Lean Product Management Manifesto

If you want to read the story behind the Lean Product Management Manifesto, you can find it here.

Over the past few months I have been working with people in the Lean and Agile community to figure out how we can communicate the benefits of a Lean approach to Product Management. I expect this to evolve and change as we continuously integrate these principles into our own practices and learn. I welcome your feedback and contributions. I hope we can get together in an open space one day to discuss and improve it. Thank you to Adrian Howard, Corey Innis, Chris Matts, Tim Lombardo, Rob Liander, Wes Royer, and Alberto Anido for your reviews and help!


The Lean Product Management Manifesto

We are uncovering better ways of creating valuable products for customers by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Customer problems and needs over internal requirements
Data driven experiments over preconceived solutions
Customer problem roadmaps over feature roadmaps
Idea generation and collaboration over solution mandates

While we value the things on the right, we value the things on the left more.


 

Customer problems and needs over internal requirements

We believe that the best products are ones that solve customer problems. Product Managers spend a lot of time gathering requirements from inside the company and getting features approved by business stakeholders. As Lean Product Managers, we understand that the most important information comes directly from our customers. Thus, we should direct our efforts at exploring customer problems and needs, while keeping in mind our business goals. While we need to know the internal stakeholder requirements, we spend more time outside of the office, talking to our customers face to face and determining what value we can deliver by providing solutions for their problems and needs.

Data-driven experiments over preconceived solutions.

We believe in finding customer value by running small experiments. Product Managers spend much of their time thinking up and documenting unvalidated features. As Lean Product Managers, we focus on running experiments using MVPs, getting solid data from customers, and then making decisions on product strategy. As we experiment and learn, our product decisions are based upon fact and not speculation.

Customer value roadmaps over feature roadmaps.

We believe that effective product roadmaps need to focus on customer problems and the delivery of value from solving these problems. Product Managers plan roadmaps off speculation, slotting in features to be built because they think it is what customers want and need. These roadmaps focus on building unvalidated solutions, and usually don’t include adequate amounts of time to do effective customer research and run experiments. As Lean Product Managers, we understand that we need a plan that reflects our process of discovering problems, experiments, and building validated solutions. We create problem roadmaps that communicate customer value by experimenting on features that are aligned with the company’s goals and KPIs.

Idea generation and collaboration over solution mandates.

We believe that exceptional products are not built by the efforts of one person, but by great teams. Product Managers usually come up with feature ideas on their own and then dictate solutions to the designers and developers. Lean Product Managers understand that the best ideas can come from many different sources, including customers, designers, and developers. We solicit ideas from others, and work collaboratively with designers and developers to determine product strategy.

These are a set of guidelines I have used to improve my Product Management practice and help others do the same. These principles should not be blindly followed. If you do plan to use them, adapt them for your specific organizations and situations. And, as always, improve upon them as you learn and practice.

The Story Behind The Lean Product Management Manifesto

Setting the Stage

In the past few years, I have had a lot of people come up to me and ask about Product Management (lean, agile, waterfall, whatever) and what makes a “good” Product Manager. They’ve also asked for resources. A lot of the resources on traditional Product Management tend to focus on story card grooming, lots of feature specs, and playing politics with the business. While these are necessary, I don’t see them as the epitome of a “good” Product Manager. So I decided to formulate my thoughts around the values of a exceptional Product Manager in a tweet:

I got a lot of interesting feedback, had some great discussions both on and offline, and I’ve iterated on it since them. Thank you to everyone who contributed their ideas and feedback! That was the whole point of putting it out there in it’s half assed state – to see what the community thought and hear others’ stories quickly. Boom, Lean.

Surprisingly (to me) most of the feedback I got was “don’t write a manifesto”. Saeed Khan wrote an article on this. I agree with most of his points, but would like to address two important ones.

First, why am I calling it “Lean” Product Management manifesto and not just Product Management manifesto?

Excellent question! If you were to ask five Product Managers from different companies what they did, you would get five different answers. You’d find patterns between some of them, such as being able to groom story cards, write specs, and interface with the business. The problem is that we tend to focus more on the documents and features produced than the value those things bring to customers.

This is where Lean comes in. Lean’s core principles are found in delivering value, respecting people, customer pull, and reducing waste. These are things that should be applied to Product Management. To shift our focus from deliverables to value for customers. This isn’t meant to be a list of all the principles and techniques of Product Management, but simply where we should start focusing our attentions more in our daily work.

Second, and most controversially, why am I writing a manifesto?

Honestly, I don’t care what you call it. If you hate the term manifesto, you can call it “Lean Product Management Guidelines” or “Those things that we should probably value but we’re not.” I chose the term manifesto because I modeled it off the Agile Manifesto, and hey, people actually refer to and listen to that (and debate it, which I hope you’ll do with this).

I’m not writing this to say “you must always do Product Management this way, it’s a religion.” These are a set of guidelines I have used to improve my Product Management practice and help others do the same. These principles should not be blindly followed. We are all humans who are capable of thinking, and you have the ability to use these (or not) as you see fit. Adapt them for your specific organizations and situations. And, as always, please improve upon them as you learn and practice.

And with that, here’s The Lean Product Management Manifesto.

What Makes a Great Product Manager?

It’s a question I get asked often by my students, clients, and people in the community. What is it that separates the good Product Managers from the best? What qualities in my potential candidates will let me know this person is the real deal?

To me, there’s one thing that stands between a good Product Manager and an exceptional Product Manager. It’s not wireframing. Not coding. It’s not communicating with developers, or sizing markets.

It’s the ability to kill feature ideas before they are built.

Wait, what? Shouldn’t it be the opposite of that?

Too many people think that a great Product Manager is the idea man. The visionary. The Steve Jobs. The feature god. This is just wrong. 

Ideas are dime a dozen, and anyone in a company has the ability to come up with a great idea. The biggest problem we face at software companies is that we have too many ideas. More often than not, we end up building most of them in hopes that something will stick. We spend countless hours creating feature after feature, and releasing it to customers with our fingers crossed. Then no one uses it.

It’s not hard to build things. It’s hard not to build things. It’s so hard to stop ourselves from getting overly excited about a potential feature.

A great Product Manager is the destroyer of bad ideas. She filters out the good ideas from the bad ideas by testing them early with customers. Then, she needs to be able to look the person who came up with the idea in the eye and say, “I appreciate the feature idea you came up with, but we have tested it and we should not build it. It would be a mistake to build it. Here’s why.”

This is not an easy skill. This idea person could be the CEO, the CMO, or the developer sitting next to you. More often than not, it’s yourself, which is the hardest thing of all. She needs to be ruthless, yet compelling and understanding. She needs to be a focused experimenter, who can test an idea cleanly. Then, she has to communicate the results to a wide array of people who came up with these ideas in a way that is easily digestible.

When a Product Manager builds everything that comes her way, the product ends up feature heavy and complicated. Yet, so many Product Managers do this because they are afraid to challenge their managers. Managers, if you want to hire a game changing Product Manager, you need to be open to the fact that your feature ideas are going to be dissected and questioned. And most likely, destroyed. This should be built into your culture, so that no one feels like they cannot disagree with you. Otherwise, you will end up with a worthless product, and some very unhappy and frustrated people.

Product Managers – if you want to go from being good to great, take a lesson from Grumpy Cat. Get comfortable saying, “No”.

grumpcat