Inspired: How To Create Products Customers LoveInspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love, author Marty Cagan presents the culmination of twenty years of experience defining and building products for arguably some of the most successful technology companies of the past two decades, including eBay, Hewlett-Packard and America Online.

Cagan clearly defines and separates the roles of product management (including experience design and usability testing) from project management (including engineering) and product marketing. Stating that product management “defines the right product”, engineering “builds the product right” and marketing “tells the world”.

The right product is one that meets customer’s needs (useful, feasible and valuable). This is achieved by iteratively engaging with customers to truly understand their needs and to validate design decisions. Validated learning, paired with an understanding of what is technically possible with today’s technology, empowers a product team to produce a valuable, desirable product.

Cagan has written this book specifically for software product teams responsible for defining the products to be built, especially those who build web-based software products.

Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love clearly and concisely outlines all aspects of product management from recruiting product managers through to performing market research; introducing the reader to the concepts of writing user personas, minimal viable product, validation, prototyping and gentle deployment. Among other topics, Cagan also compares and contrasts Agile and Waterfall methodologies, usability and aesthetics and the emotional adoption curve.

In Australia, outside of modern technology start-ups, the concept of the “product manager” and the role of product management in a company is still emerging. However, the importance of this role has been long recognised in the famed Silicon Valley and, as such, there are now many books on the topic.
First published in 2008, Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love was well ahead of its time and, eight years later, it remains one of the most comprehensive, modern and best books available for product managers of all levels of experience.

Many organisations do not manage products well and the core strength of the book is how Cagan has provided a comprehensive coverage of the important core concepts, roles and associated functions of product management, (including examples and case studies), in a way that is concise and incredibly easy to read. As a result, the reader learns the key concepts and has all the information required to go away and learn more.

Compiled from a series of blog posts, and as a testament to his ability to define the right product, Cagan has produced a stunning MVP for a Product Management Bible.

If there is one weakness in the book, it is that it will empower the reader to recognise how they should be performing product management, but it does not provide any thoughts or tips on how to start a process to adopt these principles in established organisations. In one example, Cagan goes so far as to suggest that, in some circumstances, it may be better to look for a role in a different company if the right processes aren’t in place.

In today’s ever-evolving world of technology and change, it is not uncommon for books to feel slightly dated the moment they’ve gone to print; and it is downright unusual to find a book espousing modern management thought and best practice that still feels on point as a resource eight years after it was first released.

With core concepts drawn from the two timeless principles of customer engagement and waste minimisation, Cagan highlights that the key to building products that customers will love is through iteratively engaging with customers to define the right product, then rapidly producing high-fidelity prototypes for user testing and validation before entering the full development and production process.

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