When I first became a Product Owner my mentor (also my manager) told me to read Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan. She was a fantastic mentor and an even better Product Manager, so I got the book.
The book is fantastic and wonderfully written: I highly recommend it if you’re a product person or interested in creating wonderful products. However this is not a review of the book so why am I writing about it? Well, in chapter 13 Marty writes about Product Principles or Deciding What’s Important and this book – especially that chapter – has helped me understand what’s important when creating products.
Product Principles? What are they?
Product Principles are beliefs and intentions that reflect your team’s values and vision. They provide direction and understanding to the team, and can also inspire product features.
The Product Manifesto sets out a prioritised list of principles, which is neither a list of features nor a certain version of the product; instead, it is the product as a whole. Product Manifestos bring the product team (and others) together and keep everyone focused.
Let’s go through some “gotchas”:
- Product principles are not the same as design principles; a design principle could be: Hierarchy: helps the user navigate your design; a product principle could be: Community: we believe that community is the most important part of our product.
- Principles should be specific – don’t say “Must be reliable,” no one sets out to create unreliable products.
- The creation and prioritisation of product principles should include the whole product team; this is not a product-manager-only task.
- Don’t set more than ten product principles for your product; aim for less than eight.
How will this help me build better products?
First, your product principles should provide direction and guidance to the product team, enabling them to focus on developing inspiring features for your product.
Second, they should help reduce conflicts when developing new product features.
Imagine you’re developing a new app feature allowing people to buy and sell bikes. The feature makes it easier by only asking for a photo, the price and name of the bike. But there’s a problem: half the team thinks this idea is amazing, the other half think it’s terrible.
So you spend time debating who’s right, and whatever the decision half the team will be disappointed. This is not uncommon in product development, but having a set of prioritised principles will help. For example, if the top principle in your product manifest is to help users to sell their bike as quickly as possible then the argument is already over.
A good example of a product manifesto can be found here.