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Inspired by Marty Cagan.
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1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of Inspired

Inspired gives companies and entrepreneurs a two-step plan for creating and sustaining successful technology products:

  1. Organize and structure effective teams.
  2. Develop products using a flexible “discovery process.”

Inspired also explains how important product managers are in product development, teaches them how to be successful, and explains some of the biggest pitfalls that most tech companies fall into when designing products.

Author Marty Cagan, a Silicon Valley product executive, also details how product designers and engineers should function in a team and how company executives should treat their product teams. Originally published in 2008, the book was updated in 2018 to further address evolving concepts such as lean and agile techniques. This summary begins with a discussion of how to set up teams, then explains how to “discover” products.

Team Building

Before companies can develop new products, they must first organize and structure their product teams for success. Key structuring steps are to:

  • Maintain a relatively flat reporting structure. While some engineers may report to a more senior engineer or some UX (user experience) designers may report to a more senior UX designer, no one reports directly and only to the product manager. A flat structure helps team members feel they have a say in the direction of the team and that they’re not just following orders from above.
  • Have team members sit next to one another and see each other’s screens when possible to better encourage collaboration and problem-solving.
  • Make teams responsible for only part of a larger product, especially at big tech companies. This helps teams feel they “own” at least part of the product rather than being a cog in the machine, and it helps teams know where their work begins and where it ends.
  • Keep teams together over multiple projects so they can better understand each other’s work styles, strengths, and weaknesses. If most team members are missionaries who are passionate about the mission of the team and company, this is easier, because they’ll be less likely to leave the company.
  • Give teams autonomy over their projects so they feel more invested in them. With greater autonomy, they’ll also have to take responsibility for understanding how their product functions.

Product Manager

A successful product development team has three key roles—a product manager, designer, and engineers—plus supporting players including marketers and analysts. The most critical role is the product manager, who must understand what ideas will succeed and what ideas will fail. A product manager is knowledgeable about:

  • Customers: The product manager understands who the desired customers for a product are and what they want or need. This includes a qualitative understanding of the customer—or why customers buy—and a quantitative understanding of the customer—or exactly what they buy and at what rates.
  • Data: A product manager knows how to use analytics to make good decisions. This contributes to the quantitative understanding of the customer—if a product manager understands sales and usage data, she’ll understand customer behavior better.
  • The company: A product manager knows what’s going on at all levels of the company and who makes decisions. She understands the sales department and the marketing departments, but also knows the CEO and what his interests are. Understanding who the stakeholders are in each part of the company helps the product manager make decisions.
  • The industry: A product manager also knows the competitors and the landscape of the industry. Is it growing, which would suggest more potential competitors, or contracting, which might make it harder to make sales? In addition to knowing what competitors are doing, the product manager also has insight into changes in technology and how social media relates to the market.

Product Designer

The second key team member is the product designer or UX designer, who is responsible for designing the product with the customer and user experience in mind. Product designers ask some of the following questions when designing a product:

  • Where will customers hear about the product?
  • How will users interact with one another?
  • What other, competing products can get in the way of the customer choosing, and subsequently using, ours?
  • How will users’ experience change as they continue to use the product over time?
  • What will users enjoy about the product?
  • What will users find unique about the product?
  • What will users tell their friends about the product?

While product managers have a holistic understanding of how the product functions, product designers may better understand how the product’s target audience will use it, given that they are primarily concerned with user experience. This means that they are strategic partners with the product manager, and they help the product manager make decisions about all user-related questions, such as where to place a home button or whether to develop new charging technology.

The product designer can answer the questions by working with the rest of the team to develop prototypes of the product and to test them. We’ll discuss the development and testing of prototypes when we discuss product discovery.

Engineers

The third key part of the team is the engineers. Engineers are responsible for the coding and any other building that is necessary to create the product. While there is one product manager per team and generally one product designer, there are usually between two and 10 engineers per team.

Engineers are useful beyond pure coding, though. Because they’re intimately familiar with the way the code and machinery work, they often have the best understanding of how to expand the product (and the limitations on doing so).

Engineers and the product manager need a good...

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Inspired Summary Part 1: Key Concepts of Product Development

Inspired gives companies and entrepreneurs a two-step process for creating and sustaining successful technology products: 1) organize and structure effective teams, and 2) develop products using a flexible “discovery” process. In particular, it explains how important product managers are in product development, teaches them how to be successful, and explains some of the biggest pitfalls that most tech companies fall into when designing products.

Author Marty Cagan, a Silicon Valley product executive, also details how product designers and engineers should function in a team and how company executives should treat their product teams. Originally published in 2008, the book was updated in 2018 to further address evolving concepts such as lean and agile techniques. This summary begins by discussing how to set up teams, then explains how to “discover” or develop products.

  • Part 1 explains the pitfalls and potential successes of three kinds of technology companies and discusses why some products fail while others succeed.
  • Part 2 is concerned with building a successful product team. It explains each role on a successful team and the skills that employees need for the...

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Inspired Summary Part 2: Building a Product Development Team

For a product to be successful, it needs a good team working on it. Part 2 explains how to create an effective team, and thus give a product the best chance of success.

