Chris Lukassen wrote the book The Product Samurai. A Product Manager’s guide to continuous innovation. An easy to read book to get a good idea of the Product Manager’s role within an agile environment, with lots of examples, techniques to be used, figures, and tables and on many places analogies with martial art experiences and great black and white martial art pictures of the author himself with quotes. Every chapters end with a kata, an individual training exercise. After reading you want, if you aren’t, to be a product manager.
To explain the title, the author made the comparison with the seven principles a Samurai warrior used. In product management the same apply and by following these you can become a Product Samurai. The seven principles are: Integrity, Respect, Courage, Honor, Empathy, Sincerity, and Loyalty.
The book is divided in three parts following the three key aspects of product management: vision, winning and crafting.
Vision (Discovering, Defining): The discovery process and ways to identify and develop innovation potential. You get many examples and techniques that will help you to discover a product vision. To mention a few techniques:
- The innovation granularity pyramid with four levels (feature, product, portfolio/segment, industry) of innovation and provides a framework for defining a product in relationship to the overall business strategy.
- The Flux Capacitor technique. A brainstorming based approach that involves concept diagram mapping combined with traveling to and from the future.
- The 3 x 3 framework (status quo, observations, story, insight, opportunity, analogy, solution, advantages, ethos): To pitch your product and it will help to define your product vision.
- The value model canvas: compare the business model canvas and the lean canvas. Here we focus on customer needs (wants / rational, fears / hidden, needs / emotional) and product benefits (benefits /why?, experience / what?, features / how?)
- Rolling wave planning and product roadmaps to create transparency. To rank the goals, the following formula is explained: (Market Evidence x Problem Impact x (Usability + Vision + Buying + Competitive Advantage)) / Estimated effort.
- The customer journey map to frame your opportunity and translate this into a business case.
- Last but not least: genshi genbutsu: to truly understand, you must go to the real place. Vision comes from the real world out there, through real people with real needs.
Winning (Growth, Steer, Observe): The tools (growth models and tools that create feedback loops) that help create winning products once the vision is in place. Here you get many product strategy techniques:
- The product adoption cycle: innovators, early adopters, early majority and the late majority/laggards
- The AARRR (Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referral) framework. This framework provides you a series of metrics you can use to measure performance and determine improvements.
- Eric Ries’ three engines of growth: paid engine of growth, viral engine of growth, sticky engine of growth.
- Cohort analysis. To expose groups of users to alternative versions of the product to figure out which performs best (e.g. A/B testing).
- Pruning the product tree. A tree analogy to achieve the shape you envision by plotting (post-its) existing products, latest product’s feature additions and optimizations, etc.
- Gap, SWOT and the Ishikawa diagrams
- A persona is a narrative, or story description about the user that resonates with the team and the stakeholders on an emotional level.
- Customer experience testing. It starts by testing two things: usability (can they use the product) and discovery (context of the product: who, why, when, where, what, what for and how)
- Alternate realities: or product variants to test with real customers (multi-variant testing)
- Blue oceans and red oceans. It is easier to capture market value when you create a new market (blue ocean) than to fight the competition in a saturated market (red ocean)
- ERRC quadrant: how does your solution enable your growth (Eliminate, Raise, Reduce, Create)
- The expanded buyer utility map: it shows the six utility levers (productivity, simplicity, convenience, risk, brand image, environmental friendliness), combined with the ten stages of the buyer experience cycle (awareness, evaluation, selection, purchase, delivery, use, supplement, maintain, discard and recommend).
Crafting (Practical, Meta): The art of product creation. Here we closely follow the path of the product manager.
To gain knowledge you have to go through three phases: Shu (just copy what you see), Ha (understand why you are doing it), Ri (learn from your own practice). In this part we got an explanation of Eric Ries’ Lean Start-up and especially the usage of a Minimum Variable Product (MVP). Also here several techniques are explained:
- Design thinking: using a five-day challenge to go through the six stages of design thinking: understand, define, diverge, decide, prototype and validate.
- Judo Solution: follow the central guiding principle of judo: “maximum efficiency with minimum effort”. Compare with the MVP.
- Double loop learning: replace “knowing” (your product features and value) with “assuming” (unvalidated insights about user’s requirements). So as a Product Manager you plan, do check and adjust, think again and make new assumptions. Here we get a new user story format: As a <persona> I have a <problem> which causes me <impact> as can be seen with <metrics>.
- Three horizons of growth: now, next and beyond.
To become a great Product Manager, a Product Samurai you have to comply with the seven principles. To succeed you must show passion, empathy and compassion, focus and tenacity and decisiveness. You have to practice and train to develop the following skills: observation, questioning, association, networking, experimenting, planning, analysing, detail orientation and self-discipline.
A great book to read if you are a Product Owner or Product Manager and want to achieve continuous innovation. It will help you to understand the role you were asked to start playing or you are already playing and what you can do, what techniques you can use to become a great Product Manager.