Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Empowered by Cagan & Jones

My skip-skip-skip level manager at work recommended it to all of his manager reports, and so I decided to read this book to get closer to the top brass. Overall it was a sobering read, actively reminding me how far my organization is from being customer-centric. The book mostly addresses product managers, but tries to also apply to leaders in general, and "product people" in particular. It's a bit unclear who these people are, but I suspect they include product-minded engineers and designers.

Things I liked:

  • Coach-as-manager: Emphasis on coach-as-manager was interesting. "You can no longer be a good manager without being a good coach."
  • Build Right Thing: The goal of a product manager is to ensure that the features being built by the product engineering team are the right features to be building.
  • Product Discovery: The product development process is a process of discovery. It's like the product is already there, you just need to discover it, as opposed to inventing it from whole cloth.
  • PM's fault: for a product to be successful, all cross-functional stakeholders have to have been successful. But if a product is not successful, it's the fault of the product manager.
  • Platform vs. experience: Platform teams are not the same as experience teams and I strongly gravitate towards experience teams. The worst is when your experience team gets reorged to become a platform team.
  • Against the agency model: The authors advocate strongly against the agency model, which encourages employees to behave like mercenaries rather than like missionaries.
  • Strategy means focus:
  • Four big product risks: (Four Big Product Risks)
    1. Value: will they buy it?
    2. Usability: will they figure out how to use it?
    3. Feasibility: can we build it?
    4. Business viability: will it work for the business?

Things I did not like:

  • Perpetuating Silicon Valley tropes:
    • Bill Campbell cult (reminds me of CB)
    • Favorite essay is "Software is Eating the World". How trite!
  • Unclear how lessons from this book apply to completely new products like Smart Glasses. How we be customer-centric in a world where we have no customers?
  • Authors seem overly optimistic about equity based compensation as a way to perfectly align incentives. At a company the size of Google, I don't think that sufficiently aligns individual actions. Might work better at a smaller company though!