Book Review: INSPIRED by Marty Cagan of SVPG

I have found myself on somewhat of a SVPG book binge recently. A binge kicked off from an episode of Lenny’s podcast with Marty Cagan on what he calls ‘Product Management Theater’. Product management theater is the idea that many product teams end up doing things that sound like good product management on the surface but ultimately don’t achieve meaningful output. A trend I’ve seen often. As a result I decided to purchase a copy of Inspired

As a small side note, while many of the SVPG books are excellent, I don’t know if I would recommend reading them all together. There is quite a bit of overlap between the books, especially in context setting, which can make them a more difficult read due to it feeling repetitive.

Overall, Inspired is a pragmatic and succinct look at how to run good product organisations. The underlying theme of the book is that product management is not timelines and tickets but instead a focus on building products in order to solve problems and deliver real value.

The book regularly refers to these less impactful setups as ‘feature teams’. These teams, made up of both product and technology staff, spend their time executing a rigid and externally defined road map of features. Teams optimise for how well they meet their estimates and measure output in the number of shipped features.

In contrast, Cagan describes product teams who focus on outcomes. These teams are not given a set of features to build but a set of problems to solve. These problems are things like ‘improve the customer experience with feature X’ or ‘decrease the drop off rates of funnel Y’. This shift in focus means that product teams need to look broadly across the business. Rarely is there a technology fix to all problems. This builds product teams that work more collaboratively with sales, marketing and customer success.

One aspect of the book I came to appreciate was pragmatism. Many technology management books come across as overly academic and become very hard to put into practice as a result. Inspired is filled with case studies and caveats that help to ground the advice in reality. Advice is easier to action knowing both the theoretical version and how it might need to flex to reality.

I’d go as far as to say that Inspired is one of the best product management books I have read in recent memory. I’ve passed copies onto people I work with because I feel the ideas in the book will help create an impactful shared set of models.

As with all reviews, this one must be contextualized with my situation. I lead product in a growing technology startup, likely a close approximation to the audience in the book. If your experience differs I would love to hear how well this advice applies to you in your role.

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