Book summary: “ Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love” — Part 5

Note: If you are truly looking for some valuable resources to learn and understand about modern product management, then I strongly recommend you to read this book twice. Buy link — here.

Right Culture — the secret of success

With a grateful nod to Ben Horowitz’s classic post “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager,” for those that have not yet had the opportunity to participate in or observe a strong product team up close, in this chapter we can get a glimpse into some of the important differences between strong product teams and weak teams:

Top reason for loss product innovation:

Consistent innovation is the ability of a team to repeatedly add value to the business. Many organizations lose their ability to innovate at scale, and this is increasingly frustrating to the leaders and the members of the product team.
Organizations that lose the ability to innovate at scale are inevitably missing one or more of the following attributes:

1. Customer-centric culture

“Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”

  • Companies that don’t have this focus on customers — and direct and frequent contact with them — lose this passion and a critical source of inspiration.

2. Compelling product vision

  • By the time many companies reach scale, their original product vision is now largely realized, and the team is struggling to understand what’s next

3. Focused product strategy

  • The product strategy needs to spell out a logical and intentional sequence of target markets for the product teams to focus on.

4. Strong product managers

  • The lack of a strong and capable product manager is typically a major reason for the lack of product innovation.

5. Stable product teams

  • One of the prerequisites for consistent innovation is a team that has had a chance to learn the space, technologies, and customer pain. This doesn’t happen if the members of the team are constantly shifting.

6. Engineers in discovery

This means

  • including them from the very beginning, and not just at the end and
  • exposing them directly to customer pain.

7. Corporate courage
8. Empowered product teams

  • Remember that empowerment means the teams are able to tackle and solve the business problems they’ve been assigned in the best way they see fit.

9. Product mindset

  • In an IT-mindset organization, the product teams exist to serve the needs of the business. In contrast, in a product-mind set organization, the product teams exist to serve the company’s customers in ways that meet the needs of the business. The resulting differences between these mindsets are many and profound.

10. Time to innovate

  • Fixing bugs, implementing capabilities for different parts of the business, addressing technical debt, and more. If this is your situation, you shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of innovation.

Top Reasons for loss of velocity

As organizations grow, it’s not unusual for things to slow down. They don’t need to, and in the best organizations, they can accelerate. But if you are seeing a slowdown, these are the first things to look for.

  1. Technical Debt — Often, the architecture does not facilitate or enable the rapid evolution of the product.
  2. Lack of strong Product managers — The lack of a strong and capable product manager is typically a major reason for slow product.
  3. Lack of delivery management — The most important function of the delivery manager is to remove impediments, and the list of impediments grows non-linearly as the technology organization grows.
  4. Infrequent release cycles — Most teams with slow velocity have release vehicles that are too infrequent.
  5. Lack of product vision and strategy — It’s essential that the team have a clear vision of the big picture and how their immediate work contributes to the whole.
  6. Lack of co-located, durable product teams
  7. Not including engineers early enough during the product discovery
  8. Not utilizing product design in discovery and instead of having them try to do their work at the same time the engineers are trying to build.
  9. Changing priorities

Establishing a strong product culture

Product culture has two dimensions

The first dimension is whether the company can consistently innovate to come up with valuable solutions for their customers. This is what product discovery is all about.

The second dimension is execution. It doesn’t matter how great the ideas are if you can’t get a productized, shippable version delivered to your customers. This is what product delivery is all about.

What does it really mean to have a strong innovation culture?

  • Culture of experimentation — teams know they can run tests; some will succeed and many will fail, and this is acceptable and understood
  • Culture of open minds — teams know that good idea can come from anywhere and aren’t always obvious at the outset.
  • Culture of empowerment — individuals, and teams feel empowered to be able to try out an idea.
  • Culture of technology — teams realize that true innovation can be inspired by new technology and analysis of data, as well as by customers.
  • Culture of business and customer-savvy teams — teams, including developers, have a deep understanding of the business needs and constraints, and understanding of (and access to) the users and customers.
  • Culture of skill-set and staff diversity — teams appreciate that different skills and backgrounds contribute to innovative solutions — especially engineering, design, and product.
  • Culture of discovery techniques — the mechanisms are in place for ideas to be tested out quickly and safely (protecting brand, revenue, customers, and colleagues).

What does it really mean to have a strong execution culture?

  • Culture of urgency — people feel like they are in wartime, and that if they don’t find a way to move fast, then bad things could happen.
  • Culture of high-integrity commitments — teams understand the need for (and power of) commitments, but they also insist on high-integrity commitments.
  • Culture of empowerment — teams feel as though they have the tools, resources, and permission to do whatever is necessary to meet their commitments.
  • Culture of accountability — people and teams feel a deep responsibility to meet their commitments. Accountability also implies consequences — not necessarily being terminated, except in extreme and repeated situations, but more likely consequences to their reputations among their peers.
  • Culture of collaboration — while team autonomy and empowerment is important, teams understand their even higher need to work together to accomplish many of the biggest and most meaningful objectives.
  • Culture of results — is the focus on output or is the focus on results?
  • Culture of recognition — teams often take their cues from what is rewarded and what is accepted. Is it just the team that comes up with the great new idea that gets rewarded, or the team that delivered on a brutally tough commitment? And what is the message if missing a commitment is seen as easily excusable?

So, if these characteristics help define each culture, this begs some pretty tough questions:

• Is an innovation culture in any way inherently at odds with an execution culture?

• Does a strong execution culture lead to a stressful (or worse) work environment?

• What types of people, including leaders, are attracted to, and needed, for each type of culture?

With this, we come to the end of the book “ Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love”.

I’m sure that there are many places in the series,

  • Where you can relate the most with your current employer
  • Preaching and practicing most of the bad practices listed
  • Most of the product teams are bad product teams per the definition provided above.
  • Almost ~80% of discovery and prototyping techniques aren’t in practice today.

If this book series connected with your day to day work life in any way, please do leave a comment and I’ll try to provide responses. Time to have conversations! ❤

Disclaimer: At many places, I’ve used the exact phrases from the book to capture the 100% nuances of the information.

If you enjoyed 👌 this story, please click the 👏 button and share it to help others find it! Feel free to leave a comment below ✋.

Thank you for the time 🙏🙏🙏

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Santhosh Kumar

Santhosh Kumar

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