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Building tech products for top tech companies

Building great products is hard, but being a product manager is extremely challenging. You have many responsibilities managing deadlines, team alignment, and balancing different responsibilities, though you’re not the boss of anybody. However, it is a great role to build leadership skills through great partnerships with various stakeholders. When I read this book called <inspired> by Marty Cagan. I found answers to some of the biggest questions about being a product manager at a top tech company, so I decided to write this review blog post. 

This book is all about creating tech products customers love. Marty included lots of personal stories of building successful products and giving useful insights into real-life product organizations such as tech giant HP,  Apple, Google, Netflix, etc.   

The book opens with the raw definition of technology-powered products and services. Traditionally people would think tech products are consumer-service products built with technologies. For instance, e-commerce sites such as eBay and Amazon, social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, or services serve technologies for example Salesforce, Oracle database products, or Microsoft Office. In Marty’s vision,  and it is very true in today’s world,  the definition expands to most products in our daily life, even sometimes without realizing it. Technology-powered products don’t need to be purely digital, it could be as simple as finding a ride quickly from one of those mobile services,  chatting with friends online on various platforms,  or simply getting together with family watching a movie online through a streaming platform. 

Check out the following video containing a more detailed review of this book and thought process about Inspired on my Youtube channel: CloudMelonVis as the following :

Subscribe the channel if you’d like to follow along !

The vision of the book is to focus on the unique issues and challenges associated with building technology-powered products, services, and experiences.  

Part I: Lessons from top tech companies 

The root cause of failed product efforts is directly related to how an individual product team works.  A failed product team focuses on the output rather than the impact aka key results, the output is the outcome of each step in the process of how they build products.  The traditional process includes having ideas,  building business cases, and analyzing the requirements, then jumping into the product building process which covers the product life cycle sequentially from designing, building, testing, and deployment. 

From Idea to Delivery in the WATERFALL process

The consequence of this process, as Marty often states throughout the book, is that teams act as mercenaries, not missionaries, there’s no way to validate the new ideas, make sure it’s feasible, and that it would bring true value to the customers.  It often takes time to integrate the work, but the outcome could eventually end up with delivering a product that the company wants rather than what the customers want.  

However, successful product teams are more agile, flexible, and customer-driven. 

  • Customer-driven means the product team deals with risk which includes the value proposition, usability, feasibility, and business viability, before they build their solutions, the process would contain a couple of iterations in different areas,  user research,  design discussions, and engineering discussions. Sometimes the design discussion and engineering discussion will be escalated to a broader team to get feedback, learn, and share experiences so product efforts could be reused next time if other teams are building similar features.  
  • Team collaboration. More importantly, those discussions are fully embodied by both Product, design, and engineering teams side-by-side so they collaboratively define the product vision and product definition.  
  • Business impact. The solutions that solve underlying problems brought by those discussions are measured by key results,  the business impact of the product feature. 

This is very appealing to top tech companies in today’s world, being agile, flexible and customer-driven meaning they could react based on customer needs and adapt to the ever-changing market quickly. Lots of companies are building products using Minimal Viable Product also called MVP to quickly evaluate whether the product is loved by the customer through focus groups and customer interviews. Therefore, the key part of a product manager’s inner loop is to work with the right people.  

Part II: The right people 

A successful product team is a team of missionaries, not mercenaries.  Being a product manager is about coordinating with different teams, and different people. 

In Marty’s definition of an excellent product manager,  a product manager needs to be a true believer in the product vision to bring energy to the team and help the team overcome challenges. A product manager has to be skilled in both qualitative and quantitative skills,  a successful product manager is proficiently data-driven and would also deeply understand their business,  market, and industry as well as their customers. The goal to work with the right people is to achieve product success.  

Part III: The right product 

The product is built on top of the product vision,  in Marty’s view the product vision has a time horizon of 2-5 years, a product vision is unlike the company mission but it is pervasive enough to be a future that inspires the team to want to help make this vision a reality. There comes a product strategy to help the team come close to the product vision.  

An aspirational goal breaks down to a few sets of small goals and each goal is measured by the key results. The notion of Objective Key Results aka OKR is widely used in top tech companies. The OKR technique is a tool for management, focus, and alignment, it measures performance by results and drives the team towards product success.  About OKR, there’s also a great book called Measure what matters by John Doerr,  it describes how OKR works in those giant organizations or small agile startups with concrete use cases and scenarios. I will write another review about it, stay tuned! 

Part IV: The right process 

A product manager is a bridge to all processes,  this book described how-to better scale in the Product Management process. Product discovery,  framing, planning, ideation, prototyping and testing techniques are served when working with different teams to prove product value,  convey the idea in a better way, validate the hypothesis and come up with solutions with the team.   Marty explains that for this to happen a Product Manager needs to spend time with the engineering team,  stakeholders, and customers while making sure that the final product works for all the customers on a large scale.  And that is the process to ensure the product team builds a successful product that is loved by the customers.   

Part V: The right culture 

Getting the right culture is about getting to work with the right people, the right product team, get to work with the organization knowing how to measure product success with key results. The top reasons for loss of innovation are organizations missing customer-centric culture, misplacing product vision and strategy,  missing visionary and collaborative product managers, and one more thing more important lack of stable teams. 

A good product manager empowers the product team by contributing to the success of others, it is a great help in establishing a strong product culture.  Great products delight customers. Customer delight goes beyond shaping great products’ success. A great product’s success fuels the success of the most successful tech companies on the planet like Google, Apple, and Microsoft. To those companies, customers are their source of energy.  

In the next blog post or two, we’ll review the Measure What Matters by John Doerr, let’s stay tuned !

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Categories: Product Management Productivity

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Melony Qin

Founder of CloudMelonVision and a product manager in a top tech company, the author of Microsoft Azure Infrastructure, the Kubernetes Workshop and Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) Exam Guide by Packt Publishing, and technical reviewer for Azure for Architects, 3rd Edition. I am making videos to make technologies simple and entertaining on Youtube, CloudMelonVision, for more content check out my blog website: cloud-melon.com, and follow my blue bird @MelonyQ and @CloudMelonVis.

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