“Making It Right”: Product Management For A Startup World

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. When he is not writing, he’s most probably running front-end & UX … More about Vitaly ↬

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To bring order into projects, a new product manager is appointed, under huge expectation, and with unclear responsibilities and big goals defined within a very short timeframe. Making It Right is a book about just that: what product management is and how to approach it strategically and meaningfully to get things done well. If your company has to address these issues or you’re looking for a hands-on book to guide you through product management, this is the book for you!

You’ve seen this happen a thousand times. An organization struggles with a high level of internal enthusiasm and creative chaos that team leaders don’t know how to handle any more. To bring order into projects, a new product manager is appointed, under huge expectation, and with unclear responsibilities and big goals defined within a very short timeframe. That’s when things usually go south, resulting in failed projects, crushed teams and disappointed clients.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with our author and friend Rian van der Merwe, a senior product manager with a sociology and UX background, to create a new practical book to help product managers in the digital space manage projects effectively — the right way, with the right strategy, in the right time, with the right team. Making It Right is a book about just that: what product management is, what it isn’t, why it’s important, and how to approach it strategically and meaningfully to get things done well. Available today.

What The Book Is All About

In the startup world, success is defined by the quality and reach of the product. The main purpose of this book is to help product managers who work specifically with digital projects build better — less complex, more focused, less long-winded and more intelligent — products. By featuring lessons learned and warning signs from real-life projects, the book provides a structured framework for strategic product management to help product managers build the right products, at the right time, for the right people with just the right amount of process involved.

Making it Right, a new Smashing Book by Rian van der Merwe
Get the eBook. Get the eBook on Amazon.com.

The book isn’t concerned with abstract models and theoretical concepts. Based on ideas discovered in actual projects, it explains the roles and responsibilities of product managers in a fast, agile startup environment. It features the characteristics of successful product managers and also provides a framework and practical guidance for product planning and product execution. If your company has to address these issues or you’re looking for a hands-on book to guide you through product management, this is the book for you.

The Structure Of The Book

The book’s structure has two main parts: product planning; and product execution.

  • Product planning explains how to figure out what to build and when. You’ll learn different ways to gather user needs, business needs, and technical needs. The section breaks down product discovery and looks at why it’s important to define the problem before jumping to product solutions. You’ll understand what goes into a strategic product plan, how to prioritize what problems to work on, and how to create effective, flexible roadmaps for product development.
  • Product execution gets into the nuts and bolts of shipping the product. You’ll learn how to choose the right problem definition (what problem are you trying to solve?) and how to distinguish between functional and technical specifications (how will the problem be solved?). The section touches on user-centered design, lean UX and how to test product hypotheses through quick, lightweight prototypes.
  • Finally, the book provides advice on how to establish an efficient working routine with team members through the “build, iterate, QA, release” process, and explains how to measure the success of the solutions being built, and how to feed those findings back into the product roadmap.

This Is What You’ll Learn From The Book

Let’s be honest: product manager is not the most inspiring job title, but it’s a critical position for building a great product and shipping it in time. In fact, it’s not something that everybody can do. Good product managers need expertise and specialized skills that have to be acquired and mastered first. You might not learn them all from this book, but you’ll know exactly what you need and how to apply these skills strategically.

In Getting It Right, you’ll learn:

  1. Roles, responsibilities, characteristics and common tasks of a good product manager,
  2. Where product management fits into an organization and why an executive mandate for PMs is a prerequisite for success,
  3. How to balance user needs, business needs, and technical needs in product discovery,
  4. How product discovery, product roadmaps, and strategic product plans frame the product’s development,
  5. How to redefine business needs by eliminating bad revenue streams and pursuing good revenue streams,
  6. How to avoid, minimize, and pay down technical debt that places strain on your product,
  7. Why many products fail and what the warning signs for failures are,
  8. Why minimum desirable products might be better than minimum viable products,
  9. When prioritizing themes, not projects or features, can help businesses to improve the quality of the product (the Amazon approach),
  10. When product roadmaps fail, when they work well, and how to set up a good one without timelines and release dates,
  11. Tools, techniques, workflows, and strategies for building prototypes quickly with a “design studio” approach.
  12. Practical guidelines and a checklist on how product managers can effectively start working at a new company.

Table Of Contents

Chapter 1Roles And Responsibilities Of The Product Manager

Summary What is a product manager, and what do they do every day? This chapter starts by explaining why the product manager role is so important, including some common arguments against the role. Most of the chapter discusses the characteristics of a good product manager, and how they relate to day-to-day activites.

Keywords product/market fit common tasks product management market-driven approach characteristics I-shaped people feedback process validation stack schlep blindness prerequisite for success fairness roles responsibilities leadership collaboration culture.

Chapter 2Uncovering Needs

Summary This chapter introduces the product planning process, and dives deep into the processes of developing a robust understanding of user needs, business needs, and technical needs. The starting point for creating products is — always — needs. Not what we assume would be cool, but what users or the business need to be successful. This chapter explains how to uncover and document those needs.

