation from a range of industry settings-from Jazz performance to automotive manufacturing.

Saying ‘Yes to the Mess’ ultimately means accepting as a management team that you don’t have control over how the teams on the front line get to the end goal or get a detailed plan on how they’re going to get there, and Instead, you can see how the team navigate through the uncertainty by learning along the way, being curious, creative, innovative, driven to succeed no matter how many experiments fail, and having fun along the way…aka improvisation.

Whilst there is no mention of product management in the book, there are clear lessons that can be learnt from jazz, which are also covered in other Lean product development books on how to handle uncertainty – by providing a vision and empowering the team to decide how they are going to get there, which as a result yields creativity, ownership, autonomy, learning, loyalty, speed, and value.

Jazz is a ‘risky business’ and the mindset of jazz would work in a multitude of environments with high uncertainty such as a product innovation hub, a new product that hasn’t been validated in the market, or a brand new feature for an existing product. Everything is an experiment to a jazz player, which reminds me of the hypothesis-driven product development approach.

After reading this book I definitely have a greater appreciation of jazz because of the level of risk and improvisation that takes place.

This wasn’t an easy read, but I enjoyed it, as it provided a unique angle on leadership from different perspectives.

If you’re an empowered Product Manager / Product Owner who has the authority to shape the strategy of your product and need insight into effective product strategy/roadmap practices and frameworks, this book by Roman Pichler is for you.

The book is well balanced giving you guidance on when and when not to use particular practices, for example when a product is yet to be validated in the market and therefore has not reached product-market fit, you shouldn’t spend your time making up a roadmap when you should be spending time experimenting and talking to target customers.

However when you’re scaling or have a mature product then product roadmaps would have many benefits which are explained well and are very accurate, such as collaboration, alignment and generally showing how you plan to progress towards your product vision.

I particularly liked The Strategy Canvas which looks like a great tool for competitor gap analysis.

The practices and frameworks are explained in enough detail that even if you’re not empowered to shape the strategy of your product, you could still find this book beneficial by understanding the tools and proactively having a stab at using them for your product.

Pichler leaves no stone unturned as he covers every aspect of product strategy from idea to execution, which ultimately enables product management functions to operate effectively.

Image source here.

After 17 years of researching leaders around the world, Jo Owen shares the secret sauce to what a successful mindset looks like at different leadership levels and how you can unleash it.

Seven mindsets that consistently came out of the research which the book focuses on:

1. High aspirations
2. Courage
3. Resilience
4. Positive
5. Accountable
6. Collaborative
7. Growth

This is the best book I’ve read on management and leadership as it compares the different mindsets you need across each leadership level, allowing you to build a crystal clear picture of what mindset you need to focus on to get to the next level of your leadership journey.

Owen includes a multitude of tables, with the most impactful showing how the nature of leadership and management changes at each stage of a career, along with what mindset you need at each stage and details of behaviours/expectations. This makes it easy to find the gaps allowing you to make an immediate impact on your mindset.

The book is packed with advice on how to get the most out of yourself and your team along with some common pitfalls for example:

• High aspirations: should not be about self – focus on the mission and gain buy-in from the team.
• The prison of performance: focus on learning, not just achievements.
• Positive thinking: ensure it doesn’t crowd out reality.
• Leadership: it’s not about authority, power or position, but taking people where they wouldn’t have got by themselves.

“High aspirations will accelerate your career: you will succeed fast or fail fast. More likely, you will fail several times, learn from your setbacks and then succeed to a greater extent than anyone thought possible.”

To paraphrase Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.”

This book will help you make sense out of the nonsense you might experience, and give you insight that will help you to accelerate your learning and career.

“The most important mindset for a successful career is learning and growth. If you stay still, you will fail.”