Posted by Tom Grant on January 9, 2009
As I said in my last post, different types of product management books serve different needs. Rich Mironov's The Art Of Product Management doesn't aspire to be a detailed reference manual. Instead, it provides quick, vivid snapshots of the challenges that product managers face on a day-to-day basis.
At least, it's one version of product management. To continue the Band Of Brothers analogy from my last post, you might not be a paratrooper, but if you're in the Army, you may learn quite a lot about the job of being another type of infantryman from the story of the 101st Airborne in
Psychology Before Sociology
Much of Mironov's advice addresses perhaps the most personal aspects of product management: mentally, how should you approach the job? How do you stay productive? When is it a good idea to get out of management and back into the "individual contributor" role? While I'm skeptical of product management training or advice that hovers only in the realm of exhortation, never telling you exactly what you need to do tomorrow, it bears listening to what Mironov has to say. Here's a particularly, er, pungent example:
So what is product management? As you'll see, that's difficult question to answer briefly. My closest analogy is to parenting...I've recapped "Parenting And The Art Of Product Management" thousands of times, and still believe that "we're not really parents [or product managers] until we've gotten some poop on our hands and laughed about it."
As a parent and product manager, I couldn't agree more.
Politics Is The Master Science
Beyond these "psychological" questions, Mironov provides a lot of helpful advice about the "sociology" of product management--the core job functions, and the different groups with whom you work. Actually, political science is the better analogy, since Mironov clearly has a lot of experience with the political side of product management. (In fact, one chapter, "Product Management Is Inherently Political," sets the tone pretty explicitly.)
While the equivalent of an Army field manual might tell you the way product management should work, of equal value is anything that helps you navigate the way things work in reality. Mironov has plenty of good tips on the fine art of getting things done, such as preventing salespeople from overwhelming the development team with too many special requests.
No doubt the book is more than a little autobiographical. Mironov's very useful classification of beta customers (loyal opposition, overcommitted, and reluctant volunteers) sounds like the product of first-hand experience in running beta programs.
New Realities Demand New Theories
Mironov also has many good bits of advice on some of the newer challenges product managers face. As an increasing number of development teams adopt Agile development methods, product managers need to change the way they work. The deliverables may change from current requirements documents to user stories. Maintaining a prioritized feature backlog becomes a regular part of the job, instead of a rushed activity right before planning the next release. More ongoing work puts more demands on the PM team, which may require a larger PM team.
Software as a service (SaaS), too, changes the way in which product managers work. Product managers bear a special responsibility to tell companies what they're really getting into when adopting a SaaS model for product delivery.
So, Which Book Should I Buy?
As you can probably guess from my comments on both The Product Manager's Desk Reference and The Art Of Product Manageement, I think both are valuable books. Each attacks the job of product management from a different angle. Both points of view are essential to understanding product management--a profession full of unexpected twists and turns, but much like parenting, well worth making the commitment.
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