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Escaping the Build Trap: a book review

by Mark P. McDonald  |  May 30, 2019  |  Comments Off on Escaping the Build Trap: a book review

Organizations are shifting their processes and practices for building new products and services.  The introduction of agile, dev ops and other techniques change the practices we follow, but we can still cling onto old perspectives creating what Melissa Perri calls ‘the build trap.”

Escaping the Build Trap: how effective product management creates real value, provides a concise and complete description of a development process based on achieving outcomes rather than completing projects, feature or functions.  Ms. Perri, who is an accomplished product manager and coach, defines the build trap as “when organizations become stuck measuring their success by outputs rather than outcomes.”  The difference is subtle as its easy to think of outputs like a new feature, function or product as outcomes in their own right, but the author means outcomes in terms of creating value through meeting customer needs and goals.

Perri illustrates this throughout the book with a case study of Marquetly, a semi fictions e-learning company.  The company’s goal of ‘doubling acquisition and increase our retention of existing users by 70%’ as a working definition of an outcome.  This becomes the context for the rest of the processes and approaches in the book.

Overall, recommend the book as it is tightly written, contains many nuggets and helps both current and aspiring product managers perform their job better.   It is important to note that the book contains brief well focused chapters, covering 25 topics in less than 170 pages, so it’s easy to read and readily accessible.

Ms. Perri organizes Escaping the Build Trap into three broad themes  The first section focuses on basic definitions and descriptions of product management.  This entails the first four parts of the book.  These chapters assume that the reader has little to limited understanding of building software products so more experienced readers are recommended to skim these sections.  Current and aspiring product managers will get some support and confirmation from this section.  The discussion of strategy it a little simplistic but helpful.

Product Management processes constitute the second theme of the book.  This is the sole focus of part 4 of the book.  Ms. Perri recommends using the Product KATA approach to product management based on problem solving.  Kata has four steps:

  1. Understand the direction – the company’s vision and strategic intent
  2. Analyze the current state — current state of intents
  3. Set the next goal — product initiative
  4. Choose step of the product process — problem exploration, solution exploration, solution optimization

The process is described in the context of Marquetly achieving its goal.  Perri shows out the goal is broken down into specific problems and hoe the company runs different kinds of experiments against those needs.  This section is heavy on product management and engineering style discussion and surprising light on innovation or idea generation.  This is good in the sense that it represents an actionable and practical approach.

The final theme is about the implications of becoming a product led organization on the organization itself.  These six chapters concentrate on organization elements like communication, rewards and incentives, learning, budgeting and customer centricity.  The advice here will not surprise experienced readers, but it does provide a good check and review.

The Chapter and Parts of the book are as follows:

First Theme — definitions and descriptions

Part 1 The Build Trap

Chapter 1 The value exchange system

Chapter 2 Constraints on the value exchange system

Chapter 3 Projects versus products versus services

Chapter 4 The product-led organization

Chapter 5 What we know and we don’t

Part 2 The role of the Product Manager

Chapter 6 Bad product manager archetypes

Chapter 7 A great product manager

Chapter 8 The product manager career path

Chapter 9 Organizing your teams

Party 3 Strategy

Chapter 10 What is strategy?

Chapter 11 Strategy gaps

Chapter 12 Creating a good strategic framework

Chapter 13 Company-level vision and strategic intent

Chapter 14 Product vision and portfolio

Second Theme — The Product Management  Process

Part 4 Product management processes

Chapter 15 The product Kata

Chapter 16 Understanding the direction and setting success metrics

Chapter 17 Problem exploration

Chapter 18 Solution exploration

Chapter 19 Building and optimizing your solutions

Third Them — Organizational Implications of Being Product LED

Part 5  The product led organization

Chapter 20 Outcome-focused communication

Chapter 21 Rewards and incentives

Chapter 22 Safety and learning

Chapter 23 Budgeting

Chapter 24 Customer centricity

Chapter 25 Marquetly: the product led company

Afterward— Escaping the Build trap to become product led

Appendix — Six questions to determine whether a company is product led.

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Category: agile  book-review  

Mark McDonald
VP Analyst
12 years at Gartner
33 years IT Industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program. Read Full Bio

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