Every team needs to be filled with missionaries rather than mercenaries. In other words, employers should look for and cultivate those who truly believe in the product and advocate for it rather than people who only do what they’re told.

First, we’ll discuss team organization and then describe the three key positions and their responsibilities:

  • The product manager
  • The product (or UX) designer
  • The engineers

Team Organization

In structuring a product development team:

  • Maintain a relatively flat reporting structure. While some engineers may report to a more senior engineer or some UX designers may report to a more senior UX designer, no one reports directly and only to the product manager. A flat structure helps team members feel they have a say in the direction of the team and that they’re not just following orders from above.
  • Have team members sit next to one another and see each other’s screens when possible, to better encourage collaboration and...

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Shortform Exercise: Team Development

Compare your company’s product development team structure to the ideal structure described in this summary..


Think about your company’s team structure. What are the similarities with the description of a team structure provided above? What are the differences? (For instance, is the structure flat or hierarchical? How capable is the product manager?)

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Inspired Summary Part 3: The Product: Roadmaps Versus Vision

We’ll now move from mostly discussing the team to discussing the product. Part 3 will discuss how most companies develop products, the problems with this approach, and a better approach focused on vision and strategy.

The Roadmap Approach

Most companies develop products by starting with an idea and creating a roadmap: a series of orders handed down by executives that, if completed properly, should result in a desired output. Roadmaps are lists of priorities. Generally, either upper management or the product manager issues a new roadmap every three months or so.

Roadmaps include big picture requests and due dates, but not where engineers need to fix bugs or address smaller technical questions. There are a few reasons why managers think that roadmaps are a good management technique:

  • They keep employees focused on what managers see as the most important tasks to the overall success of the company first.
  • They help managers liaise with stakeholders and colleagues, because they can plan, based on their roadmaps, when they think various tasks will be completed.
  • Roadmaps help managers feel like they’re generally more in control of their employees....

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Inspired Summary Part 4.1: The Product—Discovery

After creating a vision and strategy, the next step in product development is discovering products and getting them to market. Once again, the product manager plays a key role. “Discovery” is the process by which a company identifies customer needs or problems and develops products to solve them.

Companies should focus on maintaining and updating the quality of their current products while continuing to experiment with new products and solutions. Usually, good engineers know how to do the former. But many have trouble with the latter. This section will establish a process of continuous discovery. Every part of the company should be involved with product discovery.

What follows are specific techniques used in the discovery process. This section will discuss the techniques of:

  • Framing an idea.
  • Planning an idea.
  • Building (or ideating) an idea.
  • Creating prototypes.
  • Testing an idea for value, usability, feasibility, and business viability.

Framing

Framing helps us identify underlying issues with proposed products. Some product discovery is straightforward—we know there is a specific problem to solve. However, for the more complex questions...

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Inspired Summary Part 4.2: The Product—Testing

Testing is the final step in the discovery process—it’s meant to once and for all separate the good ideas from the bad. It should address the four risks of product discovery:

  1. Value: Does the product have a market niche?
  2. Usability: Can users understand the product?
  3. Feasibility: Can the company reasonably build the product?
  4. Business viability: Does the product make sense for our larger business strategy?

The answer to all of these questions must be “yes” before a company moves on to creating the product. A company can’t know whether the product has a market niche, or whether people will buy it, with 100% certainty—which is why some products flop. But tech companies can validate many ideas during the discovery process. Most of these ideas won’t work out, but failures won’t be a large blow if companies use prototypes and focus groups to limit the time and resources spent. Transparency and communication are critical to the testing process as well—a sales executive might realize that an idea doesn’t meet the standard of business viability, whereas an engineer might conclusively say that building a product isn’t feasible.

Value

Determining...

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Shortform Exercise: Reverse Engineer a Prototype

This exercise will help you better understand how to create prototypes.


Think about a technology product you use often. How would you pitch that technology product to test subjects who haven’t seen it before?

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Inspired Summary Part 5: Changing How We Work

Implementing the discovery method of product development often requires changing company culture. This section provides tools and tips for overcoming resistance and aversion to risk on the way to building a more successful culture.

First, we’ll discuss why some teams have trouble innovating and using the discovery process. Then, we’ll examine ways to get employees interested in the discovery process and weaned off of roadmaps, including two specific strategies called discovery sprints and pilot teams.

Innovation Principles

Companies that constantly innovate share many of the same characteristics. To build a strong culture, companies must innovate and execute. When companies have trouble with innovation it means they lack some of the following attributes:

  1. A culture that understands the customer is at the center of their business. Some customers are always annoyed with the current product, always asking for something new, and are always curious about new innovations, so they can be a great resource if companies listen to them.
  2. A clear vision. For many companies, starting to significantly scale means that they’ve achieved their first vision as a...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Part 1: Key Concepts of Product Development
  • Part 2: Building a Product Development Team
  • Exercise: Team Development
  • Part 3: The Product: Roadmaps Versus Vision
  • Part 4.1: The Product—Discovery
  • Part 4.2: The Product—Testing
  • Exercise: Reverse Engineer a Prototype
  • Part 5: Changing How We Work