Keywords user needs business needs technical needs product discovery exploratory research design research assessment research bad/good revenue streams dark patterns product's life cycle research usability revenue technical debt.

Chapter 3Product Discovery

Summary Uncovering needs is one thing. Figuring out how to turn those insights into a successful product is something else entirely. This chapter discusses why so many products fail, and how to generate and prioritize ideas that won’t fail.

Keywords usable, useless products fishbone diagrams the five ways personas customer journey maps KJ-Method Kano Model Amazon's approach product market fit problem definition strategic product plan prioritization.

Chapter 4Product Roadmaps

Summary Product roadmaps can be controversial, to the point where some believe they shouldn’t even exist. This explains why you can’t live without a roadmap, and how to create flexible, useful plans to iterate towards better products.

Keywords product roadmap expectations elements of a roadmap product council release schedule.

Chapter 5Defining A Product

Summary This chapter shifts from planning to execution by talking about generating ideas and prototypes to define what you’re going to build. It also discusses "design studio", a very effective method to get teams involved in the definition process.

Keywords problem definition [user] has [problem] when [trigger] hypothesis testing design studio prototyping.

Chapter 6User-Centered Design And Workflows

Summary The entire product management process has an undercurrent of user-centered design, so this chapter takes a slight detour to discuss the ins and outs of this design methodology. It also explains how product managers can drive and be involved in the process. The chapter ends with a short discussion on responsive design workflows.

Keywords budget estimates buying time acquisition, activation, activity responsive design content first pattern library usability wireframes prototypes iteration data-driven design responsive design workflows.

Chapter 7Specifications

Summary • Specification can be a dirty word, but it doesn’t have to be. This chapter explains what specs are, why they are still important, and how to create specs that are actually used by developers and the rest of the business. The key is to remain flexible, to collaborate and only document what’s needed to understand and build the product.

Keywords functional specification technical specification marketing specification use cases flow charts deliverables dynamic specs accessible specs project summary success metrics competitive analysis project scope risks the last 20 percent.

Chapter 8Build And Release

Summary • This chapter is mainly focused on how product managers work with developers to build and release products once they’re defined. It talks about maker vs. manager culture, and how product managers can help developers be most effective.

Keywords engineering development quality culture.

Chapter 9Assess And Iterate

Summary • We often forget to measure what we’ve built. This chapter explains the crucial step of setting up the right success measures and feedback loops to ensure that the right information exists to continue to make product better with each iteration.

Keywords research triangulation analytics A/B testing features primacy/newness effects data meeting culture environment.

Chapter 10Product Management In Agile

Summary • This book is methodology-neutral, but it's impossible to examine modern product management without discussing how it fits into an agile framework. This chapter discusses how product management relates to product ownership, and how to be a good product owner without losing sight of the larger role.

Keywords agile role of the design "good enough" right-fidelity specifications scrum product ownership agile UX.

Chapter 11Getting Started

Summary • Most books end with a summary. This one ends with a call to action. What should a product manager do during the first thirty, sixty and ninety days on the job? The theory is nice, the framework is nice, but how do you actually jump in, and start being a product manager? A few practical guidelines and a roadmap for getting started the right way.

Keywords first 30 days strategic product plan final 30 days product strategy product execution.

Author’s Note

Finally, here are a few notes from Rian himself:

“The book came about because I saw a lot of people in organizations perform some of the activities that make up the role of product management. The problem is that very few people take a holistic view of the product, and this is not a role that should be split up into tiny pieces. So, you see marketing people doing some design and research, business analysts doing some spec writing, developers managing the product backlog, and so on.

All this without a person who is responsible for the overall vision, prioritization, and execution of the product. I want to provide a complete framework for product management that is agnostic to whatever development process people use (agile, etc.). This book is my humble attempt to do just that.”

Written by Rian van der Merwe. Reviewed by Francisco Inchauste. Cover design by Francisco Inchauste. Inner illustrations designed by Anna Shuvalova. 190 pages. Available today.

Get The eBook

The eBook is already available in PDF, ePUB and Amazon Kindle formats, and of course it’s also provided in the Smashing Library, so if you are a subscriber already, the book is patiently waiting for you in your dashboard. Also, if you have an Amazon Kindle, you can get the eBook on Amazon.com for $0.99 — available only for the next 24 hours though get the eBook on Amazon.com for $9.99, and it’s already a bestseller in a few categories. Please notice that if you come outside of the US, you’ll have to go to your country’s Amazon site to buy the book. Sorry about that!

If you’re interested in a printed edition of the book, please submit a form and we’ll do our best to make it happen.

Making it Right, a new Smashing Book by Rian van der Merwe
Get the eBook. Get the eBook on Amazon.com.

So here we go! We’re looking forward to your feedback and your thoughts, and we hope that the book is going to be helpful and valuable for you and to your company. Product management doesn’t have to be boring and made toxic with complex processes — this is why we created the book in the first place. Happy reading, and happy learning!

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (mrn)