Book Review

Posted on | August 16, 2012 | Comments Off on Book Review

Product managers could learn a lot from “Lessons in Agile Management”

by Greg Cohen

David Anderson has been a tremendous influence on my thinking over the years, and he ranks in the top few authors whose writing is always a must read. He just released a new book Lessons in Agile Management and it is a fascinating readIn the book, Anderson brings together diverse bodies of knowledge from queuing theory, cycle times, and flow to the nature of knowledge work, leading knowledge workers and improving the effectiveness of teams. The book is a collection of writings spanning nearly a decade.  It catalogs Anderson’s personal journey to tackle the challenges of large software development projects through what has become his Kanban change management method.  Anderson synthesizes the works of W. Edward Deming’s, Peter Drucker’s  Eli Goldratt, and others with his own analysis and insights on applying these theories to software development. 

The book starts with the universal issue of leadership.  It covers how to create trust, drive out fear and make the switch from trying to manage people to leading teams.  Chapter three and four focus on the works of Peter Drucker and Edward Demming respectively.  These two thought leaders shared much in common but disagreed strongly about the use of management by objectives. Drucker invented them and Demming believed that in practice they led to counterproductive behavior.  This is food for thought for how product managers and product teams are incented to perform.

Anderson further discusses the need to focus on effectiveness rather than utilization and efficiency. “effectiveness is doing the right thing, efficiency is doing things right .” For knowledge work, such as software development and product management, effectiveness is much more important than efficiency.

There is also a great discussion on quality.  Deming teaches that quality is “conformance to process rather than conformance to specification. . . . The implication is that if you are doing things the right way, you will produce the right things, and the customer will be happy.”  Management, therefore, needs to manage the process not just the output.  Once again, there are lessons here for product managers and how we manage our processes and how consistently our processes deliver the desired result. 

Although the primary focus of Anderson’s book is managing software development, I have always learned the most about product management by studying various disciplines at our boundaries and interfaces.  I believe we can learn much from Anderson’s journey that will not just help us work better with development but also improve our own processes to achieve better product-market fit.

GREG COHEN is a Senior Principal Consultant and Trainer at the 280 Group and the author of the books “Agile Excellence for Product Managers”, “42 Rules of Product Management”, and ebook “Lean Product Management”. He is a certified Scrum Master, former President of the Silicon Valley Product Management Association, and works with product management teams to be more effective and improve product-market fit.